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.

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Movie Dates and Southern States

This weekend my husband had a *rare* day off work, so we decided to take our littlest guy to see a movie called “Strange Magic”.  It was playing at our local “cheap” theater (tickets are $2.25) and we had a gift card, so after concessions we only paid $5.00 for everything.  Totes winning.  (Thanks, Carmike Cinemas for having a more affordable option in our town!)

Usually I have to really pump myself up to see animated films.  I know the theater will be packed with kids talking and/or crying, and I would really just rather take a nap.  However, Strange Magic is the second movie I have seen this year that surprised me with its greatness.  This movie is delightful.  Delightful, I say!  It’s a musical, which I did not expect.  The Bog King (voiced by Alan Cumming)is totally my favorite character.  The plot is not extremely predictable, the animation is good, and the songs are so enjoyable.  At certain points I was singing, my husband was singing, our son was dancing… it was a wonderful time!  I’m telling you, there’s nothing so sweet as catching glimpses of a little one’s face while they are completely entranced in a story like this one.  Half the time I was watching the screen, and half the time I was studying my boy, sitting on the edge of his seat, smiling, fascinated.  Why can’t all movies be this good?!

The rest of our weekend was filled with house cleaning, workouts, and car shopping.  Two things we always do on Sunday (or I do alone, if my husband is working): Church and Fried Chicken.  Almost every week.  On both sides of my family Sunday is a day of eating.  My mom’s mother is French, and makes bread by hand every Sunday morning, then we all feast on it after church.  My dad’s mother makes country-style meals with fixins.  In my house, we do fried chicken.

As we were sitting at the table looking over our Sunday lunch, I felt overwhelming gratitude.  The South, particularly the states I have lived in most of my life – Georgia and Alabama – takes a lot of crap from the rest of the nation.  It is the butt of many jokes, and is criticized on the regular for not conforming to what is normal everywhere else.  But I am SO grateful we live here.  Grateful to have been raised here, with front porches and rocking chairs and sweet tea.  With tire swings and creeks and Sunday Service.  We worship Jesus and we say ‘yes ma’am’.  We say grace and we walk around barefoot and we make our biscuits from scratch.  I cannot imagine life any other way.  I cannot imagine raising our kids any other way.  If you don’t live down here, well, y’all just don’t know what you’re missing.

Christmas and Traditions

I have noticed a trend this year among Facebook friends and some of the Mommy Bloggers I follow.  There has been lots of discussion this year about Christmas traditions – Elf on the Shelf being the most horrendous, in my humble opinion.  It got me thinking, because traditions aren’t something we value too highly in our little family.  We like trying new things, whether they be foods or experiences or weird do-it-yourself egg and mayonnaise hair treatments.  We get rid of clothing and furniture pretty regularly, we don’t have attachment to material things.

This Christmas is significant for us, because 1) We are in a new home (movin’ on up, as they say) 2) My daughter is away at school and this is the first Christmas that she won’t be home with us, and 3) my son is 5 and able to enjoy the stories, help wrap presents, and grasp the idea of Christmas and the holiday more than he did in years past.  For these reasons I have been thinking about Christmas traditions – do we need them? Do we want them?  Are they silly?  Are they a sweet way to stay close as a family?

We don’t have traditions.  We do things differently every year.  The tree, the decorations, the food, the music, the routine of whose house we go to first or last or not at all.  Maybe that’s our tradition.  Some years we didn’t have a tree (due to finances and, well, cats).  Other years we had only construction paper snowflake ornaments.  We don’t watch the same movies or eat the same foods every year, and while I do have fond memories of my grandmothers “broke-neck” gingerbread men and the laughter they inspired among my cousins and me,  I guess don’t see traditions as necessary.  I realize, though, that for my son there is comfort in the familiar, and my husband and I want to begin to put him on a road towards a relationship with Christ – one that begins with reverence and respect for Christmas, Jesus’ birth.

So, this year we decided to start our first Christmas tradition.  It may be the only thing we do EVERY year consistently, but it’s a good one.  We found an advent calendar – the kind with the little numbered doors and chocolates behind each one – and a website that explains the Christmas story in a way kids can understand.  Every morning in the month of December, we read and talk a little about Jesus – who he is, why he is important, what he did, and his Earthly family.  Then, my son gets a chocolate.

The chocolate may be his favorite part of our talks, but I know that some of the things he learns are sticking.  For instance, he knows “advent” means “coming”. He knows “Immanuel” means “God with us”. If I say “Jesus is the ____” he responds with “Light of the World” (and a big smile).  He knows Jesus’ mommy’s name was Mary and he knows Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.  I feel like, for one so small, that is a lot of information.

The cookies won’t last and one day the presents will be forgotten, and maybe my son won’t grow up watching a parade on tv eating the same treats I make every holiday season, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Setting up a place for him in our son’s heart and life is one tradition I feel worthy, and one I know I can keep.

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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