Payback

A thank you note I should have written 30 years ago…

Dear Mom,

Thank you for all the times you took me shopping, especially back to school shopping.

Thank you for enduring the underage dance clubs masquerading as clothing stores, complete with nonexistent lighting, migraine-inducing music and sales girls who serve as bouncers deciding if you’re cool enough to wear their employer’s clothes.

Thank you for resisting the urge to say things like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe denim overalls (or MC Hammer pants or crop tops) are back in style. I wore those when I was your age.”

Similarly, thank you for not buying yourself a pair of shoes just like the ones I picked out because they really are both cute and comfortable.

Thank you for enduring hours in dressing rooms buried under piles of rejected clothes that needed to be hung up and put back on the racks.

Thank you for not ordering a shot of tequila when we finally took a lunch break.

Thank you for biting your tongue and letting me choose my “signature look” which unsurprisingly, resembled every other kid hoping to fit in at middle school.

I know that after a day of shopping, I would breezily offer a “thanks mom” while shuttling bags of new loot up to my room, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I fully understood the patience, love and emotional energy that went into a day at the stores – I guess they call it retail therapy for a reason.

So today I say thank you — for everything — as well as start my own 30-year countdown until my daughter can do the same.

Grapefruit Campari Sorbet

dsc_0991What do you do when you serve a perfectly delicious gazpacho to your family and one person groans and calls it “g-ASS-pacho” and another complains that the shrimp in the soup look like the tails of hairless cats? Move straight to dessert. A boozy dessert.

Grapefruit Campari Sorbet is the perfect summer treat — zippy, refreshing and laced with just enough alcohol that the kids have to leave it alone. In addition to tasting like frozen sunshine, this sorbet is a spectacular pinky-coral color that most definitely needs to be O.P.I.’s next nail polish hue. That’s right, I said it. I want to paint this stuff on my toes. I’m obsessed.

Campari is bracingly bitter, but don’t let that be a deterrent. As I frequently remind my husband, cloying sweetness is bland – in both spouses and desserts. You need a little bitter to keep things interesting. He just rolls his eyes. But he does like the sorbet.

The recipe is an easy mix of grapefruit juice, Campari and sugar. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can pour the base into a glass 9×13 dish, pop it in the freezer and scrape the mix with a fork every 30 minutes until you’ve made granita. Can’t be bothered to scrape ice crystals every half hour? Pour the mix into popsicle molds instead.

Sorbet, granita or popsicle – this recipe is worth a try. It’s delicious, easy to make, and apparently much better than my gazpacho.

Grapefruit Campari Sorbet
Recipe from the ice cream king himself,  David Lebovitz

3 cups fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice (I was able to get almost 3 cups of juice from 4 grapefruits and then just topped it off with a splash of orange juice from the fridge)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup Campari

Warm 1 cup of the grapefruit juice and the sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and stir the mixture into remaining grapefruit juice. Add the Campari and stir well.

Chill the mixture and then freeze according to your ice cream machine’s instructions. Or make granita. Or make popsicles. Just make it.

Let It Go

I didn’t snap until May, which is damn impressive considering the movie and its earworm of a soundtrack had been out for six months.  Despite the fact that my own kids weren’t that enamored with Frozen, the rest of the country was, and so we suffered.  All of us.  Until inspiration struck during a car ride on Mother’s Day.

We weren’t even listening to the Disney Channel or KidzBop or any other station that panders to pint-sized tyrants with horrible taste in music.  And yet, the familiar opening notes of Let It Go started to fill the car.  I groaned.  And then impulsively blurted out:

“Hey kids, here’s a fun fact.  Did you know that this song is really about farting?”

They looked at me, horrified yet curious.  “Just listen,” I told them.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!

I heard giggles from the back seat.

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

 Bigger laughs fill the car.  By the time we got to the chorus, they were roaring.

 Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

The song finished, cementing another bond within our family: a juvenile, gross inside joke.  I made them promise not to repeat it and made my son pinky swear to keep it together when his teacher plays the Frozen soundtrack during free choice time at school.  They agreed, and considering that I didn’t receive any phone calls from the teachers, I think they kept their word.

I frequently lament the fact that time with my kids has passed way too quickly.  I miss the details about life with little ones: footie pajamas, counting to “eleventeen,” the smell of baby shampoo.  Predictably, I’ve turned into the weird lady at Target who grins way too enthusiastically at anyone under the age of two.

But as much as I miss the baby stage, big kids have their advantages.  Aside from the obvious stuff like not pooping on themselves and knowing how to start the coffee maker for me in the morning, it’s also been fun to give them a glimpse of me as a person, not just me as a mom.

They’re old enough to be able to handle (and perhaps even appreciate) that I have a dry sense of humor and a fondness for the occasional, well-placed curse word.  It’s time for them to understand that I cry shamelessly at all happy, sad and sappy occasions. Especially the sappy occasions.  And they need to know that I will never, ever be a morning person.

It’s kind of a relief to outgrow my role of angelic caretaker and become more of a camp counselor – still in charge but also able to bend the rules occasionally.  I don’t think I’ll ever get over longing for the baby days, but when I’m feeling nostalgic I’ll try and remember that toddlers never would have laughed with me about poor flatulent Elsa encouraging little girls everywhere to just let it go.

Whole Hearts

“Artichokes,” she answered, when we wondered what she would like to eat before facing five days of camp food.  “Buy four, so we each can have our own heart.”

Extravagant, sure.  But Sunday’s family dinner would need to hold us until she returned Friday afternoon.  By all means, buy the artichokes.

Perhaps she knew we needed reinforcement – one or two meager artichoke hearts broken into pieces was not enough.  We each needed a whole heart to steel ourselves for the week ahead.

“I can’t do it, I’m not going,” she said as we filled her suitcase, following packing instructions to the letter.  “Of course you can,” I countered, wondering if my heart would be the one to crack first.

At bedtime we whispered tales of adventures and friends and how fast five days would pass.  Both of us agreed this was too big an opportunity to let slip away simply because we were scared.

Sleep arrived reluctantly, lightly.  We could hear each other from across the hall, rustling in beds, hearts racing in anticipation of the morning’s events.

Daylight brought brave faces and forced cheerfulness.  But the bus, looming impossibly huge in the parking lot, cast a shadow over our tenuous sunshine of happy thoughts.

A couple of false starts and then it was truly time.  Kids, suddenly looking like kindergarteners with oversized backpacks, filed past clumps of parents offering casual waves and “see ya laters.”

She runs ahead, straight to me, for one last hug.  Fighting tears but losing the battle, we squeeze tightly.

It isn’t easy living with such a soft shell —  experiencing emotions as if they were distilled and intensified, almost too bitter or too sweet to endure.  But as we held each other I realized that I’m in good company, our small club of sensitive souls.

With a salty kiss planted on her cheek, I send her on her adventure, embarrassed by the misty eyes but also confident that the only way to navigate our world is by feeling every moment with a whole heart.

Buzz

We bobbed in the water, heads peeking out expectantly as our swim coach walked the length of the pool casually tossing something to each swimmer.  I felt like a dolphin at Sea World waiting for a sardine to be dropped into my open, slightly smiling mouth.

Instead of sardines, we were given small beepers to tuck into our swim caps.  The beepers emitted an annoyingly cheerful chirp as we attempted to set a pace that matched our strokes to the beeps – kind of like a metronome for swimmers.

Beepers are awful.  But they’re also kind of awesome.  They make me work hard and pay attention.  I’m pretty sure that Michael Phelps’ mind doesn’t wander while in the middle of a workout, but it is amazing how many things I can think of during 25 short yards.  To wit:

Ow, that stroke kind of pinched my shoulder.
My son said his shoulder hurt last night.
Is it because he practiced pitching yesterday?
Maybe nine year olds shouldn’t be pitching yet.
Should I have given him Advil this morning?
I probably should make something anti-inflammatory for dinner.
Like a nice big salad.
Oh, wait, the NCAA basketball championship is on tonight. 
Everyone will want to eat dude food in front of the TV.
Ha ha, that’s funny: duuuuuuude foooooood.
Sounds like something Guy Fieri would eat.
I bet his car smells like stale farts and Axe body spray.
Ew.  Un-think!  Un-think!

I reach the wall, flip, and start the dialog all over again.  I don’t know what makes me more tired, swimming or the hamster wheel my mind runs on while I swim.

But the beeper changes all of that.  My mind can’t wander while I’m trying to keep pace with the nagging chirp in my ear so I end up focused and faster.  I left the pool today feeling like I accomplished something – and wishing that I could wear a beeper the rest of the day.  I certainly could stand to be focused and faster on land as well as in the pool.

Sadly, without the beeper, I’m a disaster.  I sit down to write but then jump up to put a hunk of meat in the Crock Pot as soon as I type “dude food.”  I Google Guy Fieri to see if he seems like the type to hold a grudge.  I write a paragraph but then notice a squirrel scaling our screen door. He looks like a tiny, furry flasher exposed against the glass, so obviously there’s only one thing I can do: grab my phone and attempt to snap a photo that could be used for next year’s Valentine’s Day card.  My husband is a lucky guy.

I try to summon the lesson from this morning’s workout, turning the cheerful beep into a scolding buzz with every wayward thought: dinner, buzz; Guy Fieri, buzz; squirrel junk, buzz.  Squirrel Junk.  That would make a great band name.  I wish I played guitar.  Am I too old for lessons?  I should take guitar lessons.  I wish Sting taught guitar lessons.  We could sing Roxanne.  Roxanne is a nice name.  I wonder whatever happened to that band Roxette…  Buzz.

 

Lefty

It’s wrong to say that my daughter played baseball like a girl, mostly because girls are fully capable of excelling at baseball.  It’s more accurate to say that my daughter swung a bat like a stoned T-Rex: sloooow timing and short little arms.

I did not understand how a girl who was capable of serving a volleyball hard enough to tattoo “Mizuno” across an unsuspecting opponent’s forehead could not manage to connect bat and ball.  She could dance gracefully across a stage, swim athletically through the water and even hike to the top of a volcano.  The kid’s got game – with one glaring exception.  She simply could not hit a baseball.

It wasn’t for lack of trying.  She spent hours with her dad swinging wildly at gentle pitches.  She was told to keep her eye on the ball, to just let the ball hit the bat and to not give up.  For months, nothing worked.  But then, while goofing around outside with her brother, everything changed.

“Mom, mom, mom, mommmmmmm, come outside – she’s a lefty!”

I hurried out the door, only slightly worried that a freak accident had instantly earned her the nickname “lefty.”

Much to my relief I saw my daughter, digits intact, standing over the manhole cover that doubled as home plate, taking a left-handed batting stance.  My son pitched, she swung and sent the ball flying down the street.

Turns out, the kid who does everything right-handed (including swinging a golf club and a tennis racquet) is a lefty batter.  It makes no sense.  But it worked.  And it got me thinking.

How many parenting problems could be solved if I was open-minded enough to consider solutions that fall into the “it makes no sense” category?

It makes no sense to skip breakfast.  Unless the kid isn’t hungry when he first wakes up and can eat a big morning snack at school instead.

It makes no sense to do homework the morning it’s due.  Unless the kid can happily pop out of bed early, alert and ready to focus.  A morning person?  In our family?  I have no idea how that gene snuck into our pool.  But instead of fretting, I’m starting to shrug and declare, “It works for us.”

My kids are much better than I am at considering all options, both traditional and unconventional.   They skip breakfast, confident they won’t be hungry until later.  They sleep peacefully, knowing homework will be finished in the morning.  And occasionally, a kid will step up to the plate as a lefty, surprising us all as she hits a home run.  Sometimes, we don’t need to force everything to make sense.  Sometimes, all we need to do is get out of the way and cheer.

Gingerbread What?

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Hey you – the crazy lady in the mirror with bags under her eyes and a sizable zit from stress-eating too much chocolate.

Did I really just hear you refer to gingerbread men as “little fuckers?”  As in, “how am I ever going to find time to bake those little fuckers?”

You’re missing the whole point and you know it.  Christmas could be tomorrow and it would be perfect.  The magic has already happened.

The kids are more excited about picking out gifts for each other than they are about their own Christmas loot.  Everyone worked together to decorate the house.  It looks like it’s been styled by Martha Stewart’s quirky, possibly drunk sister – and it’s awesome.  Putting the kids in charge of Elf on a Shelf on weekends so mom and dad could be surprised was a brilliant move.  Soak this in.

You know that the only thing you want everyone to remember about Christmas this year was how much they laughed and how much they loved.  Nothing that can be wrapped will ever do that.

So stop this nonsense.  Get some sleep.  Go for a swim.  Enjoy your friends and family.  And by all means, knock off the frenzied shopping and use the extra time to bake those little gingerbread fuckers – they’re one of the best parts of Christmas.