Thursday, September 27, 2012


Some little thoughts and quick tidbits:

  1. Gotta love a friend who will keep your feet on the ground. I decorated our mantle in a fall theme in prep for a jewelry party I was hosting.  When the ladies arrived, they did some ooh-ing and ah-ing over the decorations.  One friend went so far as to say it looked like something out of a magazine.  Even as I was basking in that compliment, my super-sharp friend, Marlene, piped up: “So.  When did you get out all the fall decorations?  This morning?”  She totally called me out and we both knew it.  I had to laugh and admit that she was right and – poof – with her one gently chiding comment, I was no longer the plan-ahead-interior-design-genius I was letting the ladies think I was.  I was my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-and-hope-it-comes-out-well-self again – definitely the truer of my identities.  And, to my surprise, it was more comfortable that way. Many thanks to Ms. Marlene for outing me.

  1. Sometimes I think I’d like to run a catering service.  And then I remember I haven’t completely lost my mind yet.  But considering the next three entries below revolve around making food, I have to wonder if I’m not closing the gap.
  1. I can get a normal week’s groceries without a list.  But if I’m making something special, I will often jot down the specific things I’ll need…and then forget the list on the dining room table.  But I’ve found that even though I don’t have the list at the store with me, the act of having written it out in the first place is enough to help me remember what I need.  And it’s doubly-effective if I’ve typed it into my phone using that god-forsaken, miniscule, touch-screen keyboard.  Just the effort alone seems to embed the data into my brain.  There must be something to that.

  1. Large, whole beets.  Wrapped in foil.  Baked like potatoes in the oven or on the grill for about an hour or until tender.  Drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with kosher salt.  Sublime.

  1. Some recipes require that you batter the food by dipping it in an egg wash then dredging it in a mix of dry ingredients, like flour and spices or breadcrumbs.  And sometimes it calls for repeating these steps to make a double-coating.  To avoid turning your hands into a gooey, clumpy mess, follow this rule of thumb:  one hand wet and one hand dry at all times.  Now, this sounds easy, but it’s weirdly discombobulating, or at least it was for me, at first.  Both of my hands wanted to remain simultaneously involved in all steps of the process.  Getting it right required a level of concentration that reminded me a lot of learning to pat my head and rub my tummy at the same time.  But in the end, it paid off.  There was a lot less mess and it went more quickly because I didn’t have to stop to de-gunk my hands every two minutes.  Try it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Parenting in terra incognita: Part II

Continued from Part I

Back when cartographers had to notate unknown regions, they would sometimes write, “Here Be Dragons”.  As much as I'd like to think there really were dragons around back in the day, I think they were used more as a way of saying, "No clue what goes on here; proceed at your own risk".   The parenthood map is fraught with these places, and it can be terrifying to find yourself in the middle of one, as I recently was.

But, after some deep breathing and contemplation, I got a grip and remembered what I’d told despairing friends before: when faced with a decision, it’s not about agonizing whether you’re going to make the right choice and it’s certainly not about second-guessing yourself after the choice has been made, but it’s always about how you’re going to take ownership of the decision in the end, regardless of the outcome. In that mindset, the great unknown seems much less scary. It’s not like I’ll be banished from the realm if it turns out I was (gasp!) wrong. If this new path doesn’t turn out to be the right one for C, we’ll reassess, readjust and carry on. 
And another thing that gave me some peace was to realize that I’ve been here before at this junction of He Needs to Spread His Wings Avenue and I Don’t Know If I’m Ready for This Boulevard. What I thought was a new and scary predicament wasn’t really, except in the details. When C was a baby, we carried him everywhere, and it was so easy to just pick him up and put him down wherever we needed him to be for our peace of mind. But, eventually, he wanted to start walking. So, as much as we knew we’d be out of that comfort zone forever, we gritted our teeth, baby-proofed as much as possible, then let him at it. Later, when he wanted to take the training wheels off, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy– for him or us - but we ran behind, steadying the bike for as long as we could, and there always came that point when we let go so he could figure out the rest on his own. This whole thing with the school? More of the same. It’s as if parenthood were ingeniously designed to reinforce certain lessons by repetition, and holy heck if I’m not starting to get it!
What I have determined is that: insofar as parenting goes, the consequences of our choices don’t necessarily fall solely on our shoulders as parents, nor should they. If we’ve truly acted in the best interest of our kids, then we've set them up so they, themselves, are the ones who determine their success or failure. It’s our job to recognize the signs they’ll give us, telling us what they’re capable of. It’s also our job to give them the tools and security to try it out. But past that, it’s up to them to create what they will with the opportunity.  

And so, here we go. We may not know how it will turn out.  If it's awesome, we'll celebrate.  If it disappoints, we'll take a lesson from it; it won't be the end of the world.  Bring on the dragons.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Parenting in terra incognita - Part I

“Parenting is simple,” said no good parent, ever.  Because it's not, and there are some times when it’s even less simple than others. 

Off the top, you might think the procreation chat would be one of those difficult times.  Well, Yes and No. Yes, because it’s on the awkward side.  But at the same time, No, because we’ve all (apparently) had some experience with the subject and we know what we’re talking about.  We know how much our child needs to hear about it, we know why we're telling them, and we know we're doing right by them.  There’s a certain confidence that comes with parenting from experience.  It’s parenting without a net that gets tricky.

Recently, I wrote a letter to ask the school to consider making a major change to C’s course of study.  We actually started this discussion with the school last year, got stonewalled and backed down.  It was easier path, for sure.  But the same issues resurfaced this year and we wondered if we should let it go, like before, or give it another try.  We chose to go for it.  It took me a day to write the letter – I wanted to be clear about what we wanted; to sound reasonable, yet persuasive.  And this time it worked!  And then I was horrified:

What had I done? 

I thought we knew what was best, but did we really? 

Would this make things better for C, or worse? 

Why couldn’t I have just left well enough alone?

I had no experience in this arena of challenging the school system, attempting to alter my kid’s education, albeit with the best of intentions.  I had no hindsight to assure me it would be fine, no reference by which to gauge how it would turn out at all.  I was in uncharted territory. I suddenly had no confidence in what I was trying to do as a parent. Nothing simple about that.  

Continued in Part II.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thanks, Mom

It has taken me this long to understand where my mom was coming from. 

Back when I was still living at home and antsy to get out into the big, wide world, my mom laid it out for me:  once I decided to move out of the house, I was ALL out.  There would be no financial support, and I wasn’t going to be moving in and out again at my convenience if things got tough.  I had to be sure I could make it on my own. 

To be fair, she did issue a caveat.  She knew that I’d most likely be moving in with my boyfriend and, the ever-suspicious mom, she did say that they would take me back if he ever hurt me.  And, not ‘hurt’ as in a broken heart.  If we broke up and he kicked me out, I was still on my own.  But ‘hurt’ as in a broken arm – that was a different story. So there was that, at least.  But only that.  At the time, I thought it was pretty harsh.

Nevertheless, I moved out.  I didn’t jump without a parachute, of course.  I had a car, a job and an apartment to share with my boyfriend.  But that’s not to say I didn’t have to learn some things along the way.  

I learned never to shop when you’re hungry unless you want to blow through two weeks worth of your grocery budget.

I learned about the credit card trap and, subsequently, I learned about consolidation loans.

I learned that having good credit is no joke.

I learned that sometimes you have to work at a crappy-ass job - or two - or four, whether you like it or not.

I learned that the weekly ten-cent wing night at the bar next door can help stretch your food budget.  And provide some great free entertainment, to boot.

I learned about consignment shops and flea markets.

I learned that paying rent to live in not-so-ideal conditions always sucks, but that it’s a powerful motivator.

The point is, I learned.   More to the point, I might not have learned these things half so well if I’d thought there’d be a comfy cushion to fall back on.  And I wouldn’t have learned them at all if I’d had things handed to me.  I might not have tried so hard or been so resilient or learned to rely on myself to get me out of trouble.

So, now I understand what my mom was setting me up for.  And it turns out, her intuition about how to create a responsible adult was right.  So right, in fact, that I hope I have the fortitude to do the same with my kids.  Even if, down the road, we can give them the things they need to have a comfortable life, my hope is that we don’t, and that they learn to earn a comfortable life on their own, struggles, lessons and all.


P.S. Yeah, yeah, Mom knows best – usually.  Her suspicions weren’t always spot-on, though.  The boyfriend I moved in with?  He never hurt me, not even once. In fact, he treated me so well that it was a no-brainer to accept his proposal when he finally asked me to marry him 17 years ago :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: I hope I can do it justice

When I was in elementary school, we were handed a sheet of questions.  There were lots of questions like, “What do you remember about the Great Depression?” and, “What did you think on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated?”   We were instructed to sit with our grandparents and ask them these questions and write down the answers.  We were also asked to tape-record the interview (I still have the cassette, though I’d be afraid to play it, for fear it will break).  What a great project that was.  I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it at the time, but now I realize what a treasure of information my grandparents were.  I mean, they provided the 3-D texture for those events, where school textbooks gave us the flat facts. 

I can still remember the tone of my grandmother’s voice when she was recounting how things were during the Depression.  Even though I was young, I still got a sense of the severity and solemnity of the experience. It was amazing, the detail she could remember.

But my grandfather stole the show. He seemed to have perfect recall of the history he’d witnessed, even if it had been a half-century since the actual event.  And not just the event, but things leading up to it, and the aftermaths as well.  And he recalled it with feeling.  I could tell which events had worried him, or made him angry or sad.  For not having been alive for any of those events, I was able – through my grandfather – to better understand the gravity of some of the things that shaped our country.  Even my teachers were impressed by his interview.  They listened to portions of our tapes and they nodded their heads in approval when my grandfather would throw in extra historical tidbits.  They said he had a tremendous speaking voice (he really did) and I remember being so proud that he did such a good job.

I got wondering if my grandkids will ask me someday to tell them about the day the Twin Towers fell.  I guess, by then, the full impact of that day will have played out.  But that’s hard to imagine because, as of this writing, eleven years later, we’re still trying to navigate the fallout.  Like a Polaroid picture that’s taking way too long to show itself, we can see some of the results, but we fidget and wait for the rest in order to find out what we really have.

Because of this, it’s challenging to explain to my kids when they ask about it.  I’ve had several years of practice so far, but as they are able to understand more, I have less to tell them.  Sure, every year I tell them about where I was and how I felt.  I’ve always tried to make it less terrifying and retell the stories about strength, courage and outpourings of humanity.  But I’m at a loss when I try to bring it back around to tell them what it – and everything since then – has all been for. 

All I know, for now, is that the events of this day one decade and one year ago changed the course of American history and with it, all of our lives. Exactly how and how much it changed us has yet to be seen.  I’m hoping that, by the time my grandkids get around to asking me about it, I can do it justice.  I hope I can bring home the importance and meaning and emotion of a momentous time, the way my grandparents did for me.