The Naughty List, and New Year’s Resolutions

In a combination of what was a whirl-wind December and holiday season, begun about half-way through Advent on an evening where I decided that typing was a better use for my hands than wringing the necks of naughty children.

Let’s talk now about something I think most parents don’t want to admit. My children are definitely not on the Nice list this year. Are yours? Are anyone’s?

It feels impossible to live the way I want to live this (or any) December. In my fantasies, there are sweet moments of baking, where nobody fights over the rolling pin or eats all the chocolate chips out of the batter. In my realities, the kitchen is too messy to get to all that baking anyway. And on the rare afternoon that I do, the screaming, fighting, and flour-spilling are almost not worth it.

I love to take my children to the playground on a brisk, sunny winter afternoon. And in my fantasies, they appreciate going, play nicely, and then come when they are called when it’s time to leave. In reality, I find myself at the playground gate holding a shivering Bitsy, whose hands are literally blue, screaming that the baby is freezing and the other two won’t be going to see Santa this weekend if they don’t GET TO THE GATE BY THE COUNT OF THREE…which of course they don’t. And now we aren’t going to see Santa this weekend. Except of course we will, so I will have to make up some other way for them to “work around” this punishment of not getting to go see Santa, which usually involves doing extra chores like carrying laundry to the hamper or picking up somebody else’s toys. Which ultimately undermines my authority because they realize they can be naughty now and still get time off for good behavior, but I don’t really care. I wanna see Santa.

And in my fantasies, my life is absolutely devoid of the annoying lectures I spill forth, almost verbatim from my childhood, about coming when called and considering the freezing baby and when mommy says “now,” now means now, right away, not whenever you get around to it and by the way stop trying to ask me questions because CAN’T YOU SEE I’M ON THE PHONE? and nobody listens to them but me. (Except I’m pretty sure they must be filing them away somewhere, because those lectures are going to come right back spewing out when they have children.)

To be fair, I wanted these children. So I made my own bed, and now I gotta lie in it.

My children are bright and funny, and they have the capacity to be amazingly sweet and thoughtful individuals. And this actually happens about 12% of the time. Apparently it happens more like 65% of the time that they are in the care of other people. Great.

And there you have the sum of everything I had time to write in December. Feels a little unfinished—kind of like my month, my holiday, and my credit card bill. But now greeting cards have all been sent, (except I didn’t send any) the Christmas rush is through (except it’s still up all over our house even though we’re three days into Ordinary Time) and I still have one wish to make (and not just for a Carpenters Greatest Hits CD)…

I do wish, in this New Year, that I can appreciate my children more for the kids they are, and not the kids I want them to be. That’s the whole goal and focus of parenting, isn’t it? Because these little people, naughty though they can be, are really just kids. And they will not be who or what I expect them to be, but God expects me to love them anyway. And I do. I just know that my whole life will be a lot easier twenty years from now if I can hone that habit today of relinquishing (not my hopes, but) my ever-present expectations. Because they really are such wonderful children.

Of faeries and lies.

Something wondrous is afoot amouth. My Baby Bear has lost her first tooth. I remember when that tooth came in. With pain and toil did I bring it! (Or so I thought.) Dr. Awesome was away on a long, tropical and enviable business trip, so naturally his firstborn needed to do something really horrible to Mommy like cut a tooth and spike a fever and refuse to sleep for seven straight days. At least that’s how I remember it. I truly cannot believe that tooth I fretted over has had the gall to come out. I am excited for her, of course. The grown-up tooth behind, wouldn’t you know, is already in—already up! I shuddered at the sight because it was so far back and immediately began estimates on future orthodontia. But the dentist assured me that it was fine and normal, and the permanent tooth would work its way forward as soon as the milk tooth came out. It’s been less than 48 hours, and that permanent tooth is already almost where it needs to be, and the other milk teeth, which seemed so close together, seem to be shifting aside for it. The way children grow is truly a miracle.

It is bittersweet to me to see my baby lose her first tooth. Has it been five years already? I am also touched by the sweetness of seeing Bitsy’s come in while Bear’s come out. Of course, there is a lot less fretting over the baby teeth than there used to be. While with the first child I frantically felt the gumline every six hours whenever there was any more fussing, drooling, or gnawing than usual, by the third it’s more like the baby smiled one day and I said, “Oh wow, look at you with those three teeth!”

With the exit of the first tooth comes the entrance of the Tooth Fairy. And here we examine the Lies We Tell Our Children. Where does the fun stop and the guilt begin? I will be honest and say that I never really considered whether or not we would do the Tooth Fairy, and instead got right down to Just how cheap can this Fairy be? (The going rate for a five-year-old tooth in my house, if you’re wondering, is a crisp dollar, and the only thing disappointing about that seemed to be that Bear was hoping it would be made out of chocolate.) I was freaked about slipping the buck under her pillow. I was sure I would get caught, and I planned to tell her I was just so eager to see if the Tooth Fairy had come yet that I was checking to see if it were so. As it turns out, after I slipped the buck and pocketed the tooth I discovered that Boo had wet his bed and managed to get him cleaned up with pants and sheets completely changed and Bear never stirred from her sound slumber in the bed “next door.”

But I will also say that a part of me, the part that tries to raise my children with full knowledge of the truth of this world and the next as I understand it, wants to know why I am perpetuating flat-out lies that only get more and more complicated as the questions get asked. (And Bear is a perfect interrogator. We have found that she asks us questions separately to confirm our stories. She also runs her own experiments. More on that later.)

Well, I guess, we want to recreate for our children some of the lore we loved as children. Advent is almost upon us, and the Elves have already been up and down our street, so I’ve told it, peeking in on good and naughty children. It makes me wonder, are we obligated to tell our children the whole truth all of the time? We do Santa Claus in our house. We stress the Saint Nicholas aspect and try to make everything as much about Jesus’s birthday as possible. We don’t do the Easter Bunny, partly because I find those big stuffed characters creepy and mostly because I just couldn’t make the connection. We do Easter baskets, and this year we left it as it is fun pretending there’s an Easter Bunny but since you asked, the Easter Bunny is Mommy. But it’s OK for us to pretend. But still we lead our kids to believe that a magical fat man in a red and white suit brings them all the presents in their stockings and under the tree.

Why? Because we love our children. And we loved being children too.

So with the loss of the tooth and the entrance of the Fairy and the first Sighting of the Elves (conveniently while someone was being naughty) the questions began tonight. First, she asked me why only grown-ups can see elves. “I think it’s something that happens to your eyes, like one of many changes your body goes through to grow from a kid to an adult.” And I feel the elaborateness of my answers digging me in deeper. At bedtime I heard her interrogating Dr. A through the wall.

Is there one Tooth Fairy, or many? “Hmm… I always thought there was one, but you’d better ask your mother.” (Note the classic paternal deflection.)

Why did Bobby from my class get candy instead of me? “I’ve never heard of anyone getting candy for a tooth, because candy is bad for your teeth. So maybe there are many tooth fairies…”

How big are elves? Are they tall like you? “Oh, small. Like kids maybe.” What color was the elf wearing? “It was so dark, I couldn’t see.” Mommy said he was wearing green. “Well, that makes sense. Green is a hard color to see in the dark.”

He came out of there sweating. We have since corroborated elf size, elf apparel, elf spying tactics, and elf species dimorphism.

And I have uncovered another reason we tell these lies to our children.

It’s fun.

Thanksgiving: The Final Countdown

When I started bringing home the groceries on Monday and Doc saw the bottles of bubbly, white flour, and bags of brown sugar he asked, quite seriously, “Are we even gonna make it to Thanksgiving?”

I am cooking this year. Because I have five gallons of sourdough starter and company coming who loves her cinnamon rolls (Auntie Awesome, that is) I thought that homemade sourdough cinnamon rolls for the morning after Thanksgiving and a couple of massive loaves of homemade bread were in order. And I turned most of that homemade bread into homemade stuffing. So, did everyone else know that not only can you buy bread to tear into pieces to make your homemade stuffing with…(wait for it…) apparently you can also buy bags of pre-cut seasoned bread cubes just for making stuffing with. In some cultures, they even make boxed stuffing. So yes, I must be nuts. But I did it anyway, of course.

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I think they look like cinnamon roses.

Then, since there were only going to be five of us I thought I would save myself some trouble and only make one pie: Pumpkin pie. My grandma’s pie, which she learned from her mother-in-law my great-grandmother, after whom I named my oldest daughter. (Yes, the pie is that good.) So OBVIOUSLY I have to make grandma’s/great-grandma’s/Bear’s pumpkin pie. It’s my favorite and the company’s favorite, and the kids love it, and it’s totally traditional. But then Dr. Awesome walked around for a week with an unawesome sad face (seriously) because he wouldn’t be getting his favorite Maple Syrup pie. (We are not Canadian. But sometimes I think we could be.) It’s not hard to make. I have offered to teach him to make it himself several times, in order to help me, you know, with the whole cooking the feast thing. He just sighs a little sigh and lets a little silence sink in for a while and says something like, “It’s OK. I’m sure I’ll like the pumpkin. You should make what you want.” Pregnant silence. “I’ll have it next year, right?” SO OF COURSE I HAD TO MAKE THE DAMN SYRUP PIE.

After pumpkin, I prefer the pecan pie I grew up with. The maple pie tastes a lot like a pecan pie without the pecans. So one year I thought I would compromise, and I added the pecans I like to Doc’s favorite pie. I now call that The Year I Almost Ended My Marriage. Anyway…

Monday I broke out that 5 lb bag of All-Purpose Flour, and I used the WHOLE THING. I haven’t yet settled on a name for my starter, but I am considering whatever it was they called the alien plant monster from Little Shop of Horrors. “FEED ME, SEYMORE!” is what it was screaming. It ate the whole bag, and burped out a bread sponge so massive it had to go in my crock-pot (just for storage) and a roll of cinnamon-sugar-butter-laden sweetness as long as my counter. Dr. A and I watched a PBS documentary called The Pilgrims, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to celebrate any more.

Tuesday I made that sponge into two massive and majorly delicious loaves of bread. I also broke the news to my mother that I was using sourdough in the stuffing this year, and she paused for a moment of silence while she considered if she ought to disown me. I put the kids to work raking up big piles of leave to re-scatter all over the yard. And I read about five million ways to brine a turkey. Then, Bitsy gave herself a yogurt facial.

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Gotta look good for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday was the big prep day. In keeping with the low sugar theme, I made some absolutely rockin’ cranberry sauce using 2/3 cup apple juice, a chopped gala apple, a skinned and chopped Bartlett pear, 8 ounces of cranberries, cinnamon sticks, and finished off with only a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar. (Pictured below before the cranberries were added. I wanted the apples to soften first.)

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Then I tasted it, and thought maybe I could have even skipped the brown sugar, it was so good. I’m particularly proud of that sauce because I thought of it all by myself, no Googling involved. The kids were not so convinced.

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(I am a good cook, but a lousy photographer. It must be too much like cleaning.)

I then put the kids to work cleaning and tearing homemade sourdough bread into small pieces for stuffing. The turkey got put into brine, and after bedtime (because I am not an idiot) I made two pies, chocolate chip pumpkin muffins, and watched the first half of Salem Witch Trials on Amazon Prime. You know, to be me back in a Thanksgiving mood. Dear God, this year, I am so thankful that I am not a pilgrim, or a Puritan, or a woman living in the 1690s. Amen.

Now it is Thanksgiving, and I have written too much. I have a turkey to baste, and gravy to make, and (a husband to convince) potatoes to mash. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to one and all!

An Aside: On Uncouth Sweeteners

By uncouth, of course, I mean unrefined. When we started “giving up sugar” I basically considered anything sweet except fruit to be the sugar we needed to give up. I’ve still been avoiding it all in large part, but I have come to make a few distinctions.

Raw honey is yummy. When we were all sick with colds a few weeks ago, I did crack open this stuff. A spoonful of honey helps any sore throat feel better…or maybe just loved. I also used it in small amounts in several batches of whole wheat sourdough English muffins, which of themselves helped solve the school-morning breakfast crisis. Because it’s always a crisis.

Maple syrup is the bees’ knees. Honestly, I do consider this refined sugar. After all—it’s not like we’re pouring maple sap on our pancakes. But I also know it is slightly more nutritive than granulated white sugar, and a good form of manganese, or magnesium, or something. And Dr. Awesome happens to be in love with it. So I have used this to substitute for granulated sugar in some of those morning muffin recipes. Besides my birthday morning toaster waffle breakfast (lovingly prepared by Bear) we have not been using it. I did make pancakes once this whole experiment, and slathered them with Kerrygold and strawberry all-fruit spread. Oh my wow.

Molasses is mo’ ‘licious. (OK, that was a stretch. It might be malicious, depending on whom you ask.) I love the robust flavor of molasses. And it is definitely refined—it is actually a byproduct of the sugar refining process. While bees make honey and maybe a really slow-burning forest fire could make maple syrup (that makes sense, right?) molasses couldn’t exist without the sugar refining process. However, robust and delicious blackstrap molasses also happens to be something like the highest source of non-heme iron on the planet. (Seriously. Read the back of the bottle.) And it turned out after Bitsy’s one-year blood-draw that she is low iron. Guess who else is apparently low iron? Her breastfeeding Mama, number one source of the nursling’s iron stores. Aside from immediately feeling crushing “Mom guilt” (My poor baby! Why haven’t I eaten my liver and kale like a good girl? Or at least kept taking that prenatal vitamin?!) there was also a part of me jumping up and down saying Yippee, molasses cookies for me! Then the pediatrician asked me if I was getting enough calories because “technically you’re still eating for two,” and I almost kissed her. So, blackstrap has come back into our lives. Not in cookie form, but typically as a spoonful on oatmeal. And if you’re not eating other sugar, that typically bitter-tasting blackstrap tastes delightfully sweet. At least when paired with ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, that molasses oatmeal is like a cookie in a bowl. Plus I had a free pass to cool it with a few tablespoons of vitamin C apple juice instead of milk, because the pediatrician told me to. Coo.

Day What?

Day what?

I think it’s Day 30. Which means yesterday, my birthday, was Day 29, which is very fitting since that’s how old I turned. Again.

Ahem.

So, here I am, cruising along this no sugar thing. I have become the woman who says “No, you can’t have those yogurts, there’s too much sugar in them,” and also the woman who shouts, “Oh my gosh, have you tried these raisins? They’re like candy!” on a fairly regular basis. In other words, I’ve become obnoxious.

But I have also had a fair amount of derails from this sugar-free love train. Am I the only one who occasionally punishes my children, when exasperated because apparently they inherited a fair amount of obnoxious themselves, by taking away their Halloween candy…and eating it in front of them? Am I alone in this? I can only mostly blame this on PMS. (I don’t know what Dr. Awesome’s excuse was. Possibly also my PMS. But he would never, ever, EVER in a million years admit that. Unless I die first.) That happened a few times.

By this point in November Bear has already consumed or lost all of her Halloween candy. Boo has a few undesirables rattling around his bowl. And hello, we are LESS THAN A WEEK from Thanksgiving. I’m sorry, but I fully admit it: I’ve already started drooling.

I’m not the only one. Every time we enter the grocery store we are confronted with about thirty massive displays of miniature marshmallows. I shop almost exclusively at Trader Joe’s (which is almost as cheap but slightly more chic than shopping almost exclusively at Aldi) and I’m wondering if mini marshmallows are new this year or if somebody decided they would be “the next pumpkin” because they are everywhere in huge piles all over the store. I imagine the staff are building forts after hours with bags of these things. And every time we pass a pile—which is literally after we pass almost every aisle in the store—Boo grabs a bag and shouts “OH! OH! WE GOTTA GET MARSHMALLOWS!” And I deny it every single time. And let me pat myself on the back here, people, because I love marshmallows. I do. They are actually one of the few (perhaps only) chocolateless confections on my love list. And by that I mean the “I’m stranded on a desert island and I would be packing this” kind of list. They are also heavily featured in a few of my other favorites, like Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, which has sat uncontested at the top of my ice cream chart for the last 15 years…. I have to stop. I’m killing me. But it reminds me of a good joke I heard the other day.

My car-obsessed Boo, who gives a shout-out to every auto body shop we pass, came into my room to say, “I took me to the body shop today, and got a new body!”

“Oh, got your little car fixed?”

“No, I got MY body fixed!”

Your body? What did you get, silly Boo? A new leg? A new elbow?”

Nooooo. Not a leg or an elbow! I got….a new belly.”

“A new belly? Well what was wrong with your old belly?”

“My old belly…was rumbling.”

For real.

So, in case you are wondering, on the celebration of my (third annual) 29th birthday, I did not care one way or the other whether sugar was consumed. I went to a friend’s house at her invitation, for example, and since we hadn’t seen each other in a while, she didn’t know I was forgoing sugar, and she had made me a batch of cupcakes to take home. Well, I didn’t take home the cupcakes. But I did tell her, “Look, I’m at your house, I don’t want to be rude; I will eat whatever you serve.” It was my birthday, so naturally she served me twice.

I did have a terrible crash at 3:30 that afternoon. Coffee was standing by.

I treated myself to a sitter and celebrated with some friends at a wine and cheese bar—with a flight of wine, because how often do you turn 29? Certainly no more than half a dozen times. (And apparently, if you’re a man, only once.) And it was so, so worth it. It was grand.

Because when someone says something nice about you…you share it!

This Monday I am pleased to introduce Mary Catherine Awesome. She totally made those corn muffins like forty-seven seconds before that picture was taken but her food is so delicious that it disappears like she’s baking at Hogwarts. Mary Catherine is basically June Cleaver. Except PG-13. This actual human woman cooks an actual edible dinner […]

via Monday’s Mama is Fetch AF. — BabyCostsMoney

Day 14: Feeling healthy yet? Let’s Run a 5K!

I am Mom, and therefore frequently prepared for many unexpected emergencies of life, but I am not prepared for everything. Bear’s school, like most elementary schools, falls short on its funds every year for little extras like computers or books or something, and has to turn to the neighboring community and solicit monetary help. When I was a kid we sold Sally Foster wrapping paper, and we trudged door to door with our slick color catalogues, hoping to entice our neighbors of any denomination to shell out the sheckels for cheap, thin, gaudily decorated Christmas and Hanukkah wrap. My mother dreaded it. (And I finally know why. Rather than get the pretty, sturdy, and tasteful paper she wanted to wrap our presents in, she felt obligated to order twenty rolls of that overpriced crap. Ah, the good old days.)

When I moved from public to Catholic school, I didn’t have to sell wrapping paper anymore. Yes! Now I could sell CHOCOLATE! That was just as overpriced, but understandably easier to swallow.

In these enlightened days kids don’t have to sell paper or paper-wrapped confections door to door. Instead our school hosts a 5K and 1K “fun run” to raise money. And of course, people can donate online. So we decided, as enterprising parents of a Kindergartner, to get with the program. I signed up to run the 5K. I didn’t think much about it. Bear was so excited for the 1K. Dr. A was less excited for the idea of entertaining the three of them while I ran. What was I thinking? I am not a person who finds running fun. I am a person who finds signing up for things and later telling funny stories about them fun. But running? Sometimes I can really be an idiot. I just thought, “Gee, I’ll be so healthy, this is great!”

In many ways it was great. I was also greatly surprised when Bear refused to line up at the last minute, and she absolutely positively did not run. I was flabbergast, and embarrassed, because all the other kids were excited and it was just supposed to be about fun and how did my five-year-old turn into an over-stressed and over-scheduled female who cracked under the pressure to perform? I had no idea she was so much like me!

Boo, on the other hand, asked over and over again for a number and wanted to run with all the other kids just for the sheer joy of running. So clearly I registered the wrong kid. I promised Bear I would do the 1K with both of them next year, and Dr. A could finally try some form of land-based exercise. Do you know we have been married for what rounds up to a decade, and I have never seen the man run? I mean not counting chasing progeny down the sidewalk or out of the street, of course.

But how was I unprepared? Only because I ended up completing the 5K with Bitsy in an umbrella stroller. I was not the only stroller jogger, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one without a jogging stroller. Of course, I have a jogging stroller, and I use it all the time for Stroller Strides, where jogging is for short spurts and infinitely optional. But mine is a double jogger, which is roughly the size of the Titanic, and when the thought occurred to me at 11 p.m. the night before the run, “Gee, what is Doc gonna do with all three kids on the sidelines for 40 minutes? Hmm…Better push the baby,” it was immediately followed with “Man…I don’t want to push the double jogger…” and I, foolishly, just packed the umbrella. How many women do I know who own a single jogger she was probably not going to be using that Saturday morning? Plenty. Did the thought occur to me? Nope. Did I wish about five-hundred times while huffing and puffing during the three-mile run that I was A.) not running and/or B.) pushing a smooth-rolling, high-handled baby jogger instead of a futsy four-wheeled umbrella? Yep. Did I keep (walk-jog-run-walk-jog-)running anyway? You betcha. Because it was fun? NO WAY! Because I am stubborn.

But hey, we all gotta be something.

I would also like to note how kind the race volunteers were. They all kept shouting, “Coffee and doughnuts waiting at the finish line! Coffee and doughnuts waiting!” But of course I didn’t have a doughnut. I had a banana, and later a hot bath, and then I declared to Dr. Awesome that I was taking the rest of the day off and would eat a steak and lounge around reading magazines in my bathrobe and would he mind taking three whining children to the grocery store? And he didn’t mind. Because he’s awesome. But I think that might have a little to do with why he wants to run the 5K next year.