The Gifts We’re Given

IMG_2965In an admirable display of self-restraint, my daughter and I managed to make it two hours into our road trip before opening the giant bag of gummy bears.

It had been a good drive, so far. She left the radio tuned to the Prom Channel, featuring party hits and slow songs from the 80’s and 90’s (XM channel 4, check it out). She endured my stories. At least I think she did, but maybe since my eyes were on the road I just couldn’t see hers rolling.

The songs provided good fodder for conversation. We agreed that my essay for English class declaring “Every Breath You Take” as the best love song ever written was perhaps a bit misguided. I took great pleasure in blowing her mind when I revealed the doofus named Marky Mark rapping awkwardly about good vibrations was none other than mildly cool (but “super old”) actor Mark Wahlberg.

The air was thick with nostalgia as I listened to songs from high school, thinking about how many years have passed in such a short amount of time. Thankfully, the steady stream of candy handed to me by my co-pilot helped blunt the wave of melancholy.

Just as I was about to pop the millionth gummy bear into my mouth, I noticed that it was two-toned.

“Did you just bite two gummy bears in half and reattach them?” I asked my daughter.

She laughed.

“No, I tore them apart and then pushed them together. Ew, did you think you were eating a gummy bear that had been in my mouth? So gross.”

“Oh honey, you wouldn’t believe the things I used to let you feed me.”

I attempted to describe what it’s like to have a cherubic 9-month-old try to feed you a drool-saturated Cheerio from the tray of her high chair. The only thing you can do is smile, open your mouth and say, “mmmmmm, THANK YOU.”

“Why would you ever eat that?”

I explained that I was trying to teach her how to share and be kind, so when she attempted to feed me a Drool-io, I knew it was her way of showing love. It was the best gift she could offer me at the time.

Images of gifts from years past started to flash through my mind like an old slide show. I saw chubby, dimpled hands outstretched with a fistful of just-picked flowers, or more likely, weeds. Strings of beads with MOM in block letters. Handmade cards with scribbled drawings and phonetic spelling. Rocks that were almost heart-shaped if I squinted hard enough. Bird feathers of suspect origin.

Time and again, I accepted with wonder and gratitude whatever small gestures of love were offered to me. Not surprisingly, I’m still doing it fifteen years later, since teenagers have remarkably subtle ways of showing they care.

These days I relish a text with a heart emoji the same way I enthusiastically accepted a soggy Cheerio all those years ago. And since bear hugs are now in short supply, I quietly cheer when an arm gets casually draped over my shoulders for a few brief seconds.

My daughter used to tell me I’m as beautiful as a princess, but now compliments are doled out in the form of her declaring, “If you loaned me that sweater, I’d wear it.” My son no longer asks for a bedtime story, but when he nonchalantly announces he’s going to sleep and could talk for a bit if I wanted to, I race up the stairs and then casually walk into his room like it’s no big deal, all the while knowing that it is definitely a big deal.

It seems the rules of parenting don’t change as the kids get older: pay attention; stay open; be grateful. Just like when they were babies in high chairs, my teens are figuring out how to express affection. The love is still there, it just looks a little different these days.

Happy Mother’s Day, may your weekend be filled with love, in all its forms.

The Universe is Not Subtle

Image-1I realize there are times the universe needs to teach me a lesson, but is it too much to ask that my knock upside the head come from a flyswatter instead of a sledgehammer?

It all started about five years ago when a pair of doves built a nest on a brick ledge by our garage door. The female bird settled into the nest and sat patiently as we marveled at her steely determination to stay put, even as the noisy garage door creaked up and down all day long.

After a few weeks, we noticed two tiny fluffy heads peeking out over the edge of the nest. “The babies are here,” we shouted like a new father to a hospital waiting room. We obsessively watched the two baby birds grow, eventually getting too big for the nest and flying away.

Lucky for us, Mother Nature’s show wasn’t finished and we still had a front row seat for the encore. The mama bird returned to hatch and raise two more pairs of babies that summer. We excitedly pointed out the nest to anyone within shouting distance, even the hyper-efficient UPS guy paused for a moment to take in the scene.

Once the weather started to cool, the third set of babies flew away and the nest sat vacant as the pace of our family life sped up with the return to school, a full schedule of fall sports, the holidays and finally a brand new year.

Just as the kids were getting antsy with spring fever, we were surprised to discover that the bird had returned to spend another summer hatching eggs, feeding her babies and teaching them to fly. At first, we were amazed, but eventually, the sight of a bustling bird’s nest became commonplace.

The third spring, we greeted the mama bird’s return with nothing more than a, “Hey, she’s back.” When friends pulled into our driveway and noticed the birds, our response was a nonchalant, “Oh yeah, they come every year.”

I should have known better than to take for granted the little bits of magic in my life.

It’s as if the shrug of my shoulders set off a chain reaction to teach me a lesson. Something went wrong with the birds. It could have been a neighborhood cat or an errant football, but one day, they were gone.

For a while, I held out hope that the bird would return to try again or that maybe a new bird would take over the nest, but it’s been a few years and it doesn’t seem like we’re getting a do-over. Apparently, this is the lesson I needed to learn, delivered with a much too on-the-nose metaphor: an empty nest.

By the time kids are teenagers, we’ve been around them so much that the magic of family life can feel commonplace. I take for granted the snippets of conversation I overhear while driving carpools. I’m used to having all four of us at the dinner table. I assume my calendar – with every weekend earmarked for a basketball or volleyball tournament — will never change.

But soon a driver’s license will replace the carpools and a dorm room will replace the childhood bedroom. Eventually, my weekends will be wide open and sports-free.

Family life changes, often too quickly, especially if I don’t pause to appreciate it. And just in case I forget, I now have literally an empty nest sitting at the front of my house to remind me day after day to always marvel at the magic.

72 Degrees

FullSizeRender-4She hurls herself into the front seat, always juggling accessories: phone, backpack, shoes, an open container of yogurt. She turns the radio off, no matter the song, because mom music sucks unconditionally. She then punches the sync button, undoing the setting linking driver and passenger temperatures.

She adjusts her side of the car either all the way up to HI or all the way down to LO. Fiery hot or icy cold; there seems to be no middle ground for a teenager.

I drive in silence, reminding myself that this insistence on autonomy is a necessary part of growing up, and that my music, in fact, does not suck. I’m also confident that someday our settings will be synched again at a pleasant 72 degrees. I only hope we don’t have too many more miles to go before we get there.

Magic

FullSizeRenderI turn the volume up as soon as I hear the opening riff. I match Robert Smith word for word while driving my daughter to volleyball practice:

Show me show me show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream, she said
The one that makes me laugh, she said
And threw her arms around my neck

Show me how you do it
And I promise you, I promise that
I’ll run away with you
I’ll run away with you

Wistful, I sigh. Unimpressed, she groans.

“What a stupid song about magic tricks,” she says.

“What? No, it’s a love song. The trick isn’t literally a trick, it’s a kiss or maybe just that butterflies-in-your stomach feeling when you like someone.”

“Nope. It’s about a magic trick. Thanks for the ride. See ya.”

The car door closes with a solid thunk and she runs to the gym, leaving me with memories from long ago and the accompanying soundtrack.

I can hear Belinda Carlisle belting Mad About You as I fall hard for a cute boy in junior high. Unfortunately, I hear Whitesnake questioning Is This Love during my first kiss. (Don’t judge. MTV was on in the background)

I remember panicking as I realize I’m in over my head at my first concert: Oingo Boingo. Sporting a seafoam green turtleneck, a short black skirt and tragically, black and white polka dot suspenders, I spend the bulk of the show worrying about the possibility of getting high from secondhand smoke. Nancy Reagan’s admonition to just say no reached at least one kid in the late eighties.

Fortunately, by the time Depeche Mode’s Violator tour came to town a few years later, my friends and I were seasoned concert veterans, a tight group of high school seniors naïve enough to believe the lyrics as we sang along:

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms

 At prom, we busted a move to, well, Bust a Move and then later slow danced to Wicked Game. We rebuffed boys who thought whispering the lyrics to More Than Words would be their ticket to getting lucky. And finally, we said goodbye to high school with a rapid-fire sing along in the car to It’s the End of the World as We Know It while driving to graduation.

It’s all there, the entire beautiful, gawky experience of growing up, woven between lyrics and melodies of songs that I will never forget.

And yet my own kid thinks Just Like Heaven is about a magic trick.

Jolted out of my reverie as I pull into the garage, I don’t bother getting out of the car before turning to Google. I read segments of an interview with Robert Smith while still sitting behind the wheel.

The song is about hyperventilating – kissing and fainting to the floor.

Exactly. Feeling relief that love is not dead, I keep reading.

The opening line of the song (show me show me show me how you do that trick) refers to his childhood memories of mastering magic tricks.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

So… I guess we’re both right?

I was fourteen when Just Like Heaven came out, the same age my daughter is now. I suppose there’s a chance that when I first heard the song I, too, thought it was about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Maybe songs aren’t infused with meaning until we’ve lived with them for a while and they become tangled with memories. The time, place and people around us become as integral to our experience as the tune itself.

Feeling melancholy, I make a Spotify playlist featuring almost four hours of music from back in the day. It’s a nice distraction while attending to the mundane tasks of adult life – cooking, cleaning, errands – but it isn’t necessarily a place I want to linger. Nostalgia has a way of obscuring our view when given enough psychic real estate.

I will, however, revisit songs from high school when I need to muster empathy for my teenage daughter. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to navigate intense joy, heartache and camaraderie all in a single morning, usually while sporting a chin zit. I think listening to The Smiths might make it easier for me to relate.

And while I can’t expect my daughter to like my favorite songs from twenty-five years ago, I can enjoy watching her cue up songs for her own playlist. I just hope the mix contains something similar to Just Like Heaven, paying tribute to both the love and, yes, magic that is part of being a teenager.

Feeling like a moody teenager? I’ve got a playlist for you:

How To Break Your Heart in an Afternoon

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Drag your family to San Francisco’s MOMA for one of your infamous Forced Family Fun Days.

Endure eye rolls from your daughter who is running on two hours of sleep thanks to a slumber party the night before.

Give your son the stink eye as he wanders from gallery to gallery stating loudly, “THAT is not art.”

Gasp as your son mistakes a ledge with a sculpture on it for a bench, and almost sits on the art.

Apologize profusely to the museum security guard.

Snap a photo of your daughter, long legs, waterfall of hair, and realize she is the most radiant piece of art in the room. Feel a lump in your throat as you see her, perhaps for the first time, as the young woman she is becoming instead of the child she once was.

Watch your son masterfully create a photo at the art kiosk and know that, despite complaining, he is enjoying your adventure. Smile as he hands you a printout of his creation for safe keeping. Feel grateful he still trusts you with his treasures.

Convince your kids that the giant rust-colored sculpture on the ground floor is entitled “Cinnamon Roll.” Wander through the spiral labyrinth laughing, losing your family along the way. Remain confident that if you keep going, you all will find a way back to each other. Cross your fingers and hope that’s true forever.

Walk outside and spot the tapas bar that was your old hangout when you lived in the city. Realize that you and your husband started meeting there after work almost 20 years ago. Tell the kids that you’ve changed your lunch plans and lead the way into the restaurant.

Feel a pang of nostalgia when the sangria and patatas bravas are just as good as you remember. Watch your kids adventurously taste everything you order. Feel pride that they like to cook and eat and try new things as much as you do.

Think back 20 years to your old job and your old colleagues who’d gather at the restaurant’s long bar after a long day. Remember the good times you had drinking pitchers of beer while playing darts. Question the wisdom of combining beer and darts.

Remember how much you complained about your job back in the day. Realize that you were lucky to be doing interesting work with great people. Understand that petty annoyances are quickly forgotten while memories of the good times endure.

Acknowledge the same thing is true for parenting.

Forgive the eye rolls, the endless bickering, the declaration that, “I’d rather be shopping.”

Recall how 20 years have passed in the blink of an eye – a blur of exciting days and wasted days and heartbreaking days and joyful days. Fear that the next 20 years will slip away even more quickly. Vow to pay attention, focus on the good, appreciate moments of happiness, write it all down. Smile at the three people you love the most in the world and start planning your next Forced Family Fun Day.

The Sleepy Apple

“No, no, no. God no,” she screamed, as if I’m an ax murder slowly walking towards her while menacingly sharpening my blade.

At first glance, it could be a scene straight out of a cheesy slasher film, complete with a beautiful starlet in distress and a deranged knife-wielding killer.

Except in this case, the distressed starlet is my daughter and I’m the psycho causing terror by slowly walking towards her wielding…wait for it…

…a box of Cheerios.

Welcome to our world. A world in which a mother and daughter, neither of whom are morning people, try to wake up while it’s still dark outside and function at a level high enough to get the daughter out the door in time to catch the bus to middle school. We’d make an entertaining reality show; the Kardashians got nothing on two groggy Davis ladies.

I envy those preternaturally cheery types who greet the day like a Disney princess. Unfortunately, I’m the opposite, starting every morning by cursing the alarm and crawling to the coffee maker. Those who love me know to hold all nonessential communication until the second cup has hit my bloodstream.

Sadly, since the sleepy apple doesn’t fall far from the sleepy tree, our mornings are rough – especially when the sleepy apple decides to go on a cereal boycott.

With only three minutes to ingest something reasonably breakfast-y before running out the door, my daughter requested I quickly whip up a batch of French toast. And since I’m 1) not a morning person and 2) sometimes a little bit of a bitch, I laughed and said, “As if.”

Not my strongest parenting move.

The argument quickly ricocheted from the merits of Cheerios to the classification of yogurt as a breakfast food. For the record, yogurt is unequivocally a breakfast food. Duh.

She stomped out of the house and I still don’t know what she ate for breakfast. I think she tucked a yogurt into her backpack. Maybe she ate it for brunch just to prove me wrong.

After my third cup of coffee finally did its job and cleared the mental cobwebs, I realized how funny this morning’s fight was and hope the sleepy apple agrees when she comes home from school today. I also decided to mix up a batch of overnight waffles as a peace offering and a way to ensure that tomorrow morning goes a little more smoothly.

These are my family’s favorite waffles: crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and simply delicious. Making them couldn’t be easier – mix 90% of the ingredients together the night before and let the yeast do the work while you snooze. Then in the morning, curse your alarm clock, crawl to the coffee maker, fire up the waffle iron and enjoy an awesome breakfast, not a Cheerio or yogurt container in sight.

The internet is loaded with recipes for yeasted waffles, I like this one by Emma Christiansen over at thekitchn.com It makes a lot of waffles – freeze the leftovers and reheat them in the toaster for an easy breakfast that’s ready even before the first cup of coffee kicks in.

Overnight Yeasted Waffles

Stir 1 tablespoon active dry yeast into 1 cup of warm water, let stand for a few minutes until the yeast has dissolved. In a large bowl (like, really large because the batter is going to at least double in size) combine 2 sticks of unsalted butter (melted and cooled a little), 4 cups of milk (whole or low fat is fine) 2 teaspoons of salt and ¼ cup of sugar. Next add the yeast mixture and 6 cups of flour. Stir just enough to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let the batter sit on the counter to rise overnight. If you’re concerned about milk sitting out overnight, you can let the batter rise in the refrigerator instead, but come on, live a little.

The next morning, whisk 4 eggs and 1 teaspoon of baking soda into the batter.

After that, simply fire up the waffle iron and get to work.

This recipe makes about 16 Belgian-style waffles.

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.