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-hil l-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.
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 teaspoons vanilla
1 bag of chocolate chips. or chocolate chunks
lots and lots of thick, flaky sea salt
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.