Walk the Walk

Lola is upright! Just when she hit ONE!  And I am thrilled.  This is a huge milestone for me.  It means that I don’t have to mop as much anymore!  Truly worth celebrating.IMG_1234

Why do people constantly say, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to be walking!  It’s all over from there.”  What exactly is over?  My constant housework to keep hazardous waste off the floor?

Or, “you don’t want her to start walking, she’ll get into everything!”  Oh really? Because she seems to be pretty much into everything as it is, and on all fours most of “everything” that’s in her line of sight is on the ground and gross.

Or, “you’ll never be able to catch her once she starts walking!”  Um.  Well, she walks around now like a 90 year old drunkard but she crawls like a banshee out of hell. So, you know, I think I can keep up.

I never understood all the naysayers.  I was ecstatic when Noah  started walking, but so many people were like, oh, you don’t know what you’re getting in to.  People (as in mothers who wanted to tell me how wrong I was) would actually argue with me that I couldn’t be happy about this new stage.  “Just wait,” they said.

Well I’ve got plenty of time to wait now because I’m not busting my ass waxing the hardwood every night!  Am I the only person on the planet who has a dirty floor and doesn’t want her child rolling around on it all the time?

Yeah, so there.  I admit it.  My floor is disgusting.

I have cats who try to bring mouse trophies inside.  I have a husband who wears his work boots in the house.  I have a dog who expresses her anger at me in poo.   I have kids who like mud.  Lola throws her food on the floor to save for later.  My kids jump on me while I’m cracking eggs or downing wine and that shit goes flying. Gross!

Lola still puts everything in her mouth, but the stuff now is off tables and sofas which potentially is A) not encrusted with dirt and dust B) not rotting C) not from an animal’s behind, and D) not an insect.

Here’s Lola:

Hmmm.  A plate of organic strawberries with local lavender honey and grass fed yogurt aioli?  Meh.

Oh look over there!  A decomposing stink bug in the corner!  Just what I was in the mood for!  crunch crunch bug legs drooling down chin 

I would be worshipped by parents across the globe if I could make food on her plate look as appetizing as feculence off the floor.

Thankfully, Lola’s sticky hands and well-worn knees are no longer dust mops for cat hair and other dreck.  I don’t have to scoop dog food out of her mouth quite so much.  I will not be spending Mat’s paycheck on replacing all the leggings she’s in which she’s worn holes in the knees.  We can go outside and she can walk instead of launching herself out of my arms unto her death.

We can actually play on the playground!  We can stomp around in the snow!  She can start learning karate moves to use against that bully Noah!

It’s not all over.

It’s just beginning.  Lola, let’s DO this.

 

 

What’s Cookin’ Goodlookin’?

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Before the “Great Utensil Attack of 2013.”

I am not a natural in the kitchen.  Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, because I’m not sure if anyone is born from the womb naturally inclined to wield knives (though NDB tried to at about 10 months) or perfectly time a soufflé.   But I do know people who navigate the space with ease, churning out delicious, expertly filleted and flavored dishes and having the time to relish the efforts.  This is my goal.

It was not more than two years ago at a big Thanksgiving celebration at my sister’s that I was in charge of peeling the apples for pies.  I blame my left-handedness, but eventually someone had to take over for me because it took nearly 10 minutes of hacking for me to be able to finally present one mostly naked, already-oxidizing apple.  I’m sure my dad got that on video.  I’m sure it is painful to watch.

I know how to brown ground beef, but I still can’t hard boil an egg without the yolk turning that awful green.

I have never figured out how to easily prepare a mango, and instead succumb to paying three times the price for pre-cubed bites.  I have heard there is  a way to chop onions without crying all of my mascara off, but I haven’t stumbled upon it yet.  I still don’t fully understand what “cutting against the grain” of meat means.  I sometimes even use that nearly fail-proof appliance to microwave chicken nuggets for Noah into inedible rocks.

But I am determined.  I have many cookbooks, and I drool longingly at the gorgeous photos and dream that someday I may be able to present a table full of interesting guests with a meal that looks like that.  I read food blogs by ‘average‘ moms and I have convinced myself that if I just tried hard enough I could make my family look lovingly at the meal I’ve prepared just like their’s do.

A few times a week I try.  Mat applauds my efforts every time.  He’s not much of a cook either and I know that he truly does appreciate my attempts to put fresh food on our table.  (I am slightly disheartened by the fact that our best meal so far has been one he found in a grilling cookbook that he prepares and serves.  More on this dish later.  It’s awesome.  And it makes me feel bad about myself.)

Since I’ve had children I’ve become obsessed with mastering this piece of my housewiferly duties.  But just like many other obsessions in my life, this one is more fun in the researching and dreaming than in the execution into reality.  There is not much worse than spending an hour in the kitchen to have your seven year old give you her very honest and unfiltered opinion of the dish.  (“This is gross!” I’ve heard more than once.)  Not a lot that is more disheartening than having her favorite ‘homemade‘ meal of yours be the Hamburger Helper that you defaulted to on a crazy night.  It’s not fun to get deep into a “30-minute” recipe and realize that the chef who wrote this piece of wishful thinking drank too much table wine because chopping the vegetables alone took the entire half hour.

I have realized today  – not sure why it took me this long considering Lola is nine months old, but nonetheless – that I am not in a position to cook elaborate meals right now.  Or even many of these 30 Minute monsters.  When I am in the kitchen, I am not holding a child, and it is this realization that comes to both Noah and Lola right at the time I need to be “continually stirring.”  Katya gets into the mix by suddenly discovering she desperately needs me to be the teacher’s helper in American Girl Doll School while I’m elbow deep in defrosted chicken parts and then when denied, complaining loudly that I never play with her.  Dinner time is cranky time.  For them and for me.  And yet night after night I get myself into this mess.

The evening is even more stressful because I have to make three separate meals usually.  One for Lola, one for Mat, Katya and me, and a modified version for Noah.  Often, because of my above mentioned misfortune in picking recipes that take more than two Baby Einstein videos to make, Noah is in full Destructo mode (this is our superhero name for him when he gets so tired that he starts destroying all in his path, and toys and kittens are flying) and ends up with a scrambled egg and a squeezie (squeezie = most efficient way ever to get green things from the outside world into your baby.)

Mat thinks I should drink more wine while I cook, it’ll relax me, and I understand this to be one of the more pleasurable aspects of the endeavor.  He has no problem drinking a lot of wine while I cook.  However, I also have the misfortune that for some reason after my two-right-in-a-row-have-I-never-heard-of-birth-control pregnancies I have an extremely low ability to handle wine.  (Maybe it’s my body’s way of protecting me from having more kids…because wine drinking got me into both pregnancies in the first place?) I blame the lame American doctors who forbid alcoholic beverages in pregnancy which crippled my tolerance. French women don’t have this problem.  I have tried to remedy it by drinking vodka tonics, Champagne,  and some crazy concoction my neighbor cooked up eponymously named the Scavetta*, to no avail.  I can’t stomach much alcohol in the evening or the kitchen might light on fire while I doze.

So, I stress and stress and yell expletives at the cookbook author and throw knives (um, I mean, not really) and scream at Mat to take the kids far far away from me so I can cook a friggin’ lovingly homemade meal and we can sit at the table together and ENJOY OURSELVES.

Work in progress.  But I will not give up.  Because I grew up in one of those idyllic households where everyone sat down at the dinner table every night.  We might have bitched about it, and threw food at each other.  I’m sure we complained as loud as my kids do about the meals.  But we did it.

My dad famously made us eat rotten, purple corndogs one night, one of the few my mom had to work late and couldn’t chaperone.    On those nights we otherwise had a rotation of Dad’s Famous Meatloaf (not bad) and Dad’s Italian Sausage and Spaghetti (disgustingly served with a ladle of malodorous grease from the sausage.)  My brother, or I, or my sister have at one time or another vomited on our dinner plates. My mom also had her famous ________  Surprise, which could be Fish, Lentil, or Beef Shoulder, or something else altogether.  Sometimes her Surprises worked, sometimes they didn’t.  But she tried.  They both did, even though they worked all day.  And we almost always ate together.  And I remember it.  And I want that for my family.

Many people learn to cook from their parents, but I’m sure you have to have some inkling to do it for it to happen.  I know when I was younger I had no interest in learning – believing as my kids do it seems that there will always be someone just to make it for you.  And I am sure my mom tried, though as hard as she worked during the day I can’t imagine her then coming home and exhaustively trying to motivate me in the kitchen.

So here I am, trying to learn it now.  I don’t know what direction I’ll head, or where this will take me.  My only hope is that my kids will learn an appreciation for good, real food.  What I need to work on is demonstrating for them that cooking is not a chore, that it can and should be pleasurable and nourishing.

On that note, I need to calm down and lower my expectations.  Seared Scallops with Corn and Bacon relish?  Great idea until I dropped not one, not two, but three of those slippery bastards on the floor while Noah head-butted my leg trying to get my attention.  I took a deep breath.  Then hot oil spattered on to my face.  It was at this point the tongs went flying across the room in disgust, bounced off the sink and hit me hard in the arm.

Let me restate this for you in case you missed the gravity of the situation.

In my attempt to make an awesome dinner, I almost impaled my son with a burning hot, greasy utensil.

Lesson learned, after I cried to my husband and boycotted dinner making forever? I need to understand that now is the time for simple goodness, and if it comes from a box sometimes that’s ok.  In a few years, while the kids can entertain themselves and let Mommy have kitchen time alone, that’s when Bacon Scallops make their appearance again.

I am now in the process of collecting easy as dirt recipes for dinner.  Send me your ideas!! And here is one for you  –  and may your kitchen adventures be less….adventurous than mine (i.e. learn from me and don’t kill anyone…)

Super Easy Fish Tacos

A few filets of white fish – we get ours frozen from Costco in a box and they are so fresh, sustainable, and inexpensive.  I heart Costco even more than Target.

Cut fish into bite size strips and put in a Ziploc bag with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some seasoning.  I use Dirt from Whole Foods, it’s a Cajun type seasoning that is friggin’ good.  Old Bay works just as well and has less bite.  Marinate for 20 minutes.

Cook on medium in a non non-stick for a crispier bite with more cleanup time or in a non-stick to be super quick.  Cook 2 minutes on each side.

Yay almost done!

Mix some prepared ranch (I get a ‘natural ranch’ seasoning packet from Whole Foods) with canned chipotle chiles in a blender or food processor or baby-food maker and use as sauce.  Or mix some mayo with a bit of milk and more Dirt or Old Bay.)

Chop a bit of red cabbage or whatever lettuce type thing you have.  It’s all good.

Serve with tortillas.  (Before Lola I used to make my own tortillas from scratch.  Yeah.  So that doesn’t happen anymore. Whole Foods has some in the frozen section, as does Wegman’s for east coasters and Fry’s for west coasters, that are much better than the plasticky commercial ones.  Or if you are feeling spritely, pick some up from a local Mexican bakery or restaurant.)

Done!  Big hit with everyone!  15 minutes in the kitchen!  Woohoo!

Would love to hear how you all handle dinners in your crazy homes!

* I have just figured out, after 36 years, what the word “eponymously” means, and will attempt to insert it into every blog post from now on.

 

Men are From Mars…or A Not Very Memorable Memorial Day

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At least I got a cute pic of Miss Lola K.

We had a Memorial Day BBQ over at our house with friends whose kids are about Katya’s age.  This is how it went.

Val:

It’s 5! Shit.  Everyone’s gonna be here and nothing’s done! What, they’re gonna be late?   Thank God!  How rude.  Get the dishes done.  Spray that green crap and see if it will come off.  Get the dog food off the floor or Lola will eat it.  No time to wipe the table from lunch we’ll just spread all the paper plates out.  The effing pasta is still boiling and I can’t put it into the effing pasta salad yet!  Door!  Coco shut the eff up! Turn Mickey Mouse Club off!  Hi!

Where’s Lola?  Ok.  Hand stuck in the kitty door so she’s immobile for a few.  Where’s Noah?  Dammit!!  The ENTIRE roll of toilet paper?!  Where are the cats? Sweetheart you can’t pick the kitty up by his tail, ok? Where’s Coco?  Why is she outside on the neighbor’s porch?  Katya, please stop singing Taylor Swift at the top of your lungs, PLEASE.  Where’s Lola?

I forgot to put the chopped onions out!  Where’s Lola?  I forgot to put the avocados in the guacamole!  I forgot drinks for the kids!  Yes we have silverware it’s white and plastic and I will stab you with it if I find it! Dammit I forgot to put the pasta salad out! Where’s Lola?  No honey! Don’t eat that ball of cat hair!  Where’s Noah?  Noah please put the steak knife down! Where’s my vodka?  You know, the drink I made at lunch at the Taylor’s earlier and still haven’t finished?

What are my friends talking about?  Where’s Lola?  Wheres the butter?  Noah don’t wipe your ketchup face on the white sof…UGH!!!! Maybe he’ll wipe his vanilla ice cream face on the same spot and cancel it out? So what were we talking about?  The Voice?  Whose voice?  Ask me about Chuggington!  I know all about Chuggington!

Where’s Mat?  Godammit!! Help me out with just ONE of our three kids!  Now I’m the cursing-out-her-husband-in-front-of-people wife that I was just agreeing 10 minutes ago how embarrassing it would be to be.  Awkward!  Except I don’t care!! My friends probably have assumed that I birthed my personality out with my placenta, seeing as how I haven’t actually spoken to them all night.  Where the hell is Lola???

Mat:

Beer?  Cold.  Grill? Hot.  I’m good.

 

 

*******

 

 

For Noah On His 2nd Birthday

IMG_0574I would die for my Lola.  My gorgeous, feisty baby girl.  But loving her right now is treacherous.  At any given moment when I pick her up, there is as much a chance as not that she’ll spit up all over me.  She doesn’t like to snuggle and so holding her is akin to wrestling a wild animal.  She squirms, she pushes away, she kicks, she keeps you at arms length.  And she doesn’t like to sleep, and so we are constantly at war with her to get her to just shut her eyes (and her mouth) for an hour or two.  Please.  Have mercy.

I know this will change.  She will grow, and learn how to love us back, and eventually sleep.  I see it in her gorgeous smiles, when they are granted.  But I know this because of Noah.  This type of wisdom – that this too shall pass – only comes after the first.

But that’s what makes the first so exciting, so drama filled.  It’s a life or death kind of love.  My love for Lola is a laid back kind of love.  I give her time, and she’s warming up to the idea of this family, of this mother.  Her personality will start to show; her interactions will become more satisfying, more reciprocal.

Noah is my obsession.  Mt first, my fire.  I can’t get enough of him.  He’s big enough now that he can wrap his legs around my body when I hold him; his clasps his arms around my head and pullsIMG_0531 my cheek tightly to his.  “Mama,” he says so lovingly, and then gives me a kiss  with a vocal “MWAH!”

His kisses are truly the best.  Not long ago he used to attack with an open, drooling mouth, and douse slobber all over the reluctant receiver.  Even then though, we still heard the “WAH!”

Now they’re better.  Close-lipped, the only risk is that he’ll do a “linger” – he slides his lips back and forth from my ear to ear in one long kiss and then do a big, emphatic “MWAH!” at the end.

We also have the stair kiss.  This is a fun one, whereby Daddy is bringing him up to bed and as he walks up the stairs he pauses between every second step or so and sticks his lips between the rails for a kiss.  I can get two in, but then he reaches halfway where the rail ends and I just. can’t. reach.  So then he blows a kiss from there.  “Bye Bye Mama!”

“Bye bye” is his new thing right now.  Well, he has a lot of new things.  What makes this all such an exciting time, I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.  The other day in the bathroom with me, I flushed the toilet.  “Bye Bye pee pee.”  And in the car, a song was on that had lots of grunts – Ungghh! – that he was singing.  I turned the car off and he said “Bye bye Ungghh!”

Going up to night night he says “Bye bye” to everything he can think of.  Each step.  “Bye bye Coco.  Bye Bye Lola.  Bye bye Ka ka.  Bye bye googa (car).  Bye Bye boo buy (school bus.) Bye bye choo choo (obvious.)  Bye bye Ipah (iPad. What’re you gonna do.)

IMG_0481When my friend Elisabeth’s daughter Hollan was 18 months or so and Noah was just a baby, she was learning to say thank you.  “Dee Dow!” she’d say after she received something.  I remember thinking at the time, how does a kid turn ‘thank you’ into ‘dee dow?’  That’s not even close.  And Elisabeth was so impressed with ‘dee dow!’

Well, now I know.  Any mumbly mixed up funky attempt from your child to copy what you say is a score.  It means they are trying.  It also, by the way, means that they will start copying everything you say, and you must stop saying “shit.”

At a birthday party the other day Noah kept wanting bites of cake.  “He’s such a cake whore!” my husband states eloquently.  “Cake ho!!” Noah repeats.  Close enough that “whore” should be removed from our repertoire for now.

Noah is learning how to count – he can get up to 3!  And learning his alphabet.  The alphabet was the shocker to me.  Here I’ve been playing this video – one left over from Katya – called the Talking Letter Factory.  Super annoying, with super annoying songs, I put it on for him so I can leave the room and get stuff done.

Well, lo and behold, Wendy arrives with a big foam letter puzzle and little Mr. Know-it-all start pointing at the letters and saying them and their sounds!  Whaa?  I didn’t teach him that!  And then I put on the video again and there he is saying all the letters as they blink on the screen.  I didn’t even have to do a damn thing!

Here I was worried that I have forever altered his malleable little brain by forcing TV on him so I can have peace for 30 minutes.  Everything I’ve read says I’m a really bad mom for doing this.  And what do you know he’sIMG_0384 learned his flippin’ alphabet.

But that’s just it.  Kids learn things so easily.  No big news flash here, but when you experience it in action it can be shocking.  One thing that kills me is how he knows he’s being a goofball.  He’s known this since about 10 months when he started making funny faces on purpose.   Is this innate?  This goofball-ness?  With Mat as his dad, probably.

From the time he could walk he’s been cracking us up.  He puts his thin muslin blanket over his head like a ghost and walks around bumping into things and laughing.  For that matter he puts anything over his head – small trash cans, grocery bags (the reusable ones, I’m not that bad of a mother!) cardboard boxes.  Anything so he can’t see, and then walks around bumping into walls, tables, us.

He does circles in the middle of the floor, over and over and then tries to walk and falls down laughing.  He puts things on the cats – trucks, books, legos, and laughs.  He puts things in our cups – “No googa in wine!!” we’ve yelled on more than one occasion.

All the while he’s learning new words, new tricks, new ways of being, he’s also growing out of certain ways.  I’m heartbroken that just in the last week he doesn’t want to snuggle any more before bedtime.  We have a ritual, where we read a few books in the rocking chair, and then turn the light off.  I say “snuggle with Mommy” and he turns over and wraps his arms and legs around me and puts his head on my shoulder and we rock for a few minutes.  He likes me to put his blanket over him just so once he’s turned over, and now that he’s talking he says “night night” to all the people and things he knows, stopping every other one to lift his head up and give me a kiss.

IMG_1205We’ve been doing this ritual pretty much since he was born.  And one day last week he just decided he didn’t want to anymore.  He whined when I tried to get him to turn over, slid off my lap, and walked to his crib and said “bed!”  No matter how hard I try to wrestle him onto my shoulder each night since then, it’s to no avail.   He’d rather go to bed than snuggle with me.

I should be glad he loves his bed so much.  I should be thankful he is quite literally  is putting himself to sleep; that he wants to lay down.  Looking back at my letter to Noah on his 1st birthday, I told him that my job is to teach him how to live, so that one day I can let him go.  And here is that lesson, looking me in the face.  Oh, how it hurts though.   Oh how much hubris I had back then, thinking that I could so easily handle Noah growing up.

This letting go is so much more difficult than my naive self believed one year ago.  That was still when he needed me for everything – sustenance; to move from one place to another.  I couldn’t truly imagine how it would feel to have time put just out of reach his soft head on my shoulder and wiry legs wrapped around me at nighttime.

Now he walks.  Now he can ask for what he wants, or get it himself off of the kitchen table.  His calls for me are transitioning to “Mommy;” not Mama so much anymore.  That’s a recent development too.  He’s grown out of his goofy picture-taking smiles and now is too distracted grabbing at the game-wielding magic iPhone I wave in front of his face to realize it’s a photo I want.  He also has stopped eating every stray penny or Lego he sees on the floor and waking three times a night.  We must take it all, I suppose, good with the sad.

This year, however, from one to two, for the most part has been so much fun for me.  Every day I look at him in awe, every day I gush.   I can’t get enough of him.  I truly believe he is the most magnificent creature to ever walk this earth.  Ayelet Waldman wrote of her young son in her motherhood memoir Bad Mother – “holding his fleshy, silky body was the most satisfying tactile experience I’ve ever had in my life.”  I couldn’t have described it better.

Holding Noah’s little body on my lap; smelling his freshly washed hair, his slightly stale morning baby breath; rubbing my nose up and down his cheeks; running my fingers through his gorgeous sun-whitened locks; IMG_1986staring into his blue eyes; tickling his soft warm, pale back.  There is a reason babies often supplant husbands during the first few years of life.  Holding them is pure, innocently sensual  bliss. There are no expectations, lingering resentments, martyrdom. All they need from you is love, and all you want to do is give it.

And this is a love unlike anything I’ve ever known.  I long to relive the moments, but I grasp at my memories, and they are not so old yet.  Time is on fast forward, especially now that I’m caring for three young children.  Though two years ago I didn’t even know him, he’s managed to grow from a helpless bump to a talking, walking real person.  It’s beyond comprehension sometimes how this human animal can accomplish so much.  Yet I want to go back in my mind, so badly, to those minutes where his new little body slept so peacefully and heavy in my arms.  But I can’t.

I can’t feel his weight anymore, or remember how he smelled, or even really what his tiny baby face looked like.  You can’t go back.

Because of this, I must build upon my first birthday promise.

M y promise to you, Noah, my love,  is this – I will live more mindfully with you.  I will be in each moment, and savor it as it happens.  I will touch you even more often.  When I look into your eyes, I will stop thinking about the grocery list, and I will concentrate.  I will let the dishes stay in the sink, and I will take that walk even though I’m so tired, and I will notice the texture of your skin when your hand is in mine.

And as you learn even more independence, and your frustration flows into tears, I will strive to have patience. In these not-so-good moments, I will work to understand you, to be there with you, to help you through so you can one day not need me to.

SAM_0061Thich Nhat Hanh said wisely, “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

I will feel you with all five of my senses, and relish the moment, because you are my tea; these collective moments are the axis on which my world revolves.  I will know that as time passes I will only be left with unreliable memories, but I won’t have a heavy heart.  I will be consoled believing that I lived each of my moments with you as deeply and richly as I could.

“Forever is composed of nows,” wrote Emily Dickenson.  Let’s together, not rush through now.  So, so soon your nows will be spent somewhere else.  Until then, I want to feel each of the ones, now, that you have granted me.VID00046