Thanksgiving

I’m in my cousin’s basement watching my two goofy boys play on iPads while the adults get ready to head out for the family celebrations. They don’t have a care in the world today. They’re well-nourished and healthy. They have zero doubt that they’re surrounded by love. They don’t even understand that there are any other options.

We have enough family that wants us that we have two different houses to visit today. I am looking forward to seeing every single person. The important social research agency of Facebook tells me that many, many people don’t have this good luck.

The back half of 2104 has been pretty hard, and just a few days ago I told Damon we should be proud if we can just drag our carcasses over the finish line. Still. We exist in such a state of privilege. I had some serious injuries this year, but also doctors and physical therapists who cared, were thoughtful, and got me back on my feet. Work has been hard, but I have excellent coworkers and I do still have a job. Alden was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. Now I have the gift of understanding him better and we can afford the out-of-pocket therapy he needs. Getting the boys into the right school this year was excruciating, much more so than I expected, and yet now that it’s done the results have been no less than life changing. Some things just suck. We lost two cats this year, one suddenly and shockingly just two weeks ago. I don’t have distance from much of these things yet. I recall very clearly the pain of a stress fracture in my leg that added a layer of unpleasantness over many of my days. I can still get choked up remembering the sleepless anxiety of not knowing what Alden needs, of finding a school that both wanted and welcomed him (which his old school very much did) but also could teach him in a way that worked for him. Some day it will all fade away. Today I’m grateful to remember because I can still savor the relief of those things abating.

Life List: Make a Great Birthday Cake

Somehow I am in possession of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. That sounds so old. No one says “Wow” anymore when I say my kids’ ages. And yet, they still are so tiny to me. They still wake me up on the blistered edge of dawn, although now I get Alden saying, “I hate to wake you up Mommy. I’m really sorry, but I can’t make my robot dog work.” (Please note that it is a stretch to say that he hates to wake me up.)

We’re still in the time of life when a kiddie birthday party in the backyard is a Pinterest-y good time. We put up a pinata and a bounce house and had just a small gang of buddies over. (Please note that 7 is probably the oldest age eligible for a bounce house. At least boys. At least my boys. They managed to take it over on its side two times.)

Elliot has a few more years of kiddie-ness.

Elliot has a few more years of kiddie-ness.

I know that soon, at least for Alden, these days of noise makers and party hats will soon give way to laser tag and… Whatever else big boys do. Wrestling matches? Sports… Fighting? Definitely uncharted territory. This seemed like the right year to get that birthday cake off the life list.

I love to cook, but I don’t bake. I don’t have the precision. My goal was never a fondant masterpiece. Fondant takes terrible anyway, and that breaks the first rule of being a cake. I also don’t make cakes form scratch. Maybe I could have, but a box mix tastes 85% as good to me. What I wanted was something that looked cool, that spoke to who the boys are.

I did four cake trials. I baked so much cake that one got baked, iced, and thrown right in the trash. One we ate. One went to my office. I can’t even remember what happened to the other one. I did it all late at night so the boys didn’t get a sneak peek. I’m really happy with the outcome.

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Alden and Elliot both are crazy for doughnuts. Turns out I cannot make a cake this shape via creative use of a bundt pan, but I can make one with a silicone mold from the As Seen On TV store. It’s even got a sort of trough in the middle for cream filling. Pictured here is the carrot cake. We also had a version in chocolate. My boys can agree on many things, but cake flavors is not one of them. Elliot, weirdly, won’t eat anything chocolate. I’m having him tested, but until we can cure this abnormality we make allowances.

For the grown ups we did a bloody Mary bar (highly recommended!) and a cheese plate. I was riding high on my cake success, so I threw in a cheese ball for the kids.

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If you are ever looking to delight people at a party with very minimal effort, Great Ball of Cheese is the cookbook you want.

The Week In Which I Am Eating My Words

Two things I’ve been planting a flag in for years rose up last week and showed me, once again, there’s almost no such thing as “never.”

So Boy Scouts. I’ve been vocal about Boy Scouts. I’ve been vocal TO the Boy Scout organization. Their ban on gay Scout leaders is cruel and wrong-headed. Certainly it’s on the wrong side of history, and I doubt it can hold much longer. Last year a sent a message to the organization saying I really appreciate the spirit of the Scouts and deeply hope that they will abolish this vicious and discriminatory policy so my boys could participate. They certainly wouldn’t be participating before that. 

As I write this, as I can see Alden’s Cub Scout uniform hanging in the bedroom doorway. The reason why is simple. It’s really hard work for Alden to do anything unfamiliar. We’ve got a fresh diagnosis of sensory processing disorder that explains much of that. Knowing, though, doesn’t change the fact that he had an epically bad day of first grade. That he suffers significant anxiety in new and group situations. That he turns down almost every offer that involves leaving the house. 

Last week someone from the Cub Scouts came and talked to Alden’s class. I wish I could have seen it, because I’d love to know how he managed to sink the hook into my reluctant boy. Alden came home with a lot to say about it, including that he is ready to be a Scout and when can he go to his first event. “We are going to cook hamburgers and shoot a BB gun.” I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the first thing Alden instigated for himself. We drag him to things on the regular, and sometimes he really enjoys them when he gets there. (We do need to perhaps examine our methods there, in relation to this new SPD thing, but that’s a thought for another day.) I can’t remember a single time, though, where he has spontaneously asked us to take him somewhere. All of that backstory is why, when he came home that day, I said, “Of course you can be a Cub Scout!” while Damon and I made amazed faces at each other over his head. 

I’m not trying to white wash a breaking of an ethical stand. Clearly, my values on this had a price. I hope to mitigate the incidental support we give by association as well as I can. I’ll be sending another message up the chain to Scout leadership. And I’m going to keep track of any money that goes to the Scouts and double it in a donation to a gay rights association that I’ll pick after consulting Charity Navigator. (Full disclosure: This is partially possible because Scouting is amazingly inexpensive — something I really do appreciate philosophically and practically.)

Part 2 of eating my words is smaller, more personal and, honestly, harder. 

When my Dad died I inherited the little cabin he lived in for many years. It’s not fancy, but it’s a sweet little place right on a beautiful lake. It is very much my Father’s home, to me. I wish everyone in the heartbreaking time after losing a parent had the luxury this gave me. I didn’t have to pack up all my Dad’s life. I can go to the cabin and see it just as he left it. I’ve spent years carefully protecting that status quo. I know that can sound a little Miss Havishamy, but I promise it isn’t creepy. When we go there, I feel my Father’s presence. It’s infinitely comforting. 

It’s also almost five hours away, which means we don’t get to go there nearly as often as we would like. During the months in between visits, sometimes many months, I have a low-grade worry gnawing at me that something has happened. A pipe has burst. An animal got in. We’ve done what we can to protect it, things like putting on a tin roof so that we didn’t have to read every storm report as a promise that water is pouring in. It’s not the cash value, it’s the emotional value. If the place burnt down we wouldn’t get a dime because we can’t afford to insure it. It’s so remote from a fire department that the premiums are, while understandable, not in our budget. I don’t mind that lack of insurance, though, because what would kill me would be the loss of Dad’s home, not the loss in value. That’s why I’ve always sworn I would own that place forever. There are some people who have a cabin nearby and they’ve made it clear they’d love to buy ours for their kids. I always thank them and tell them my kids will some day inherit it as I did. Except. Except. I was making a list of end-of-summer things I need to handle a few weeks ago, and on it was getting back to the cabin to prep it for winter. I looked and looked at my calendar. It looks like Work Work Kid Stuff Work Kid Stuff Kid Stuff Kid Stuff Work ad nauseam. I spent two weeks sweating it. I could always hire out all the chores, but that would move caring for the the cabin from “somewhat problematic financially” to “unreasonably problematic financially.” My Dad would have a fit if he could have seen me fretting over it in that way. Damon, to his eternal credit, has never made a peep of protest about the hassle or cost of keeping that place. 

I could have worked it out. I guess I did work it out. My Dad originally bought the cabin with his sister and brother-in-law. They were wonderfully close, and many of my early memories of being there include all of them. He bought them out many years later, but I’ve always thought of it as belonging to the larger family. We still refer to the two bedrooms as “Dad’s” and “Aunt Pat and Uncle Jack’s” rooms. I sent the family an email, asking if maybe anyone was interested in accepting the torch I was feeling ready to pass. One of my Aunt’s kids is in, shall we say, a more fortunate financial position than most of us. More importantly, he loves that cabin. And my Dad adored him. He stepped right up and said he’d take the cabin and care for it “as if it is our family’s only home.” I am not the softest touch, but that is message I will never forget. So, next week I’ll start the paperwork. I know we can still go when we want to, even if I’m not in charge of it anymore. I’m sure some things will change. That’s okay. What I sacrifice in museum-like worship of the past, I gain in once again sharing this place with my family. 

Stay tuned next week for my sudden embrace of professional sports and a new passion for going to the mall.

 

 

 

 

Almost 7, Almost 5

I think we might be growing out of the time when I give my kids’ ages and people say, “Wow.” Five sounds so much more manageable than four, although I keep hearing it’s actually harder. I hope not. Elliot’s not what I would call a challenging kid, but if I could get him to stop tackling me that would be great.

I’ve started my vague fretting over their birthday party. This ruminating and dinking around on Pinterest will give me the impression that I’m actually doing something. So some time around mid September I’ll be shocked that nothing is done and I have a party to plan in 10 days.

I do have a wish to make a lovely birthday cake on my life list. I think maybe this is the year to get to work on that. While I will combine the birthday party for as long as I can, being both lazy and cheap, maybe I can give each kid a fun cake on his own birthday. Their tastes are so different. Elliot is a great lover of anything cute. Browsing over my shoulder, he picked out this mutant bunny cake from Handmade Charlotte.

mutant bunny cake

That’s beyond my pay grade as a cake maker, but I may be able to modify it. I’m not willing to buy a bunch of supplies I’ll never use again, and I’m not willing to involve fondant.

I found a picture of a donut cake for Alden. It’s pretty ambitious, and there are no instructions, but I may take a whack at that.

Donut Cake

I’m sure it’s harder than it looks, which is how I get into most of my trouble in the kitchen.

Festive Cab Is Festive

I’m looking out my hotel room window, deeply resenting that not one person in the apartment building across the way is doing anything interesting. I also resent that three of them on this side have sizable patios and none of them has done a thing with theirs. Those people do not deserve patios. Or to be across from a hotel full of bored business travelers. Double fail.

Tonight my Greek cab driver dropped me off with the Jamaican hotel valet. Inside I ordered my dinner from the Irish barman. That might be all my entertainment for the evening.

Festive Cab Is Festive

Festive Cab Is Festive

My Dad always told me traveling for work isn’t very much fun. By his scale, he was right. Even the coolest city loses a lot of luster when it’s packed with work obligations and low on friends and family. But Dad also was almost entirely free of little-kid responsibility, and so he never knew just how sweet a lonely hotel room bed can be. A friend once told me to banish my guilt about traveling. Her reasoning was that I have to go anyway and so I have a moral obligation to enjoy it for all those moms who will never get a night themselves.

This trip hit Alden hard. He cried and cried last night, begging me to cancel my trip. We stayed up together for a long time (sorry teachers!) and talked through his sadness. I don’t know what’s worse, when they get upset or when they seem resigned. I guess those are both better than indifference.

Two guys now visible in apartments across the way. One is on a computer. Once is making a snack. Boring. I don’t get to come to NY very often, guys. Roll up a rug in a decidedly suspicious manner. Hide some gold bars under the floor boards. Something. The minute go to sleep, someone is going to dance around naked. I’ll miss it, but at least I’ll have this bed all to myself.

The More You Know

One of the upsides of leaving Manhattan for a small Southern city, I always said, was that I didn’t think I had the constitution for the school situation in New York. When I was pregnant with Alden I would talk to other pregnant women who were getting their zygotes onto all the “right” waiting lists. If that was isolated to all those crazy rich people you read about, with their 30K-a-year preschools it would have been easy to ignore. No pressure to fight for a place we could never, ever dream of affording. But lots of regular, conscientious parents — people living in our same building — were doing it. Everyone was ramped up about districting, charters, bi-lingual magnets. It all sounded impossibly complicated and stressful. I never minded the subway (loved it, actually). I was happy to buy only as many groceries as I could carry back to our apartment. 800 square feet felt plenty big enough. Lots of things people hate about New York, I loved. (I did not love how we bled money constantly.) This, though, I knew was going to push all the wrong buttons for me. It’s not why we moved, but I was so relieved that I escaped.

Five years later, we have just emerged from a crushingly stressful re-evaluation of our school situation. It was one of those situations where we (me, Damon, my Mom) couldn’t seem to talk about anything else. There was insomnia. There were tears, including a flash flood in the middle of a meeting with a prospective school director and one of her teachers. That was when they told me they felt Alden (who is already on the older side for his grade) should be held back and repeat kindergarten. Which would mean he would graduate at 19 and a half. 

He is not going to repeat kindergarten, although I acknowledge and respect their informed opinion on the matter. This all started as we came, painfully, to the conclusion that we have two non-Montessori kids in a Montessori school. I went to a very similar kind of school when I was little, and I remember so clearly being so happy there. I felt so sure that was the most perfect learning environment. But what I’ve slowly come to realize it that it was the perfect learning environment for me. Alden, it seems, has taken advantage of the great freedom to spend a lot of time daydreaming. He likes to gaze out the window. He’s also a little bored, having been in the same classroom for probably at least one year too many. So he doesn’t know what most kids know as they wrap up their kindergarten year. I think the intense academic focus of early grades is ridiculous, for sure. I don’t even care, objectively, that Alden is behind. But eventually he would have to leave the Montessori bubble (school only goes through 5th) and the risk just felt too real that he would graduate 5th grade on a 3rd grade level. And then where would we be? So we did a little testing to see if there’s an issue. So far, it seems not. His intelligence is fine. There are no clear learning disabilities (although I allow that something like dyslexia could still reveal itself). He just needs someone to sit his butt down and teach him. He actually, it seems, enjoys that. 

The good news is that we found a lovely school to work with us. We met with the lower school director and laid out the whole situation for her. They invited Alden to spend the day in the classroom with them. After that said the teachers felt it was just a matter of exposure, and they’re happy to take him on for first grade next year. Our part of the agreement is that we will have Alden tutored over the summer so that he isn’t facing a such big gap in August. We’ll probably be able to hire his first-grade teacher to do that, which seems pretty perfect. Critically, Alden really loved his visit day at his new school. It’s an Episcopal school and every day starts with a 15-minute service. I sat in with him on his visit day and he leaned over and whispered, “I want to go to school here.” Which blew me away because we are not so much with the church. So this may be something entirely new for us. He also stage whispered to me, “Hey, what’s Lent?” To which I said, “Uh… It’s a thing where.. There was this time when…” It wasn’t pretty.

Elliot. Well, that’s a whole different situation. One of the first shakeups in this whole school nonsense was when we took Elliot to a prospective school and were gently asked, “You do know he’s not old enough to go to kindergarten next year, right?” No. We definitely did not know that. We 100% thought he was going to kindergarten. But it seems that in 2013 the state moved the cut off back one month, and Elliot was a rising kindergartener no more. We had no idea. Which means if he stayed in Montessori he would, like Alden, be in the same classroom for what would likely be too many years. That’s so great for so many kids. Not mine, though. Elliot is already restless with the pastoral, peaceful, quiet nature of his wonderful Montessori classroom. One of the most consistent notes we’ve gotten about him this year is that he’s disruptive. He just cannot seem to keep still. On the other hand, he’s pacing well ahead for his age. He loves to learn and will extract knowledge from almost any situation. That school that wanted to hold Alden back? It looks like a summer camp. The kids are outdoors a minimum of an hour a day. They eat outside. They troop all over the campus. They wear pedometers to show their commitment to movement. They use physical discipline — misbehaving means laps, not timeouts. They are also driven and fast-moving academically. And they invited Elliot to join their pre-kindergarten program just for kids who don’t make that school cut off but are ready for a little more than another year of preschool. 

So now we have something I never even contemplated. The boys are going to different schools next year. I hate that. But which one should I ask to sacrifice? I can’t. We will learn a lot this year and maybe decide to move one guy next year. Or maybe not. I never would have guessed we’d wind up in this place. And yet, now it feels right. Alden will spend time every day in the chapel; Elliot will spend time every day in the woods. 

Lest I sound too proud of Elliot’s “advanced” academics, I should say that today at the zoo we saw this guy and Elliot said, “Hey, can we pet your doggies?”

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Sunday Dinner: Eye of Round Roast with Garlic and Rosemary

Sunday Dinner is back! I can see that, slowly, slowly, I am coming into a little more discretionary time. It’s a product of a few things. The first is that, for better and worse, the boys occupy themselves and one another with more independence all the time. I am still the moon to them, but maybe not so much the stars. Mostly I’m so grateful that, for the time being, they are excellent friends to one another. Not only does this leave me to myself more often now, but it has a halo effect in that I’m not entirely exhausted all of the time.

So, my plants are happier. My closet is (a little) tidier. I exercise occasionally. I am catching up with television and movies (although I am still years behind). And I am back amidst my pots and pans. I acknowledge that this could all unwind in an instant, which is my bloggy version of knocking on wood.

Lack of time never stops me from thinking of, from missing, my Dad. His birthday was last month. It felt good to bring out his recipe folder. I’ll bet he made most of those things either once or never, but he saved them because they appealed to him. And so they appeal to me. In picking, I wanted something that seemed kind of simple and essential, and a roast seemed like my Dad’s definition of those things.

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I’ve never heard of eye of round roast. Or round roast. But the butcher had, so we were a go. The recipe is obviously simple, but I still managed to overcook it. I did not consider that my roast was very much on the small side and I should have adjusting the cooking time down to accommodate that. It’s fine. It’s edible. It’s just a boring roast to me. Damon loves it and Elliot says, “More beefs, please.” Alden won’t touch it, reminding me that, “I’m not really a fan of meat.” I had a bite, toasted my Dad with my glass of milk (a shared favorite) and will just be grateful to be back at work on the folder.

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