Brave Little Heart

Sitting cross-legged in my bed tonight, I’m staring at my computer screen while my 7 year old is sleeps right next to me.  This last week he’s had trouble sleeping in his own bed, which is on the other side of our apartment.  I’m not sure what’s causing his dis-ease, I just know I’m doing my best to help him find peaceful rest and security.  If I had to guess, I’d say there are two things on his mind:

  1. A scary cartoon he watched without permission last week.  This I take full responsibility for, I was distracted and didn’t realize he had floated from something authorized to something that might frighten him.
  2. Loneliness.  He was an only child for 6 years before Kid 2 came along, and it’s tough being the Big Brother.  There are times he feels (and is) brushed aside a bit because baby screams are priority.  He misses his time with his Daddy and me.  Exacerbating this, his room is clear on the other side of the apartment from ours, so I’d imagine it feels a little uncomfortable for him to make the long trek over there, be tucked in and kissed goodnight, and then watch the rest of the family go back to the other side of the living space.

I am not an expert Mommy.  I do not always get it right. In fact, I screw up on the daily.  It does not feel good, but I do the best I can to keep moving forward. To be totally honest most of the time I feel like a trapeze artist who is working without a net.  My parents didn’t teach me how to parent (which is a blog series for another day).  Basically what I say, how I act, what I’m aware of, it’s all guesswork.  Every bit of it of every decision I make comes down to equal parts research (thanks, internet and Mom Bloggers), what I imagine I would want or need emotionally if I were in the situation as a 7 year old, and blindly attempting to calculate the most logical answer to whatever scenario we are currently knee-deep in.

All of that said, I do have compassion in spades and with a sensitive child like mine, it’s basically my super power.  In this tender moment between my son and I, a question formed in my mind:  What is courage?

The word courage brings to mind many different images, from soldiers fighting in battle, to patients who battle diseases like cancer, all the way to Mel Gibson’s blue-painted face in the movie Braveheart, in which he portrayed the great warrior and freedom fighter William Wallace, who was willing to give his life for his ideals and his people.

What if courage manifests in other ways?  I mean, what does courage look like to a 7 year old?  Well, for a child this age, courage might look something like jumping off the monkey bars, or standing up to a friend who is being a bully.  Maybe, though courage is having the guts to verbalize fear and ask for help when you can’t sleep and you’ve tried thinking positive thoughts and now you really don’t know what to do.  Maybe courage is walking out of the room and risking chastisement in order to escape a yucky situation.

Yep, I think for my boy to pour out his heart to us and then ask to not be left alone tonight took some serious guts.  I mean, let’s be honest, many of us adults have trouble doing this!  I’m proud of him for speaking up.

So on nights like tonight, when it’s been a long day and we all just want rest and the dishes can wait because my hip is hurting and I still have an article to write, when my husband texts me from the living room to say “he is out of bed again and refusing to go back”, I have to get this right.  I have to match this courage with benevolence.

This consideration – the idea that kids are people, too – is something I think about fairly often in my job as Mommy, mainly because it’s not something I was given as a child.  On one hand, I don’t want my son to think he’s too delicate to face minor challenges.  On the other hand, I refuse to invalidate his feelings just because he’s 7.  They’re his feelings, and they are real to him.

I walk quietly into the living room, around the sleeping baby, and take my oldest boy’s hand.  We walk to his bed, where I plop down cross-legged and begin to investigate (as moms do).  He is in tears before I can ask the first question, so I change tactics and just hold him for a while.  A few moments later, I try again.  He says he’s not sure what’s wrong, but he doesn’t want to sleep by himself tonight.  “That’s ok”, I say without hesitation, “you don’t have to”.  I continue to speak life to his little spirit, saying what I believe are helpful statements like, “it’s alright to feel afraid” and “you are safe here”.  I don’t know if this is right, but I’m trying my best, against the loud sighs coming from my husband, who has been working to keep his annoyance hidden while we get this sorted out.

((Side note: My husband is not a man who thinks guys have to be “macho”.  Thank goodness, he doesn’t say things like “boys don’t cry”.  He is, however, a man who works very long hours at a demanding job and greatly values his rest time, so the quicker this gets resolved, the better.))

We arrive at the bed that my son and I will now share this evening, him promptly crawling beneath the covers and me grappling with the idea of being kicked, punched, and snored at all night.  I know this is right, I tell my husband.  I know that when I was a child and I was afraid, all I wanted was for someone to tell me I was safe.  I wanted someone to say “you don’t have to be alone”, someone to validate my feelings and not force me to lie in bed, terrified of whatever thought was tormenting me at the time.  Being a kid is tough enough without having your protectors leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable.

When my son thinks back over his life, and when he remembers our relationship and what kind of mom I was, so much of it won’t matter.  It won’t matter what we had for dinner tonight, but it will matter that I cooked and we all sat at the table and talked and laughed and connected.  It won’t matter what kind of car I drove, as much as it will matter that I was there every afternoon after school, happy to see him.  It won’t matter one bit that this apartment is not always clean and sometimes (ok, at ALL times) there are clothes and toys strewn about, but it will matter that this place felt like home to him.  It will matter that he felt safe here. It will matter that he had (and for as long as I’m living, he will have) a place he can go and just shake the world off.  A place where he doesn’t have to live up to anything, he never needs to feel embarrassed, a place where he’s not pressured to fit into someone else’s idea of who he should be or what he should think or feel.  It will matter that he didn’t have to question whether he was part of our tribe.

Deep in the depths of my soul, I want that.  As a mother, it is what I strive for above anything else.

Again, I ask: What is courage?  Courage is the soldier, the cancer patient, and William Wallace.  Yes, all those people are brave, possibly beyond measure.  But in MY life, in MY circumstance, what is courage?  For a mom like me, courage is the willingness to give my boy what his soul thirsts for, even if no one else understands it.  Courage is parenting him and him only, without stopping to think about what other moms (or even my own) might think.  Courage is stepping away from traditional beliefs and from how I was raised in order to do it better, in order to raise a whole individual, fully functional and free from emotional baggage.

So tonight, clacking away at my old laptop with my firstborn snoring next to me, I rejoice in this budding courage – his and mine – and in the knowing that this time, I got it right.

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My Gentle Warrior
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Nuun, Ruuns, and Fuun

Hi Guys!

I’ve been absent for a while, I know.  Here’s a quick update:

I’m now a Brand Ambassador for Nuun Hydration and I LOVE it.  I’m currently training for fitness only and varying my running surfaces more.  Treadmill, road, and trail.  I am also using the stair machine a few times a week to gain strength in my hamstrings and glutes.  I can tell a difference after a couple of months of consistently doing this.  My legs are more powerful and I can run a bit faster.

In addition to working full-time, I have a 7 year-old scientist and a 1 year-old bulldozer who share my space (and most of my food).  Life in our home is CRAZY.  With Summer fast approaching, I hardly have 2 minutes to myself, let alone time to write.  PLEASE STAY TUNED ANYWAY!  I will be launching a series of book reviews soon, so you won’t want to miss it! (And thanks for your support.)

Also on the way: A recipe series starring my son, who is an aspiring chef/astronaut/storm trooper.

Music for the day: Anything from the Revivalists Pandora station. SO good.

Book I’m reading: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Thought for the week:  Let the fire inside you burn brighter than the fire around you.

MAKE TODAY GREAT!  LEAVE ME SOME LOVE IF YOU FEEL SO INCLINED.

 

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How to be the Best Mom

It’s not a competition.

Wait… is it?  Motherhood is, and should be, a deeply personal and private experience.  How we choose to raise our kids, feed them, discipline them, etc., varies by individual.  We are all different in our beliefs, cultures, and heritage.  So it stands to reason that there is no one “right” way to be a Mom.  In these days of social media and over-sharing, though, it feels much more like a contest.  Those of us “less than” moms – I’ll call us the “non goops” – who don’t always have our shirts neatly pressed or dress our kids in coordinating lobster-print boat shoes for sushi day at the prep school, it can be overwhelming.

There are innumerable blogs, websites, and articles out there on the grand ol’ internet about being a mom.  How to be a better mom.  The things we should be doing, but aren’t.  The things we are doing but stop doing immediately or face ruining our child’s existence forever.  The things we didn’t even know were things, we are so far behind, but we need to buy for our kids, make them by hand or from scratch, avoid doing or our kids might die, continue doing or they might die, things to teach them, tell them, make sure they know, make sure they are aware of, sign them up for, keep them away from, feed them, bathe them in, sing to them, DIY for them, protect them from, and so on…

I have been killing myself the past couple of days trying to keep my son occupied.  He is 5 years old, and not in school yet because he has a late birthday.  So I decided that we would do “projects” every day to learn.  Along with projects, we have meals and snacks and karate (or “ninja school”, he says), lego building and swimming and church activities.  Our routine up to this past week has been more relaxed.  I keep reading articles that make me feel pressured to deliver, so I am trying to step it up.  I don’t want to be the one mom at carpool whose son isn’t already counting in 3 languages and taking Chinese calligraphy lessons from a certified master.  My days have been PACKED.  So much so, that I barely got to eat yesterday, did not work out, and did not nap.  Yes I know naps are not a necessity but I could have really used a nap yesterday.

Today, I took a different approach.  We got up, ate (non gf, non organic, very tasty) breakfast, got dressed, and went to a playground.  The weather was gorgeous.  I sat on a shaded bench, reading a book while he ran around and sang songs to himself.  Do you know what happened??  Nothing.  He did not die.  He did not fall down a black whole of insecurity because I was ignoring him.  Seriously.  He was delighted.  I was at peace.  It was great.

In that moment I was reminded of my own childhood.  I was raised by grandparents, mostly, (mom worked a lot) and I remember thinking that they were the best ever.  Literally.  No kid was as lucky as me and my brother.  We had it all – a house to live in, food to eat, clothes, and on Fridays (grocery day) I got to eat a treat from the grocery store.  WOO HOO!  I was living the high life, and life was GOOD.

The funniest thing about all the best days will those ‘best’ people, is that at no point did they make me feel like I was the center of the universe.  The sun, I was assured, neither rose or set out of my bum.  I did not get brand-new clothes (lots of hand-me downs and hand-sewn dresses), I did not eat fast food, there was not much tv, no video games, no DIY projects to keep me occupied.  It was more like, “go outside until lunchtime.”  So we did.  We are better for it.

After the playground today, I made homemade french fries (method at bottom) and reheated some leftover pork chops and broccoli.  While we ate together, my son  talked about life (5 year olds have deep thoughts!) and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he looked up at me and said “Mommy, you are the BEST Mommy there ever was.”  And you know something?  He meant it.

As adults we don’t remember the outfits we wore (less the tragic, embarrassing ones) but we do remember words of affirmation.  We don’t appreciate eating twinkies as much as we appreciate those days in the sun laughing with people from our own tribe.  Lobster-print boat shoes?  Forget about it.  I had my step-mom’s old high-top Reeboks.  To me, they were beautiful because she was beautiful, and because she loved me.

My point is, competing with other moms is silliness, when we won’t know them in 20 years anyway.  Enriching our kids’ lives has nothing to do with what other moms are doing and EVERYTHING to do with how much of ourselves we pour into them in every moment.  Loving words.  Homemade meals.  Story time.  Making up silly songs.  Praying together (he always spontaneously hugs me).  These are the criteria for “best mom”, and how wonderful that it’s an honor we can all achieve.

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Homemade French Fries (super simple)

prep time: 5 mins cook time: 25 mins  total time: 30 mins

Select 2 medium red potatoes.  Rinse.  Cut into slices or squares.

Place potato pieces in a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil (a little at a time – it goes a long way!)

Add salt as desired (again, a little should do), mix with hands.

Spread out on aluminum foil on baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes (depending on how thick the pieces are) or until tender.

Serve plain or with ketchup.  Pat self on back. Receive hugs.

Sweet Tarts for my Sweet Hearts

It’s almost Valentine’s Day!  Which, when I was in my 20s, I really thought was just a “Hallmark holiday”, even though I was in a committed relatinoship at the time.  I felt, like many people do, that every day should be a day – “the” day – you tell your loved ones what you feel about them, what you appreciate about them.  While I still sort-of feel that way, meaning I put no pressure on my husband to show up with jewelry or take me to dinner, I must say that having kids changed my thoughts a little.

My son has my heart.  Every day, all the time.  One of the most enjoyable parts of having a little one is the holidays, or special treats when we’re able to give them to him.  Probably the BEST thing is all of the “firsts” you get to be present for, and that includes paintings, writing valentines, and so forth.  As a mom, this Valentine’s Day is a day I’ve looked forward to with great anticipation.  We have been secretly making gifts for Daddy using Pinterest ideas and some of our own creativity.  Little Dude has drawn love notes for people in our family and tomorrow we get to distribute them.  It’s the sweetest thing!  And, something I have learned, is that small children know how to love better than ANY of us.  They get it.  They get it like we never will.  I’m so proud of my sweet boy, and his love and sensitivity for others, and of course I want to encourage and foster that in him.

So… still not a romantic holiday in my book, but I’m totally on board with loving it up on Valentine’s Day.

The way I show my love is through food.  I enjoy cooking – particularly baking – for my loved ones.  I created my own recipe for tomorrow’s Valentine’s breakfast.  What follows here is a happy accident.

Valentine’s Apple Pie Croissants Fluffy Tarts

Yeah, so, I had the brilliant idea to do something semi-homemade, like Sandra Lee.  (Don’t you love her? I just love her.)  One of my favorite, super easy, dessert or breakfast add-ons is skillet apples.  Cut up an apple into chunks, cook in butter, add cinnamon and some sweetener, and VOILA!  Basically pie filling you can eat with eggs or ice cream, whatever you like.  So I thought I’d stuff some pre-made crescent rolls with the filling and my family would hail me as the loving genius that I am.

However…

I’m not going to name names, but instead of getting the more expensive, name-brand crescents, I purchased the store brand.  Twenty cents cheaper and “it’s the same thing”, I said to myself.  Big no-no in cooking, in my opinion, is cheaping out.  A lot of times those costly ingredients cost more for a reason. Yes, you can go generic sometimes but other times you’re paying less because the quality is less.  This was one of those times.

I got home and assembled my ingredients:

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Yummily in my Tummily, as Pooh Bear might say.

Next, I heat a “pat” of butter – I just eyeball, it’s probably about a tablespoon – in the skillet:

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For accuracy’s sake, it isn’t a skillet. It’s a sauce pan. It’s my favorite saucepan, so watch your mouth.

Add the apples, sweetener, (sugar is best but I used Stevia this time), and as much cinnamon as you like. I like a lot.  You know in movies, when Italian Mobsters say “Fuggedaboutit” (sp, obviously) ?  Well, one of my favorites of all time is Donnie Brasco, I just so thoroughly enjoy Al Pacino’s Lefty Ruggiero character, it’s beyond explanation.  His is the best accent, the best wardrobe, very best “fuggedaboutit” in the film.  And friends, I have to tell you, if “fuggedaboutit” had a smell, it would smell like this.  Moving on…

Everything’s going fine, I’m thinking I’m going to get this done in 15 minutes and have time to take a nap.  Yay Super Mommy!  And then, it happened.  I peeled back the label on the crescent roll can, holding it as far away from me as possible becauseI am as jumpy as a chihuahua and I hate that “pop” sound.  The label came right off, but no pop.  I squeezed.  Still no pop.  Finally I got a large knife and tried to cut them open, but even that was a mess.  After a few minutes of wrestling with it, I finally managed to pull the dough out.  Unfortunately it was hot and not at all in any recognizable shape.  Instead of croissants, I would have to make something else.

Light bulb!  I pulled the dough apart and made six somewhat even balls.  I sprayed my brand new muffin tin with Pam, and lined six muffin cups with the dough.  Tarts! Pies?  I don’t know, we’ll see.  It’s better than wasting my fuggedaboutit apples, AmIRight?

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I quickly – hurriedly, even – filled the dough ball wads with apple goodness and put them in to my preheated (350 degrees) oven for 10 minutes.

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Pretty Before

The outcome?  Better than I could have hoped, all things considered.  They are like quiche without egg, like tarts if tart makers allowed a “home-style crust” option.  They taste wonderful, and I was still able to get that nap!

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Delicious After

 

They’re buttery, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle and filled with warm apple cinnamon LOVE.  Sweet and tangy and everything I want my Valentine’s breakfast to be.  This is why cooking is so wonderful! It’s magical, a true adventure… and so are love and mommy-hood.

Pity the Fool

Hello, Dear Ones.

So much has happened. So much to say.  Where to begin?  Apologies if this reads like a “random thoughts” post.  It sort-of is one.

There have been at least 4 separate occasions in the past 2 weeks that I told myself to put my “ass in chair” and get some writing done.  Did it happen?  No.  Life keeps getting in the way.  It’s a shame, too, because I have so much to write about. Funny things, serious things, cooking things.  Mmm… food… there’s always something more that can be said about food… but I digress.

After my last post – “I Jumped”, my son fell ill.  It’s not abnormal for a child who is new to daycare to catch things, so at first we weren’t alarmed.  Only when he stopped eating did my internal alarm go off.  He complained incessantly of tummy aches, and that’s not something he’s ever said before.  We took him to the pediatrician, who said nothing was wrong, and lectured me on “good eating”.  We took him to the peds ER, who said he was constipated and sent us home with some laxatives.  We took him BACK to the pediatrician, who said it’s the flu (even though flu and strep tests were negative) and told us to give him tylenol and liquids.  Finally, after 2 weeks of this, my son was 10 lbs down and too weak to walk.  Frustrated and crying, I picked him up from my husband and went back to the Peds ER.  (The pediatrician, tired of seeing us, refused to see us so the ER was the only option.)  He was immediately admitted after triage, which scared me.  They started IV fluids and took us to our room, where we’d live for the next week.  Turns out my sweet boy had bronchitis, a raging infection in both ears, and was severely dehydrated.  Our hospital stay took a toll on me, but he was a real trooper, watching SpongeBob and making jokes.  Thank God for my husband and family, who visited and brought us contraband snacks.  It goes without saying, I was and still am pissed at the doctors – numerous doctors – who examined my son and sent us home, each time sewing a seed of doubt in my mind.  Am I going crazy?  He seems really “off”.  Lesson learned, my Mommy Instinct is RIGHT ON THE MONEY and I will not doubt it again and I will not take no for an answer in the future.

In happier news, Thanksgiving was rad.  We spent the day in Atlanta in my Uncle’s castle.  He calls it a house, but I swear, all it’s missing is a moat.  Gorgeous abode.  The food was good and the company was even better.  Took pictures, chatted, ate, laughed, listened to stories and dreamed about the future.  So grateful for experiences like these and for our loved ones.

I looked at microfilm for the first time yesterday!  I’m in what feels like a never-ending search for my husband’s biological father, so we went to the local library last night to search through records.  I spent an hour looking for birth records in the local paper.  I found nothing and left frustrated.  It wasn’t until about midnight last night that I realized I’d been looking at the wrong year.  On the one hand, damnit, I am tired.  On the other hand, hope renewed!  I can go back and look and possibly FIND something next time!

I was accused of something at work that I know I didn’t do.  Today I was vindicated.  Yes, I’m still leaving, but I had prepared to fight.  We don’t mess around with this girl’s integrity and reputation, mkay?  Happily all was resolved to our mutual satisfaction.

Went to my first comic convention with my brother. It was TOO much fun. Got to meet some guys from the Walking Dead. I don’t watch the show but apparently it’s a big thing.  I am a nerd at heart, and a super huge sci-fi/trekkie girl, so I was in my element.  We are now committed to going to Dragon Con in Atlanta next year and it can’t get here soon enough!  I need ideas for costumes though – there are 4 of us.

FRINGE is one of the best shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Engages my mind while entertaining me.  I am a little bit obsessed.

Christmas shopping is just about done.  I have a few small things to get, but for the most part, I am done and it’s all wrapped.  This is the earliest I’ve ever been done, the most  I’ve ever spent, and the most FUN I’ve ever had doing it.  (Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals were a bust.  Deals? I see no deals!?!)  Anyway, I enjoy the spirit of Christmas and I can’t wait to see everyone around the tree.  We spend Christmas at my brother’s house, usually beginning with a great big breakfast buffet (everyone brings something) and culminating with naps.  This year I’m bringing chocolate covered bacon.  Oh, yeah. I don’t say EPIC a lot but man oh man, this Christmas morning is going to be one for the record books.  So excited!

Running, my love, I’m so happy to be reunited with you. Let’s go farther, faster, stronger in 2014.

Paul Walker.  I didn’t like him as an actor. I mean, not that I’d seen anything besides the movie where Jessica Alba’s butt is so famously not part of her body while snorkeling for treasure, and the F&F films.  HOWEVER I am sad about his passing, like many people.  Some are annoyed that it’s getting so much press, saying that people die every day, soldiers and firefighters and the like, and aren’t so “virally” recognized.  Yep, that’s true.  The thing is, Paul Walker’s impact isn’t about him being an actor, and him being an actor doesn’t diminish his nobility.  By all accounts he was a good person with a big heart.  I think the reason people have responded en masse to his passing is because of that, and because he is someone we can all relate to and felt connected to.  Kinda reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s passing.  For me, at least.

I made sugar cookies that I saw in “Bon Appetite” magazine. I’d already been inspired by “Julie and Julia”, having watched it in the hospital one night.  Thank God for free movies, because those recliners are the antithesis of comfort.  There was no sleep. Til Brooklyn and beyond, I’m not even kidding.  The movie was way better than I expected.  I adore Stanley Tucci, he always gives a good performance and I was mesmerized by the love story there, and by Julia Child’s life, struggles, tenacity, warmth.  I think I love her a little. And more than that, I really felt like I could identify with her as a person, a woman, a cook, a dreamer, a lover of France.  Anyway… The cookies… I used pearl dust for the first time and was so proud, I tweeted the magazine to show them.  Who knows if they saw it or cared, but I was over the moon.  Here’s a photo:

Picasso Cookies
Picasso Cookies

On the way to a meeting today I heard “Here I go Again” by Whitesnake.  I laughed because it felt like a “God wink”.  Going in to the job to say goodbye to everyone and I hear THIS song?  Yeah. SO not a coincidence.  But it gets funnier/eerier.  On the way out of saying goodbye I hear “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue.  Two things to note here:  One, I listen to awesome music.  Two, I do believe I was hearing a message that I’m on my perfect life path RIGHT NOW.  Lately I am open enough to recognize and receive love and abundance.  This fills my heart with joy and excitement!

Painting furniture today, and finally, finally putting my hands to these keys again.  Feels good.  My dream is to live in a big warm home with my hubs and kids, and write for a living, and be home to cook and create and go on vacations whenever we like.  I give you my word, I am on my way!

Happy. Love. Peace.  xoxo