pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

A Bit of Whimsy. A Bit of Change.

 A long time ago, or not so long ago but it feels like a long time ago, before we had children, my husband and I used to save our coins in a giant jar. It probably didn't actually have anything to do with not yet having children and more to do with actually having coins, but that's not the point. The point is that we both had coins, my husband and I, all the time, and they were annoying to have. We already had cellphones and therefore didn't make calls from payphones, so really we didn't ever need coins. So we could collect them in a giant jar and when the jar got full we would bring it to the bank and try to guess how much money was in there and we never guessed correctly but once I guessed pretty close, and when all those coins dropped down that noisy machine we'd get a receipt and we'd take the receipt to a bank teller and the bank teller would give us cash. So much cash! And then we'd go out to a restaurant for dinner and order drinks and appetizers and entrees and feel absolutely, filthy rich. Well, those days are over. Not because of the children, like I said, but because of the coins. Or lack thereof. 

I actually used to have cash in my wallet. In fact, I still carry a wallet that has a nice little area for cash to be all flattened if I was ever to have any, which, as I've said, I don't. But who even takes cash anymore? Bodegas and taxi cabs and artisans in booths at craft fairs take credit cards now and so many businesses have those little signs about being cash free to prevent robberies, I think. Now people just wave their magic phones in front of machines to pay for things! We used to pay babysitters in cash but then a few years ago they asked us to pay them on Venmo, which I avoided doing at first not because I was worried about internet privacy, but because it sounded like one of those things that would take me forever to set up and for which I'd forget my password a million times. But then I finally did it and now I really never have cash. Which is fine, except when it's not. 

Which is when my son comes home and proudly tells the story of how, when he was eating a sugar daddy given to him by the teacher of his superhero stream afterschool enrichment class, he felt a POP! and then his mouth filled with blood. Yes, the molar had been loose. But not THAT loose. 

And it's not fine when my daughter is casually eating strawberries while I'm reading to her one moment and then the next moment she's looking in the mirror and crying hysterically because she managed to not only lose her first tooth in a strawberry, but somehow, impressively, also managed to then swallow the tooth she lost in the strawberry. Yes, the tooth had been loose, but not THAT loose. 

And it's also not fine when my other daughter loses not one, not two, not three, but FOUR teeth after bouts of pillow fight couch jumping wrestling with my son. And, for the record, those teeth had been quite loose but my daughter was so terrified of losing them and so protective over them that I thought it would never actually happen. Silly me.

That's when it's not fine to have cash. That’s when it’s a good thing to live in a condo with neighbors who are our friends because sometimes, fairly late in the evening, when we are desperate, we can ask our neighbors if they have any dollar bills or even coins and sometimes, when we are lucky, they do. 

Why? Because of the tooth fairy, of course.

Now, as we don't celebrate Christmas or Easter, the tooth fairy is really the one magical creature we allow into our home and in whom our children believe. And boy, do they believe. Or at least my girls still do. My son seems to be in it for the payout at this point. But they all dutifully write the tooth fairy letters asking her questions about her name (Alessandra), her size (small, of course!), her home (see below), and her abilities (isn't flying into bedrooms in the dead of night and replacing teeth with money enough?!) and then outline and draw arrows to where they'd like her to reply on the page. They ask for things like gift cards (what on earth?) in exchange for their teeth, or for her to grant them special powers, like flight. For the record, I have gotten quite good at my tooth fairy handwriting.

The night the babysitter called me while I was at a work dinner to let me know my son had lost a tooth that was connected to his braces and therefore connected to his mouth even after it had fallen out (well, really he had pulled it out); the night I came home early from said work dinner to cut my son's tooth free with kitchen scissors because we don't have needle-nose pliers, and neither, I learned, do the neighbors who often have cash; the night I made my own finger bleed with said kitchen scissors--while incredibly, amazingly, impressively not cutting my son's mouth--my son wrote to the tooth fairy to ask her if she might pay him a little extra because she could maybe use the hardware of the brace on his tooth to create a door for her castle. Sheesh.

One of the things I learned in spring 2020 when my husband and I took turns trying not to pull our hair out or have nervous breakdowns as we sat with our children and their "packet work" (this, before their year of online school was up and running) is that there are a lot of different customs around teeth and what to do when they fall out. From all over the world! Some even dating back centuries! I cannot for the life of me remember which child had to read about these international lost-tooth traditions as I have blocked most of the details of that spring from my working memory--because, well, why wouldn't I?--but I do remember feeling ever so much more equipped to discuss this than I was to try to explain to my children why 6 and 3 makes 9. (It just does.) But I found it interesting. Baby teeth fall out, which is disgusting, and then people have to figure out what to do with them. And they've been trying to figure it out and tell their children stories or make meaning out of these weird tiny bones for a long, long time. 

My children spend a long time talking about their loose teeth, then they lose them (which often involves blood and sometimes involves tears, and in the case of the kitchen-scissor incident, involved my sweat and blood), then they're told to put them in little ziplock bags (we don't have any of those fancy lost tooth pillow doll things so a ziplock is the next best way to get easy access to the teeth since one child sleeps on a top bunk and another on a loft bed), then they put the bags under their pillows and go to sleep. Once they're asleep my husband and I frantically search the house for bills or change or text our neighbors to ask for cash before sneaking into our childrens' bedrooms while they sleep to trade the tooth for money. It's really strange, actually. But, as my children will tell you, the tooth fairy needs the teeth for her castle. Which is what my mom told my brothers and me. 

A note about the tooth fairy castle: it's conveniently located near us, right off 495, the Capital Beltway. Some people might know this structure as the Mormon church, and an old friend of mine might even have gotten married there in a double wedding ceremony, but I knew it as the tooth fairy castle when I was a child, and so now, too, do my children. It is... made of teeth.

Which, yes, is a lie. Sometimes it's okay to lie to my children. Which might be a lie I tell myself. And mostly, I think, I don't tell them outright lies, but sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, I avoid telling them whole truths when I don't think it's entirely necessary. Bit by bit, as they mature, the world will come into focus for them, and all of its impossible miseries and heartbreaks and injustices will sharpen in their eyes just as the wondrous, inexplicable, surprising beauty will. This is inevitable. It's happening already. And the stories my husband and I tell them will guide the contours of their focus; lies and truths, both. The safety and security of the home and the family we devote ourselves to creating for them is the bedrock from which we hope to launch them into the world, fully formed, reasonable people with healthy adult teeth.

And what's so wrong with a bit of whimsy–they're not gonna find much of it in the Torah. So we tell this strange, happy story about a little fairy who comes in the dead of night to take their baby teeth for herself in exchange for a dollar.  A fairy who pays them actual cash they can use as they please, which is to say, on overpriced, mediocre ice cream from the truck that mercilessly appears outside their school every single day. Soon enough they'll learn the horrors teeth can reap. One day the misery of modern dentistry, second only to the misery of pre-modern dentistry, which, yes, is all better than what was surely the misery of a world without dentistry, will become clear to them. Maybe it's a good thing, starting the whole tooth journey with this little fairy. Maybe one day, when they have children of their own, they'll think back on Alessandra while a drill carves out their deadened, rotted roots, and feel a sliver of joy. Or maybe, at the very least, they'll remember to get some cash on their way home.





Monday, February 7, 2022

Ice Cream: The Routine

 In its current iteration, according to my standard of measurement on any given day, my childrens' bedtime routine takes anywhere from six minutes to, oh, say, nine or so hours, depending on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, whether or not one can consider bedtime ever really actually over when a child who has thrown a fit over an evening snack, the order in which books are read, the level to which lights are dimmed, and the exact position of my body while I am singing lullabies, finds his or her way out of the bed I’ve so desperately tried to lure him or her into for so long–ends up sleeping, yes, right next to me in my not-quite-big-enough bed. 

 

This is, I'm both happy and devastated to report, a vast improvement to the bedtime situation in my home; the lowest periods, thankfully, are in my past. I hope. The evenings my then-toddler son would not stay in his bed unless I was sitting in his room until he fell asleep, or directly outside his door scream whispering "SHHHHHHHHHHHH" through gritted teeth until he fell asleep, were harder. And wasn't that multiple-years-long period during which songs from both The Little Mermaid and Frozen crept their way into the mandatory performance of lullabies more annoying than what currently happens, which is watching my youngest operatically mime singing the "normal" lullabies along with me into a pretend microphone? And certainly the time period during which I somehow wound up sleeping in a twin bed with at least two of my children was worse. Worse, even, than the time period during which I somehow wound up sleeping on a fold out couch with at least two of my children. 

 

I know how. Desperation. That's how. 

 

Now that my eldest child requires no more than a goodnight blessing and a hug before he reads himself to sleep--or rather, before he calls out "goodnight" to each individual member of our family until he gets an individual response from each one of us, before he then insists on my appearing outside of his bedroom multiple times to ask questions he has absolutely come up with on the spot--I can feel we're heading in the right direction. And now that my daughters (who share a room that is, though they are only six and seven years old, already entirely covered in clothing and other Important Things that cannot be cleaned up before bedtime) sometimes even like to brush my hair and put lotion on my feet as I read to them (sometimes really great books about adventurous children and sometimes astonishingly bad books about singing mice with school crushes); now that they even take turns reading to me and to each other before getting in bed and requesting kisses to be doled out in just such an order and arguing about which child will receive said kisses in just such an order, I can feel we are headed in the right direction. 

 

I think.

 

And I know this long, drawn out routine is all my fault. I know that. It's the result of some bad decisions my husband and I made a long time ago, when we were novice parents and sleep deprived and desperate. And perhaps we will always actually be novice parents who are frequently sleep deprived and often desperate. But I don't think that's why this routine persists. No, I think it's because during this long, drawn out period I have one goal, and one goal only, which has absolutely nothing in the world to do with making sure these wondrous creatures, my most beloved darling babes, drift off to sleep feeling secure, wrapped in my love, and fully ready for a restorative night. Rather, my goal, by the time a certain point in the evening rolls around and I have snuggled them and talked through the day with them and read to them and managed to stay awake all the while, is to tuck them in and say good night with a kiss and then, without fits or fanfare or questions about belly buttons, escape them for the comforts of my couch where my cherished blanket of the most perfect fabric and weight is waiting for me, where I know I will, when I am finally released to go sit with my husband with our cartons of ice cream, tiny spoons in hand, just be.

 

Which, of course, isn't as easy as it may sound.

 

Recently, a dear friend and old roommate reminded me that, when my husband and I first started dating, though I so fondly remember the excitement of our boozy, sweaty evenings of dancing at concerts, the lingering conversations we shared over curated meals in low lit restaurants, and the meandering bike adventures we took through Brooklyn, it was, in fact, our shared passion for ending the day with ice cream that was true backbone of our relationship. Or rather, perhaps a bit more romantically, it was who we became together when, at the end of the day, we sat there, cartons and spoons in hand, to just be. 

 

By now my husband and I have seemingly endless, intricate, individual relationship strands binding us together. Some of these are the kinds of thrilling, magnificent, emotional, magnetic, dramatically looping ties one imagines sharing with one's partner when one watches a certain number of romantic comedies in one's youth. And just as many of them are the kinds of banal, mundane, hum-drum knots that drag us from day to day. We are each-other's best friends and lovers and confidants and cheerleaders and sounding boards just as much as we are each-other's annoyances and exasperations and frustrations and yes, even the home of each-other's disappointments. And we choose this every single day. My husband is the one with whom I want to examine and question and explore life as we live it together. It is his incense I want to wrinkle my nose at unpleasantly and the existential questions he asks me at the most inopportune moments I want frazzling me while I cook dinner no one will eat. And it's all deeply good, but often it's hard and sometimes it's scary and a lot of the time I feel like a kid pretending I know what the hell I'm doing out here in my life as a wife and a mother who is in charge of making sure three human beings get enough sleep, to say nothing of how much sleep I’m getting or not! So by the time we find ourselves communing at the end of the day–mulling over what’s happened in the world and in our days, who we are and what we’re doing, who we want to be and what we want to be doing–we really must have ice cream in our hands.

 

Also, a lot of the time we just watch TV while we eat our ice cream. TV is really important to us, too. 

 

I hear there will come a time when I miss being asked, after I have already said goodnight for the fourth time, whether a person can reach their eyeball if they stick their finger far enough up their nose or whether lizards have nipples; I will reach a day when I miss being called back into a bedroom after I have left it for the fifth time, to be told that one child or the other has decided upon a blended future profession and can’t wait another moment to tell me (veterinarian and rockstar), and of course, that I'll long for my children to wake me twenty minutes after I have fallen asleep to tell me they just cannot possibly sleep without being able to look at my face. The people who tell me these things obviously have older children. They are the same people who smiled at me with pity and envy both as my toddler children tantrumed on the floor of the grocery store, while benignly, if not helpfully, reminding me to enjoy every minute because it all goes by so fast.

 

And it does. It goes by fast.

 

I trace the loops of my relationship with my husband, the arcs of our family's creation and movement forward, through the memories of the couches we sat on together eating ice cream. It was an old brown couch, purchased used and carried with difficulty up the slope in Brooklyn to my then-boyfriend's studio apartment where we ate Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Therapy together. A winning combination of textures. It was on a surprisingly comfortable futon-like thing we schlepped as fiancees in a rental car from the one Ikea in Israel to our apartment in Jerusalem exactly 67 steps up that we munched those decadent Magnum bars, the caramel dripping down our chins. It was on the dull brown couch we bought when we moved together back to Brooklyn, the one with the matching chair that made us feel so grown up, that we discovered what we called Shabbat ice cream, the astonishingly expensive and absolutely perfect Jeni's Darkest Chocolate, the expense of which was for special occasions only. That flavor saw me through my first two pregnancies and was our son's first taste of ice cream. He reached for the spoon over and over again. In our DC rowhouse rental on our mass of a gray couch we were introduced to Graeter's French Pot mint ice cream with that satiny chocolate ribbon, where we went from being a family of four to knowing we'd be a family of five. Now, in our DC condo, we have a blue, L-shaped couch and less and less time to sit on it, just the two of us, at the end of the day. In the morning our children wrestle on it, in the afternoon they read and draw. I'm always fixing the pillows and re-folding the blankets. I've traded chocolate for the joys of fruit ice creams. Jeni's is no longer a sacred expense and we routinely have the joyous Brambleberry Crisp in the freezer. Our children peek in the trash can some mornings and laugh with each-other when they see a finished carton. Recently, we discovered strawberry mochi ice cream, though have yet to identify a favorite brand; Trader Joe’s is in the running. On Fridays, our children stack all the cartons of ice cream we have on the counter and examine their options before choosing their two servings. On the best days, we have hot fudge to accompany their Shabbat treat. They eat it at the table or the counter; they're not old enough yet to be trusted with ice cream on the couch. 

 

One day we won't put our children to bed at all; maybe we'll even put ourselves to bed before they head to their rooms. It's hard to imagine and we have no idea what will be, what's to come. But I hope we'll understand it together, face it together, rejoice in it together, mourn it together, ice cream and tiny spoons in hand. 

 


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Tuna Salad Theater

A few years ago the New York Times had a test you could take and the point was they'd be able to tell you within some impressively small mile-radius just where you were from. The battle lines were really drawn on words like water fountain, which some people ridiculously call bubblers, traffic circles known to some as roundabouts, which, if anyone has spent as much time as I have trying to navigate DC traffic circles, they'd know they couldn't possibly be called something as charming as "roundabout." Lollipops are apparently also called suckers by some strange geographic groups. And of course there's the great soda debate. When I arrived at college I had a midwestern roommate and a southern one, and it was then that I learned that the central Ohioan called all brands of bubbly beverages, sweetened or not, caffeinated or citrusy, "pop," which actually made a kind of sense to me even though it was wrong. But my North Carolinian roommate claimed it all as Coke. Even Pepsis Coke! The expectation when ordering at a restaurant was to request a "Coke" and then be asked what kind--Sprite, diet, root beer, and so on.

Absolutely ridiculous. 

And now, all these years later, I find myself baffled by a different kind of puzzle having to do with the word theater, which my husband inexplicably pronounces "THEE-der" and my son, doubly inexplicably, pronounces "the-AY-der." My husband was born in St. Louis and grew up in Providence and his parents pronounce the word theater as I do, which is to say, correctly. And my son was born in Brooklyn and is growing up in Washington DCSo you can see why it's all very confusing to me since he says basically every single other word as I do. This is not, as some mispronunciations are, an issue of a speech impediment or childlike pronunciation, with which I am familiar.

My seven-year-old does a wonderful thing with her R's. At first she couldn't say them at all really, and they came out as W's, which I know is common. Her R's then transitioned briefly to a kind of Hebrew "resh" sound, and now there's something else happening, a kind of folding in of the sound, which is the only way I can really put it, and I absolutely love it because it's like her own sound, her own language, which is not the same thing as an inexplicable mispronunciation. And I know that some day she will be taught to fix this, and that some parents might already have gotten it taken care of, but we haven't yet seen a need. It's not that we are encouraging childish mispronunciations--except when we are, as is the case in our home with blueberries (bupahdees) and cucumbers (cucaboos and cumayas, both), because there is something so utterly charming to parents about the ways in which our children hear words, bring them into their heads and then back out of their mouths with different sounds, and in this case I simply cannot let go of the two-year-old pronunciations. But we're also not telling our children they're wrong, even in the case of the mysterious theater, because, it seems to me, as a parent I spend so very much of my time correcting, either gently, or not-so-gently

And maybe it would be nicer to think of all of this correcting as guiding. Is it not, after all, our job as parents to guide these little beings we created? To mold them in the image we believe is best, the one that will lead them to live lives of goodness and meaning and service, to help them to be good citizens, mensches in their communities, and maybe even to pronounce words correctly, or at least within the New York Times realm of their regional dialects?
 
This was easier when all we were trying to teach our children was to not eat bandaids found in the playground sandbox, or not to bite other kids when they're taking too long with the play-doh. But now that my children are older--old enough, even, to notice the very many ways and styles in which other families other parents - are doing it, are raising their children, guiding them, correcting them--this has become infinitely harder because not only are we still eking out this path for them, sometimes (okay, most of the time) as we go along and as they age, we are now also eking it out while being asked WHY we are doing it the way we are, as opposed to, say, the ways other families are, and we are being asked this by our five-, seven-, and nineyear olds whose intellectual sophistication seems to fluctuate by the minute. So my husband and I are trying to teach our children that, for now, they have no choice but to do the things the way our family does them because we think our ways are best, while at the same time attempting diplomacy on the part of their friends' families' ways, which has led me to be the kind of desperately unlikable person who says things like "well, in our family we only have one dessert after lunch and that's just the way it is."

So yes, for those of us who aren't struggling to meet our childrens' most basic physical needs, who are downright lucky enough to be able to spend time thinking about all of this stuff, there are different ways to do it, to love children and give them the platform they need to become all the things we hope for them. Heck, there are different ways to do this within a family according to each child's needs and personality! And we're all just stumbling along, hoping what we want for them is right, praying that the path we're laying for them will guide them there and that they'll learn how to continue on it someday without us. There is no one right way.
 
Except, obviously, when it comes to pronouncing the word theater. All of which, of course, brings me to tuna salad.
 
There are many ways to make tuna salad. Many of them are passable, and some of them are even quite good, but there is actually only one fully right way to make it, which is the way my mother made it, and all of the other ways are just inferior. No judgment here, just truth.

To make the right kind of tuna salad first you have to buy cans of tuna in water. Bumblebee is best because that's what my mom always bought. You have to squeeze out the excess water before dumping the fish into a bowl. This step is kind of gross but absolutely can't be avoided. Next you have to chop celery into small pieces. Not too small, though. Half an arch should do, and if you don't know what I mean about that I'm sorry. The celery goes in the bowl with the tuna. Now add the juice of a lemon, or two, depending on the size and juiciness of the lemon, as well as so very much mayonnaise (Hellman's is best here) you have to close your eyes while you're spooning it or squeezing it in. Then comes salt and pepper--more grinds of pepper than you think you need. Mix it all really well and taste it and see if you need more mayo. You do.

Keep it in a sealed container in the fridge and use it for a tuna melt on a bagel. When it's Passover, eat it on matzah.  When it's not Passover, eat it on everything else, like toast or pita chips or tortilla chips or crackers.
 
You'll probably make it again soon.
Sometimes it's okay for there to be just one right way to do things.
Sometimes it's easier that way. 



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

in search of entenmann's cake on my mother's birthday

in entenmann's cake eating, as in many things mothers and daughters can and should do together if they are well suited to one another, my mother and i were a perfect match. the little white box would appear on the counter with its window to the chocolate confection below. when she peeled back the sides and popped open the box i'd find the littlest spoon i could and ease the silky chocolate frosting from the top, ever so delicately, revealing the chocolate cake below. then she would move in with her fork, making slow headway on the landscape of the naked cake i'd just unearthed.

she did not want to eat the frosting. i did not want to eat the cake. and so we shared this delicacy, wasting not a crumb.
my mother, never shy with her opinions, and never short on them, either, taught by example that it is okay to like what you like and avoid what you don't. many people do not like marzipan, she explained when i was disappointed to discover that a friend's homemade yule log decoration--a small animal i popped in my mouth whole with excited anticipation--tasted...well... like marzipan.

she was right. many people do not like marzipan. i do not like marzipan, even when it is cute.
though my mother did not go around broadcasting her dislikes, she also did not apologize for them, either. it startled me that she did not regret not liking things most other people with active taste buds like: hershey's kisses and doritos and starburst. they were not for her, she did not like them, and that was fine.
this lesson extends well beyond food. i just recently stopped feeling ashamed that, despite both critical acclaim and glowing recommendations from friends, i have never been able to muster the energy to get beyond the tenth page of 1000 years of solitude. i do not like it! it is not for me! and that is fine!

so i do not apologize when i want to eat the frosting off a cake piece for dessert. i do not feel embarrassed when i simply want to spoon chocolate tahini straight from the jar into my mouth at the counter as my second dinner after the children are asleep. because it is okay to want what you want and eat it the way you want to eat it.

i am made fun of for tailoring dishes to my liking at restaurants. i do this, i hope, within reason, and with a smile. i ask for the otherwise perfectly lovely sounding goat cheese and beet salad to be served without walnuts, which i do not eat in most cases, and for the otherwise perfectly fitting bowl of roasted vegetables and poached egg to be served without bacon bits, which i do not eat in any case. i am not ashamed to do this. my mother taught me this.

she also taught me it is also okay to agree with people who like something you've made.
my mother once told a friend of hers how lovely she thought this friend's grandchild was and how beautiful. "thank you for saying that" the friend responded and my mother thought this was very odd, and essentially another way of saying thank you for the compliment, which is not a compliment that is true.  i overheard my mother telling my father this and i was confused. she explained that it was more the way it was said. and that when someone compliments her own children, she proudly agrees. i was young then, and tried to imagine it.

friend: oh, your daughter is so nice to babies and so good at making friendship bracelets.
my mother, smiling knowingly, nodding: i agree. and you should see how well she plays kick the can.

i felt embarrassed that she would so boldly take credit that way, but she was not. she made us, and she took great, deep, easy, satisfied pride in us. (which isn't to say she did not see our flaws.) i understand it better now that i have my own children in whom i take similar pride.

i understood this episode better later, and as it related to food. she was not a frilly cook. her dishes were not extravagant, and she did not garnish them. but she was a warm cook, and her food was delicious and comforting and a happy thing to eat. if someone complimented a particular dish and she, too, was enjoying this dish, she would agree and say yes, isn't it good? this was her way of saying yes, i am enjoying it with you, the same as you. but if she did not think a particular dish was very good, and she was not enjoying with the person eating it, the same as the person eating it, she would say thank you. that is all. thank you. which, i think, she understood to be the equivalent of "thank you for saying that."
sometimes my mother's confirmations about the deliciousness of her food would surprise people who might have expected a more subtle response to a compliment. but why? why is it odd to outwardly take pleasure in something you've made as a way to share it with someone else? it is not vanity. it is delight. sharing in delight. she meant the things she said, really truly, and similarly she only gave compliments when she felt them to be true, and she did not much care if other people did not feel them to be true. she used to tell me i looked like a movie star, which i did not, and which i knew i did not. but i knew that she believed that. and of course, knowing that she believed that felt deeply good.
she made so many people feel deeply good. she brought delight.

 
today is her 67th birthday. i meant to bring home a chocolate chocolate entenmann's cake and share it with my children. my 5 year old would have nibbled at it slowly, more excited by the idea of it than the reality. my 3 year old would have licked the frosting off, discarded the cake, and asked for more. she, too, prefers little spoons. my 2 year old would have ask for me to cut her piece up, and then she would have eaten it all.

it wasn't to be. i could find this cake nowhere. not at giant, not at cvs. at safeway, a nice man suggested a carvel ice cream cake. he did not understand. it is my mother's birthday.
my mother's six grandchildren on their birth days

after dinner i gave each child a chocolate chip cookie, on top of which i generously spread chocolate frosting. i told them about the way i used to eat entenmann's chocolate cake with her. they smiled and giggled and asked questions with chocolate covered tongues. my mother would not have eaten this dessert. she would not have liked it. but she would have approved of the indulgence of three of her six grandchildren in her honor. she would have delighted at the sight.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

winter afternoon blondies. because we all need them.


the moments when a day--once full of promise, once peaking--begins a gentle descent to its conclusion, the air cooling, bowing to the settling darkness, are powerful. afternoon becoming evening is a transition. a separation. an end and a beginning all at once...

and for a mother trapped inside a condo with three small children in winter, these are moments of descent into sheer madness. these are the moments in which everyone is tired. everyone is grumpy. everyone wants space. these are the moments in which a drop of water spilled on a shirt is met with a 45 minute crying fest. in which two year olds hug one year olds around the neck with gusto. in which two year olds and four year olds play "the bumping game" which never, ever, ever ends well. these are the moments in which a broken lego construction might actually be the end of the world.

of course, it isn't always like this. 
in spring, glorious spring, we spend these transitional moments outside. at the playground. scooting. biking. walking. running. rejoicing in the newness of the season. in summer we're at the pool, which we can see from our window, walk to with no shoes, and at which we pass those insufferably swampy dc summer afternoons cooling ourselves. the mosquitos can't get us there. in fall we hike. we collect leaves and acorns and gleefully catch those helicopter things as they spin down from the trees. 

but then winter comes. 
and there is no more outside. 
not for me, anyway. 

over the summer, in the heat of an august evening, i met a woman who lives on a homestead in maine. her descriptions of life in her cabin in winter inspired me. she braves the northern winds and snows and so can we! this year will be different and we'll play outside no matter the weather and no matter the dark! there's no such thing as bad weather--just bad coats! dark shmark! look at us go! 
it's easy to dream when it's 80.

the very first time we headed for the park under that weak, cloud beaten sun, when the air hovered somewhere in the mid thirties, i could feel my resolve crumbling. by the time we got home i had changed my mind entirely. we would not spend the winter outside, after all. some people just aren't cut out for the cold. so inside we go.

josh says it's good for children to be bored. he read that somewhere. probably there is some deep rabbinic wisdom in that statement, but josh is not home from 4:30-6:30 pm most of the time, and so he does not know the kind of horrors bored children can reap. 
  
so here, as i see it, are my options for indoor winter sanity:

-playspaces are sometimes great! they are also regularly pretty expensive and sometimes unfortunately smelly. if you are the kind of person who worries about germs, do not go to indoor playspaces, which is where all the germs live. that doesn't bother me, though. what bothers me is the perpetual "watch me do this" and the "are you watching are you watching are you watching" and the "no, that wasn't it, keep watching keep watching keep watching!" sometimes--especially the times i have paid good money for my children to run and jump and climb on padded surfaces indoors--i do not want to watch. sometimes i just want to stare at the wall and wonder how long it is until bedtime so i can just stare at the wall in peace. another risk involved in afternoon playspace outings is the godforsaken nap. the one that happens at exactly the wrong time, for exactly the wrong number of minutes, inevitably resulting in the dreaded waking-the-kids-up-to-get-out-of-the-car-and-walk-up-the-hill-to-our-condo. there is no longer walk.

-reading. to three children. who are all different ages. we read, of course we read. we read until everyone fights over my lap or starts grabbing at the book and whining about not being able to see. 

-playing. of course we play. my children build with legos and magnatiles. they make believe they're doctors and i'm the patient. they pretend to cook food in a mini kitchen and serve it to me and blow on it for me if it's too hot. we roll and bounce and throw balls but not too hard please. we build forts with boxes and they fill them with stuffed animals and dive into them. nothing ever ends because it was just time for it to end. they play until playing turns into fighting and screaming and hitting.

-arts and crafts. i love arts and crafts. arts and crafts are quiet and fun! cleaning up glitter paper and glitter glue and regular paper and regular glue is not fun! arts and crafts projects do not last as long as they should. see above. 

-fake magic. i once spent 17 agonizing minutes straight doing "magic" with a quarter.

-science magic. recently we made magical volcanoes that involve alka-seltzer and magical tie dye milk that involves dish soap and magical colorful rice in which we buried treasures. i call these things magical because a) i do not understand the science behind them and b) i hope referring to something as "magical" will buy me at least 6 extra minutes of child involvement. 
sometimes bath time is the activity du jour, thanks to our discovery of foam soap. sometimes i tell them to please just go jump on their beds. 

and yes, we watch tv. because TV SAVES LIVES. 

it's not that i don't want to be with my children during these long, looong, looooooong afternoon/evening hours. in fact, i have lucked into a job and a life that allows me to do exactly that; to spend more time with these incredible beings than i could ever have hoped. it's just that i find it difficult to be with them inside our not-very-large condo between the hours of 4:30-6:30 pm. those are bad hours when the crankiness quotient is turned up to high and the bickering and downright physical fighting just doesn't let up. and i'm not at my best during these hours, either. i get frustrated and frazzled and i have a short fuse. there are days i feel like i'm just barely treading water. and of course they sense that. they sense everything. and of course that makes absolutely everything worse. 
what they need, what we all need is fresh air and space. but like i said, it's too cold for me. (i should admit that i'm obviously glorifying spring, summer, and fall. those hours are hard hours then, too. but right now it's winter. and the hours are harder.)

sometimes, during these hard hours, i'm filled with doubt and worry that i'm not doing enough. that the ever present love that surrounds my children every moment of their existence whether they are being hilariously enchanting and charming or horrifyingly whiny and difficult, is somehow not enough. i wish i knew for certain i'm giving them all they need. but i've never done this before--this raising three children born in less that four years thing--and a lot of the time i'm just winging it. maybe most of the time. and the number one person who was in charge of making sure i had what i needed isn't here to guide me, or tell me to just calm the heck down and have a glass of wine. and my mom would tell me that no one in their right mind would intentionally spend a cold winter afternoon and evening cavorting in the woods with three children this young. or even at the playground, for that matter. my mom would tell me to trust that i have what it takes. 
but i still feel this nagging guilt that i am somehow responsible for my children's indoor-related wretchedness at the end of the day. why should they suffer indoors because of my lack of fortitude? 

they shouldn't. they should get bakers reward.
bakers reward is, of course, a real thing in bakeries everywhere. in my house, however, it is nothing more than bribery to participate in the activity i love so very much and find so deeply soothing. a chocolate chip here or there after the baking powder is measured, the butter and sugar whipped. 
after all, one of the ways i show the people i love that i love them is by baking for them. and so my children are learning to bake with me, to take turns pouring sugar and stirring flour, cracking eggs and whiffing vanilla. and i hope, in so doing, they are learning a way, my way, of saying i love you and get well and congratulations and i'm sorry and i'm thinking of you and a finding a way of sharing sweetness with others for no particular reason at all. and so, more and more, i find that we spend at least some of those hard winter afternoons and evenings together in the kitchen. 
the recipe below is particularly hands on because instead of using brown sugar we actually make our own by combining white sugar and molasses, which is fun for my children to do with forks and fingers. i keep coming back to this recipe for other reasons, too. something about the balance of sweet and salty, that heavy molasses warmth and tang draws me in. i like to eat these straight from the freezer. josh likes them warmed in the microwave for 13 seconds. my children will eat them any way they can get their hands on them. and cleaning up a baking mess is a whole lot more pleasant than cleaning up glitter. 
winter afternoon blondies
adapted from joy the baker's candy bar cookie bars. i've made them her way, with candy. that's good too, obviously. 
 
ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons molasses
2 sticks salted butter, melted
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla 
1 bag of chocolate chips. or chocolate chunks
lots and lots of thick, flaky sea salt

to make:
1. preheat the oven to 350 F and line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper.
2. whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. combine the molasses and granulated sugar until there are no clumps. (fingers work best here.) then add the sugar to the dry ingredients.
4. whisk the butter, eggs, and vanilla, then add this mix to the dry ingredients and stir. it'll be nice and thick. stir in the chocolate. all of it.
5. bake for about 25 minutes. they should be golden brown and maybe just slightly undercooked when you take them out of the oven and generously sprinkle sea salt all over them. let them cool before lifting them out slicing them. 
6. wait until the kids go to bed and then eat them all. after all, you've had a hard day.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

ice cream lasagna. (you read that right.)

ice cream lasagna.
it exists. (i'm not kidding.)
i didn't invent it, but i wish i had.
it's what happens when you take a bunch of absurdly not-homemade-things and put them together in a pan and feel accomplished.
and it's delicious. (obviously.)

here's how you make it:
line a pan with ice-cream sandwiches. 
cover them with room temperature hot fudge.
and then caramel sauce.
and then defrosted cool whip.
and then crumbled cookies. 
repeat.
eat. 
(you're going to need some seltzer...)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

6th and 60th anniversaries. and cake.

a few years ago my younger brother joey said this: it's hard to be a person. he is very wise even though i still like to tell him what to do. it is hard to be a person. 

here are just some of the day to day things that make it hard to be a person:
making appointments for dental cleanings
calling insurance companies
choosing the right curtains
flossing
keeping the medicine cabinet clean
waking up too early
listening to people chew too loudly
saving money
going to the post office

there are others, of course. scary and real things like debt and loneliness and pain and things that change absolutely everything about life, like death. 
october 10th was my anniversary. josh and i have been married for six years. and here is what i know after six years of marriage: it's still hard to be a person. 

it's even harder now, actually, because i am now not only a person, but a wife and the mother of three small children who cannot even get themselves breakfast. no, marriage definitely doesn't make it easier to be a person. but being married to josh, being on his team and having him on mine has made my life so very meaningful. he and my children have filled it with enough beauty, laughter, excitement, and wonder that i'd be okay even if i had to call the insurance company every single day. it's okay for it to be hard. it's supposed to be hard. but it's also supposed to be good. and for me being a person is so very, very, deeply, wonderfully good. 

six years.

my grandparents have been married sixty. this weekend we celebrated and had a party and in attendance were their thirteen grandchildren and eight great grand children and counting... (NO. I DO NOT MEAN ME. (i have contributed enough.)) their lives have certainly not been easy. i imagine it only gets harder to be a person as we age. but there they are, still laughing together. 
my parents would have laughed for ever and ever, too.
i know how lucky i am to have witnessed not one, but two generations of marriages that survived all the things that make it hard to be people. marriages that helped those day to day annoyances fade by nightfall, that made those real, true hardships seem surmountable, and those unspeakable heartbreaks seem somehow bearable. and of course, marriages in which life's gifts were emphasized and acknowledged as the real, true blessings they are. marriages filled with interest and understanding and support and laughter.

who am i to say what makes for a happy marriage? i suppose it's different for everyone. mine might not make it easier to be a person, but i imagine the goodness of our lives together will carry us through for as long as we have.

i pray our six years turns to sixty, and then more. 

we had carrot cake at our wedding. my grandparents had brooklyn blackout cake at their 60th anniversary party. these are superb cakes. but they are not easy. they're both involved and intricate and they that take no small amount of work. but the work is meaningful, and when they're baked and frosted and it's time to indulge, it becomes abundantly clear that the hard is clearly worth it.