Monday, October 20, 2014

hummus, deconstructed

Sometimes I think it may represent some messed up martyr-like parenting burnout wish, but despite the addition to our lives of one more kid (a kid who, at an adventuresome and wily 19 months of age, creates a stunning amount of chaos in her wake) and a pretty substantial and demanding part-time job, I cannot give up the dream of dinner. I cannot resign myself to the frozen section of Trader Joe's. I want to cook.

Take back that martyr comment above. Truth be told, the children would be quite happy with fried balls of macaroni and cheese on a Tuesday night. (There actually is something to that effect in above mentioned Trader Joe's aisle, and Frances never walks past it with begging me, please, just this once, just get the mac and cheese balls, Mama, just PLEASE, I know I love them.) The children would, at least in the short term, be a lot happier at dinner time if I snipped and heated Thai dumplings and tofu nuggets and called it a night. But I can't bear to. Even if time is short, even if Beatrice is hanging onto my legs, head thrown back, giving herself over entirely to the conviction that all will be lost if Mama doesn't pick me up right now and Frances is repeating her story about what appalling thing so-and-so said at lunch and Gabriel is moaning dramatically over first grade homework at the table, even then I am determined to somehow pull together a real dinner. This is despite the fact that though I regularly and, it seems to me, heroically chop onions and simmer quinoa in the midst of so much activity, I always brace myself when the children ask me the dreaded What's for dinner question because chances are high they will be disappointed. (And express their disappointment.) (And apologize to me when I tell them that hurts my feelings). And even though Beatrice will announce she is ready to sit in Mama's lap three minutes into the simple meal that took just about all the inner resources I had to make materialize on the table, and I will haul her out of her seat and she will climb all over me and try to feed me resulting in a great mess, even then it seems worthwhile to continue to cook - and eat - the real dinner I really made. It's absurd, but there it is.

That said, I am always trying to figure out ways to cook and eat real food that won't stress me out. Some recent developments: making a big pan of baked oatmeal on Sunday afternoons that I can slice and reheat during the week for breakfast; keeping lots of salad greens on hand so I can pack lunches that make me happy (rather than the desperate yogurt cup/granola bar/apple sort of thing that only depresses); making lots of dinner when possible so we'll have good leftovers on hand.

I've also been experimenting with my slow cooker. It's never really found a comfortable place in my kitchen. But lately I've been making dried beans in it during the day (so superior to canned, right? so worth the effort!), which brings me to the subject of this post. In its own small way this meal felt triumphant, so I wanted to share. Here's what I did: a few mornings ago I realized I would come home that day on the late side and there'd be nothing obvious to make for dinner. So first thing, I quick-soaked a bag of chick peas (covered in water, brought to a boil, and left for about an hour). Just before I left for work I drained them and put them into the slow cooker with water to cover, salt, and a glug of olive oil.

When I got home with the kids that day, the house smelled great. I decided that in the hopes of transforming a mountain of cooked chick peas into something that seemed like dinner, I would prepare them like hummus - minus the blender. I put some grains on to cook, and in a little bowl whisked lots of tahini, lemon, olive oil, salt, and garlic together. When the grains were finished, I mixed them with the chick peas and poured the tahini sauce all over everything.

And though nowadays I have less time to conceive, gather ingredients for, and prepare meals myself, I do have a nine year old I can send out to cut chives with which to make a rather plain dish a little more exciting. And a six year old who will (sometimes) cheerfully set the table. And a toddler who will search the house calling Papa! Dinner! Sit here! and so miraculously, amazingly, that night we all sat down to real dinner together and I was not a frazzled mess. Success.

Ah, readers! Remember when I used to post about these little life challenges all the time? And you would comment and share your extraordinary innovations too? Maybe this one was fueled by a bit of nostalgia for that era. Indulge me, won't you? What was your latest real dinner triumph?

With solidarity, love, and wishes for excellent meals shared with cooperative children,

Monday, October 13, 2014

on aging

It is so rare that we feel up to the task of watching an entire movie. And I'm not even talking about the movie theatre. I'm talking about rustling up the focus and energy to select and then watch a real movie all in one go, snuggled up on the couch downstairs after the children are in bed.

But on Saturday we watched God Help the Girl, a film by Stuart Murdoch (the Belle and Sebastian guy). The music, the story, the sweetness and honesty - it was good. I'm not sure what I expected. There are so many bands, artists, and writers that I paid a lot of attention to in college and the years after - before parenthood - that I have not plugged into for a very long time. Some narcissistic part of me assumes they all just stopped writing songs and making dances when my attention waned. Around 2005, all over New York and Paris (and in this case, Glasgow) artists could be overheard saying, Oh, Meagan isn't listening to our new albums anymore? Ah well. What's the point? We may as well settle down and get jobs and have kids too.
I still listen to the old albums I loved. Belle and Sebastian has been a constant in my life since my senior year of college, and I associate If You're Feeling Sinister with falling in love with Mike, visits to New York, and a sense of yearning possibility. I can't hear Judy and the Dream of Horses without my chest swelling; I can't sing along without my throat constricting with the peripheral presence of tears. What are those tears about? Nostalgia, loss, the strangeness of time passing? I feel so connected to that moment: being twenty and in love and in a perfect city, newly mine, listening to Belle and Sebastian, unsure about what to do and who to be. Was it really seventeen years ago?

After we watched the movie - about beautiful young people in Glasgow and how their new friendships, pop music aspirations, and troubles all mix up in a moment before anything big has happened, before any particular direction has been established in their lives - and the credits played out and we were sitting in darkness, Mike asked me if I felt sad that we were no longer young. I heard myself answer yes, accompanied by a surprising sense of tranquility. No need to be defensive, no need to regret anything, just yes. Yes, it is sad that that time in our lives is over.

What was it like? For me, a mix of vague yet passionate ambition, persistent self-doubt, powerful experiences of friendship, an uncertain, faltering, yet determined desire for creative expression, spiritual longing, confusion, love. A yearning for authenticity; for all that seemed true, good, and beautiful. I lost my dad when I was eighteen. I fell in love with Mike and graduated from Swarthmore and moved to New York when I was twenty. I was always in such a rush to figure it out, to grow up, to grow out. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As I considered options, depending on my mood, either the prospective path or my own flawed self seemed lacking.
It was stressful and wearying, worrying so much about myself and my relationships. It's such an inward time! After Frances was born, I remember a conscious sense of relief. In my focus on her, I got a break from myself. Finally. 

But. But but. Nine years later, I still spend most of my emotional energies worrying about my kids. Do I work too much? Do they have the support they need? Are they growing in all the ways that they should be? Am I helping them to become themselves, in all their strangeness and glory?
In the rush and pull of everyday life, it is so easy to neglect to look inward every now and then. It's easy to not give myself the time and quiet to think about the person I am - good gracious! - still becoming. Maybe some of the sadness, in missing my youth, is missing what in retrospect seems like luxurious amounts of self-reflection. How to make the space for discovering what is good and true and beautiful? 

The truth is that I prefer who and how I am now. Even with my gray streaks and residual perioral dermitis (sigh!), I know I would never choose to be twenty-three again. But it's good to be reminded of what I wanted and what I still want - to grow in love. And though there is a temptation to focus so fully on my children that I slip past and around whatever difficulty is stirring in my own heart, good people and music and movies remind me to resist that limited kind of relationship. Ultimately, I think, loving my children wholly leads me back to myself.
In a good way.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

go go go stop

I just got back from Back to School Night for Frances. Next week I'll go for Gabriel. Yesterday was soccer, tomorrow is Girls on the Run, the annual breakfast meeting for the St. John's health center began my day yesterday and a long faculty meeting made for a late reunion with my husband that night. This season of new beginings - all worthy endeavors - is well underway. But sometimes it feels as if I am barreling all day from one thing to the next and if I don't stop and take a breath I'll head straight over the falls.

I know I've told you lots about Beatrice's bedtime. Come to think of it, it might be the only thing I ever blog about anymore. Homemade Bedtime. Hmm. But I digress: the point is that it is a precious still moment in my day. Indulge me here - I need to revel in those moments and hold them close, to balance out all that barreling.

Mike has taught Beatrice to say I love you when they say goodnight to each other. I love you Papa. It sounds a bit like: Ah ruv you. Papa. It is the sweetest thing in the world.

Tonight after all the night night, I love yous, we entered her room. She turned her light off ("light OFF") (she likes to narrate as much as her experience as possible these days) and settled into the rocking chair with me to nurse and sing. She paused, looked up at me, and smiled.

I love you, Papa.

I repeated her words: I love you Papa.

I love you, Gabriel.

I smiled back and repeated: I love you Gabriel.

Hello, Didi. I love you.

I thought my smile would get so big it would start to pull my face apart. That sweet hello! I repeated: I love you Didi.

Then she just grinned back at me in silence.

....I love you, Beatrice, I said.

More grinning. Silence.

What about Mama? ...I love you Mama?

Then she said it. I love you. Mama.

Even though I'd asked her to, I still nearly choked with emotion (laughter? tears? something beyond those categories?) as I told her I loved her too.

And then she laughed! She was smiling with her eyes and nose and chin and teeth and it got so big and wonderful that she laughed. Transcendent.

Then she abruptly got serious, turned towards me and announced: nurse.

It all lasted about two minutes, and it was the most joyful moment of my day. Off the charts joyful! My heart sings with the memory of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

a family is everybody all together

Gabriel explained to some dear friends who were over for dinner recently that Beatrice's favorite time of the day is dinnertime, and her favorite part of dinnertime is when we all hold hands and sing the Johnny Appleseed grace. She smiles, slowly scanning every face at the table, and when it is over she punctuates the song with a joyful Ah-men! 
Tonight, just before bedtime, I was carrying Beatrice to say night-night to Gabriel in the kitchen, when we passed my phone sitting on the counter. I noticed Beatrice look at it and could hear the wheels turning in her head. 

Would you like to say night-night to Gramma, too, Beatrice?

Yeah, she replied. Call Gramma, call Gramma, say night-night, night-night Gramma, night-night Bardolf!

She has only Facetimed my mom, so somehow the phone is like a magical portal to Gramma. But Gramma is in Ashland and was probably finishing up a matinee at the Shakespeare Festival when we called, so she didn't pick up. Beatrice looked crestfallen watching her own disappointed face in the phone, listening to the relentless ring that refused to end with Gramma's face.

You know Beatrice, I told her, we can call Grammy and Poppy on my phone, too.

Grammy! Poppy! Call Poppy! Say night-night Poppy!

So we did. His wireless connection was not so hot; it was short and sweet. Then Beatrice said goodnight to Frances and Michael, then we went into her peaceful darkened room, where she looked at me expectantly: Nurse, Mama.

She falls into position, so sleepy and happy. Do I love this time of day? Oh, I do. Every night at this point I say, would you like me to sing a song? And she grins blissfully and snuggles closer and sings-talks in response: vatetrain vatetrain, which means Freight Train Freight Train, which she has insisted on for her bedtime song ever since she first heard me sing it many weeks ago, which sometimes makes me sad because our song used to be Wild Mountain Thyme - which I think suits her perfectly - but she was adamant.

It's okay, I love Freight Train too. I sing it Elizabeth Mitchell-style, and sing about all the places I would like us to visit, or the places we love, or the places we are considering for Mike's sabbatical next year, or the places in the world I am so sad for. Going to Syria, going so fast. Going to Liberia, going so fast. 
But tonight I would begin singing, then she'd pull off and look up at me and say Gramma? Soon?

Yes, we'll see her soon.

Poppy? Grammy? Soon. 

Yes, we'll see them soon too.

And then ... back to the song and nursing. But then, a few moments later: tell Poppy ah ruv you. Ah ruv you.

Yes, he loves you too.

A few moments later: See Bardolf? Soon. See Bardolf soon.
Does she even like Bardolf? Last time my mom's labradoodle was here she spent a lot of time looking at him sternly and reprimanding No Bardolf, no no. But he's part of her family. And Beatrice is a connector, a lover of gatherings, a small person who is happiest in the heart of her family, when everybody is all together.
Oh Beatrice! I like it too. I like how much you like it. You help us all to see just how precious it is.