Wednesday, April 30, 2014

my great usefulness

by Sharon Olds

I'll play Ninja Death with you
tonight, if you buy new socks, I say
to our son.  After supper he holds out his foot,
the sock with a hole for its heel, I whisk it
into the wastebasket.  He is tired, allergic,
his hands full of Ninja Death leaflets,
I take a sock from the bag, heft his
Achilles tendon in my palm and pull the
cotton over the arch and instep,
I have not done this for years, I feel
intensely happy, drawing the sock 
up the calf - Other foot -
as if we are back in the days of my great
We cast the dice
for how we will fight, I swing my mace,
he ducks, parries with his chain, I'm dazed, then
stunned.  Day after day, year after
year I dressed our little beloveds
as if it were a life's work,
stretching the necks of the shirts to get them
over their heads, guarding the nape as I
swooped them on their back to slide overalls on -
back through the toddler clothes to the one-year 
clothes to those gauzy infant-suits that un-
snapped along each seam to lie
fully open, like the body first offered to the
soul to clothe it, the mother given to the child.

Jeff describes Sharon Olds' poetry as accessible.  I describe it as profound.  For in this single work alone, Olds manages to capture the very essence, the being, the spirit of every mother who has felt the weight and heft of years and years and years of nurturing small people.  In the tiny and seemingly insignificant act of changing her son's worn out sock, she brings us all the way back to the enormous and awesome act of growing that same son in her womb so many years before.

On this very day, ten years ago, I went "on hiatus" from teaching as I entered my last weeks of pregnancy with Aidan.  Ten years since that day - and in addition to remembering exactly what I wore then (my favorite maternity jeans and a cheery red gingham button down shirt, a huge faux corsage affixed to one side) I also remember the deep uncertainty and skepticism I felt, not knowing if we'd even survive one year, financially speaking, let alone many years.  And yet, to my astonishment, we did.  Here we are.  Ten years ago, I could not possibly have dreamed that this would be the composite of my life, my living.  Ten years ago, I could not have even hoped for all of this.  I hoped for three children.  But I had no knowledge, no insight -  ten years ago and only on the cusp of meeting my firstborn - to hope for a life that would be like this.
My sons.

Our Family.

My "days of great usefulness," as Olds so poignantly observes, are drawing to a close.  Although it is still more than a year away, I am keenly aware of the ticking clock counting down the time until Pax starts kindergarten.   Unlike my teaching hiatus with the full intention to return to the classroom, there is no return to being an at-home mom to young children.  Some days, I am filled with sadness; I do not want this to end.

But today was a day of my great usefulness.  In the midst of a home improvement project (new hardwood floors to replace the upstairs carpet), Pax was worn out from lack of naps this week, crabby from being stuck inside during the monsoon rains, bored despite the dozen different activities we'd done that day, and mad that I wouldn't feed him candy.  He threw a massive tantrum, wailing on the kitchen floor, until finally I picked him up and rocked him, rocked him, rocked him until he surrendered to sleep.  I held him 45 minutes more, watching him sleep (even amid the nail gun noise and shop vac clean up).

And as I rocked him, reflecting on this beginning day 10 years ago, I preserved the memory of one more day of my great usefulness.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Cookin?

What we've been cooking lately:

Lest you think my kids are the only ones who do any work in the kitchen, I thought I'd include a little collage of my latest foray into baking.  For Jeff's birthday, I made an extra-special dessert:  Guinness-and-whiskey cupcakes with chocolate ganache and Bailey's frosting.  They were incredible.  And an incredible pain-in-the-ass to make.  Good thing he's worth it!
Leo made his favorite Chicken Pot Pie on a night when Jeff and I had curried lentils.  I especially love this first picture where Leo is sneaking Pax a bite of carrot:

He chopped and sauteed all these veggies and chicken....

....before finishing off the pie:

During spring break, I awoke after the kids were already up and went downstairs to discover this:

Aidan made breakfast for everyone, start to finish, and with the added flourish of personalized pancakes, no less!  As the kids savored their brother's meal, I relished in sitting in my rocker, sipping coffee and reading my book. Another night, I was walking out the door as Jeff was walking in; I needed to hand off dinner preparations as well, since I'd fallen behind a bit.  I asked Aidan to make the rice and steam the broccoli, and was thrilled to be able to hand off these tasks with full confidence in his capable hands.

My aunt recently sent us recipes that she and her partner had made and loved.  She thought that the kids would love pounding the chicken for the simple yet satisfying dishes, and she was right.  Leo's Provencal Chicken, roasted tomatoes, and couscous was one of the best meals we've had recently; we deemed it "company-worthy" and I was disappointed the next day when there were NO leftovers - we'd gobbled it all up at dinner.

Pax finally got a chance to make the pudding cake recipe that was one my grandmother used to make. (Remember the infamous cooking of Jean Seehaver?)  Pax' Pudding Cake was a big hit, and turned out beautifully.
As the warm weather returns for good, our cooking will start to move outdoors and onto the grill.  This weekend, Aidan and Jeff will serve up what they've been working to perfect:  ultimate turkey burgers and traditional All-American beef burgers.  Next week, they'll do homemade BBQ chicken.... to be washed down with Jeff's latest batch of homebrew, an amber ale in the style of New Belgium Fat Tire.

And then, of course, there's the other kind of outdoor cooking.  Move over, mud pies, and make room for Leo's nature salad!  He cooks this up so much that he even wrote a recipe for it:

Nature Salad:
1.  Get some rocks,
2.  Get a piece of bark,
3.  Get mulch,
4. Get leaves,

Take the bark put some rocks on it.  Then put mulch on it.  Put the leaves on top.  Done.

(What are you waiting for?  Get cookin!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oh by the way...

Pax had us all cracking up on the way to the bus stop.  He ran up to each of us and said, "You want to have a staring contest with me?"

Last week, I'd had an especially trying day with Pax.  He refused to take a nap, and yet he was tired, cranky, and hard to coax into doing - or not doing - pretty much anything.  We were nearing the dinner hour when Jeff called to say he was on his way home.  Pax was helping me brown the meat in the pan, and standing very close to me as I talked to Jeff on the phone.  I said to Jeff,
"Pax has been very D-I-F-F-I-C-U-L-T today..."
Pax looked up at me and grinned.  "That spells crabby, right?" 
Later in the week, I took Pax to the playground.  Pax started to climb a large blue hovering structure and he said to me, "Mom, you want to race me?"
Me:  "No, I don't really want to race you..." I trailed off, gamely trying to find a suitable reason.
Pax:  "Oh, don't worry. It's a race where we can BOTH win."

I chuckled at that one, my little sprite who seemed to sense how much I value cooperation over competition.... or perhaps because of his confidence that he could beat me and wanted to spare my feelings...

Another mom was there with her son, who looked to be about Pax's size and age.  This boy ran over to me at once to tell me that the slide he'd just gone on was really fast.  He ran off.  A little while later, he ran up to me again to tell me that he was pretending that he was aboard a pirate ship.  He ran off again.  The third time he ran up to me he said, out of breath and somewhat urgently,
"Oh by the way, this morning I dipped my finger in holy water and blessed myself."  He made the sign of the cross on his forehead to show how he'd blessed himself.

I grinned at him and said, "Good for you, Buddy."  He turned and danced away. His mother, overhearing him, didn't say a word.  She didn't seem uncomfortable; she didn't seem proud.  She didn't laugh, or try to share a Look with me.  She let the moment stand as we both seemed to absorb the gift he'd just given to me, the one where he felt it was too crucial not to share a beautiful moment of his day with me, a stranger.  It became the most beautiful moment of my day. 

Later, he went on to share more with me.  He asked me about Pax:  "Is he interested in doing dress up?"  "Yes, he is interested in dress up." I replied.  "Oh.  So am I.  It's like every day, I literally open my dress up box and think, what am I going to be today?"
(his pronunciation of literally - jiterjally - quite slayed me).

And then, of course, this little old soul couldn't resist sharing a knock knock joke with me.

"Knock knock," he said.
     "Who's there?" I replied.
     "Banana who?"
"Banana hammock." 

I laughed before I could stop myself.  He looked at me and said, "Yeah, it's a good one!  My older brother taught me that one!"  ...and skipped away, quite merrily.

 So many gifts from that little guy at the playground:  the gift of faith sharing.  The gift of imagining.  The gift of laughter.

And then there's this gift:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Break Roundup

Too often these last few months, I find myself wishing for more hours in the day.... a sure sign that maintaining Balance, that seemingly elusive Balance, is too far tipped in the wrong direction.  On three consecutive afternoons last week, Jeff walked in the front door as I walked out; we didn't reunite until late in the evening.  My to-do list seems only to grow, not shrink, and a lot of it is pretty legit stuff.  And yet, even among the jam-packed hours of day, there have been some decidedly delicious moments... that I fear will go unremembered.  Thus, today, Remembering and Recording are more important than the 10 other important - or not - things I'd hoped to get done.

On the first official day of Spring Break, we were off and running - I was, at least!  March 30 was my 5th year to run the C'ville 10 Miler.  My family came to cheer me on, and thanks to fancy apps with live tracking, Jeff and the kids knew when I was about to pass them and were ready with cheers, signs, and grins.  It was an overly humid (yet chilly), overcast, slightly drizzly day, which made me even more grateful for their presence.  I ran a new PR of 1:23:49, placing me #440 overall and # 22 in my age bracket.

Mother Nature rewarded us, seemingly, with a week of gorgeous spring weather.  As per tradition, our family embarked on an overnight adventure, this time venturing to Lynchburg to spend the day at Amazement Square, picnic outside, swim at a hotel pool, dine at a cool restaurant in a former train station, then hit up a state park the next day.  It was a wonderful respite, and our best spring break adventure to date.  The adventure, in photos:   
Aidan is pretending to be the spider, devouring the prey he's caught in his web.  Of course.
We explored this river table FOREVER. Leo (aka Toothless) loved working the locks along the riverbanks.
Family Jam Session.  This was *really* cool.
Incredible WW II Tableaus, done by local student artists. 
Wow. Inspiring.  

Tour de France (Tour de Lynchburg?) here we come!
Inside the glass walled painting room....
Table Side 1
At dinner, we were talking about where Pax's loveys, Flippo and Flox, might be.  "They are having an adventure, too," Pax told us.  "They are having dinner at a restaurant, like us.  Them are animals, so them are having... dead bears."

Table Side 2

Inside the fort that Jeff built for wine-drinking and card playing...
James River - we saw a turtle, a snake, a bunch of birds, some horses, and three really cute mammals.
GORGEOUS weather - the kids complained they were hot.  17 or 70, we asked? reminding them of the nearly unbearable winter we've just endured....
Ah, yes.  Happiness.  Along the James River, minus the accordion and the beer.  But still.  Happiness.

Later in the break, the kids had a lovely day with Grandma and Grandpa, making a cool craft and going out to the movies.  We explored the nearby trails with friends on another day, and ended the week with some scrumptious meals by the young chefs.

It was a great week, and a taste of what's to come. As I watched Leo return to his relaxed, in-control, even-tempered self during his respite from the stress that school brings him, I look forward now to summer in a way I haven't fully appreciated before. 

Yup.  Spring Break was pretty much this: