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.

Roxanne

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If you’re reading this story, it means I’ve mustered up enough courage to hit the “publish” button.  It also means that if you’ve ever suspected  I’m a big awkward dork, you’re about to learn you’re an excellent judge of character.

OK, here’s the first odd thing: I have a culinary bucket list.  Some people want to travel the world or skydive before they die, I want to learn how to make chocolate croissants and roast a whole fish.

This bucket list is why I found myself in the kitchen on a sunny afternoon, attempting to make pretzels and subsequently cross one more item off my list.  Things were going smoothly — the dough had risen and it was time to twist the pretzels.

Shaping pretzel after pretzel is kind of Zen but there’s only so much quiet reflection a girl can handle.  To help quell the monotony, I pulled up my favorite Pandora channel, hit play and settled back into my groove, quietly humming along with Michael Hutchence.

After a few more minutes, I did what any emotionally healthy, totally sane person would do: I picked a fight with myself.

Oh my God, could you be any more uptight?  You’re home alone.  Humming.  Nobody hums when they’re alone.  And nobody hums INXS.  Ever.  Live a little.

Damn, I sure told me.  Shamed into action, I start to sing along.

The next song brought about some toe tapping and head bobbing, followed by hip swaying and even louder singing.

By the fifth song, I was feeling it — music cranked as loud as it would go, I belted out Roxanne as if I was the one painfully in love with the beguiling streetwalker.  Sting tried to sing along with me but I told him to sit down and relax with the rest of The Police, ‘cuz I totally got this:

Roxanne (Put on the red light)
Roxanne (Put on the red light)

I was going for the awesome finish with an air drum solo when a flash of movement caught my eye.  I look up, expecting to see a squirrel on my deck.  Sadly, it was not a squirrel.  It was so not a squirrel.

It was a man I’d never seen before standing in my backyard, looking horrified.

I had forgotten that I made an appointment to get an estimate for a few home repairs.  I quickly weighed my options and realized that I couldn’t drop to the floor and crawl away, so I dusted the flour off my hands, turned down the music and stepped outside for what will go down as one of the most awkward conversations of my life.

“I, uh, rang the doorbell several times but I think your music was too loud.”

“Oh, ha ha.  Yeah.  I’m making pretzels.”

As if that explained everything.

Somehow Baby can get away with, “I carried a watermelon,” but “I’m making pretzels” just doesn’t cut it.

We stumbled through a conversation, he gave me a price quote and I sent him on his way, probably scarred for life.  Neither of us spoke of Roxanne.

★★★

I may have been crushed, but the pretzels were pretty awesome.  Here’s the recipe if you’d like to make them.  It’s not hard to do and it’s even kind of fun — just be sure to keep the music at a respectable volume.

Roxanne’s Soft Pretzels
A modified recipe from the King Arthur Flour web site.

pretzel dough
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
7/8 to 1 cup warm water*

pretzel bath
6 cups boiling water mixed with
2 tablespoons baking soda

Place all of the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat until well-combined. Knead the dough (by hand or with a dough hook) for about 5 minutes, until it’s soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly coated with olive oil, cover with a clean kitchen towel  and allow it to rest for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 475°F. Line a baking sheet with a silpat mat.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces.

Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Bring 6 cups of water to boil and add 2 tablespoons baking soda.  Stand back, the mix will bubble big time.  Leave the mix simmering on the stove.

Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28″ to 30″ long), and twist each rope into a pretzel shape.

Working with 4 pretzels at a time, place them in the pan with the simmering baking soda/water mix, spooning the water over their tops.  Cook for 1 minute, then place pretzels on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle pretzels with coarse kosher salt.

Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they’re a deep golden brown color.

Columbus Day

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What’s your favorite holiday?  Christmas?  Aw, how nice.  Thanksgiving?  Lovely.  Halloween?  Spooky.  Oh, and you’re wrong.  Around here, Columbus Day reigns supreme for one simple reason: my husband has the day off work but the kids don’t have the day off school.  Once a year, we are granted six kid-free hours to run amok like sailors in the New World.

Past Columbus Days have been marked by sporty endeavors involving hiking trails or mountain bikes.  Last year was embarrassingly practical – we spent the day shopping for dishwashers.  This year threatened to be another snooze fest as we discussed things like going to the auto body shop (sadly, not a euphemism) and buying a nice ficus for the corner of our family room.

A ficus?  Columbus didn’t traipse around the globe claiming land and spreading disease so we could take a day off to buy a ficus.  Thankfully, we realized the lameness of our ways and went with Plan B: a quick road trip to wine country for lunch at one of our favorite spots that we haven’t been to in years.

We ate.  We drank.  We photo bombed tourists’ vacation snapshots.  We went deep and tackled tough topics such as our entrance songs — music we would want played to announce our arrival at a party, WWE smackdown or beer pong tournament.  It was perfect.

The success of our Columbus Day adventures hinges on playing it cool around the kids to minimize their complaints that it’s not fair – boring Monday morning for them, best day ever for us.  We were able to hold it together long enough to maturely wipe the shit-eating grins off our faces, get the kids ready for school, and feed them cake for breakfast as a peace offering.

Not just any cake, but a plum cake that has achieved cult status since appearing in the New York Times way back in 1983.  It only takes a few ingredients and a few minutes to put together.  It has as much fruit as it does batter, so it totally counts as a healthy breakfast (consult your doctor about which healthy breakfast is right for you).  And it’s best  served on the second day, meaning an enterprising cook could bake it on Sunday afternoon so it’s ready Monday morning in honor of, uh I don’t know, Columbus Day maybe?

But do yourself a favor and don’t wait a full year to try this cake.  Chores and ficus shopping can wait, some days need to be celebrated with breakfast cake.

Marian Burros’ Famous Purple Plum Torte
I got this recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, who got it from Amanda Hesser’s  Essential New York Times Cookbook, who got it from Elegant But Easy, etc. etc. 

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
large pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar plus additional 2 teaspoons
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
6-12 purple Italian plums, halved and pitted (I used plums labeled “sweet plums” at the farmers’ market and it turned out great)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350°F. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time and scraping down the bowl, then the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into a buttered 9-inch springform pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar and the cinnamon over the top.

Bake until cake is golden (about 40 to 50 minutes). Cool on rack.

Once cool, let cake stand covered, at room temperature, overnight.  Delight kids by shouting, “surprise, it’s Columbus Day and we’re having cake for breakfast!”