Monthly Archives: November 2008

What I Learned from my Thanksgiving Pies

“Mommy, did you take a picture of your Thanksgiving pies?” Baxter asked excitedly the day after Thanksgiving.

The question took me by surprise.  “No,” I sighed.  “Honestly, Baxter, I was so disappointed with the way they looked that I didn’t feel very proud of them, and I didn’t take a picture.”

He looked at me in amazement.  “But they were so delicious, Mommy!” he exclaimed.  “I kept coming back for more!  They were the best pies ever!”

“I know, Sweetie, thank you for saying that.  I know everyone loved them, and they did taste good.  I think I had a picture in my mind of how they were going to turn out, and when they didn’t look that way I just felt really disappointed.”

Cringing inside, I pictured once again the deep dish apple pie whose top crust had started to burn in the oven a full fifteen minutes before the time was up (time to get that oven checked), the same pie whose top crust I had taken a maple leaf cookie cutter to – which had looked just perfect before baking, but afterward caused it to look like a volcano had erupted right in the center of the pie.   My mind shifted to the pumpkin pie.  One side of the crust had slid downward during baking so that when I poured the molasses-pumpkin mixture into it, the liquid ran right over that side and I had to scoop out some of the filling.  Furthermore, when I poured the mixture into the pie, drowning the right side of the crust, it became obvious to me that I hadn’t quite mixed it well enough and there were swirls of molasses visible in it.  Oy.  This is same pie on which I cleverly covered a “ding” in the smooth surface with the carefully baked maple leaf shape I had removed from the top of the apple pie – a maple leaf far too big for this smaller pie, which prompted some to ask humorously if it might be a Canadian Thanksgiving pie.  Seriously, I would have made the same joke, had that not been the least of my concerns about these pies.

You do see, don’t you, that I was depressed about bringing these pies as the sole dessert for the fifteen people at my sister-in-law’s house for a reason?  And wouldn’t you have picked up a couple of grocery store pies on your way to the party just in case they were inedible?  You would have, I can guarantee it.

However, even I had to admit that once I sliced them and tried bites of each, they were absolutely delicious no matter how far from my vision of a lovely pie each of them was.   I watched as both pies were eaten, with people coming back for more, and the store-bought pie I had put out next to them was left untouched.

It’s true: they were fine.  They were homemade with real, flaky pie crust, and I’m sure it was clear that I’d tried to make them look good, too, if only by the pained expression on my face as I served them.  And perhaps it was true, what Matt said, that they looked great;  they simply didn’t resemble the same “great” that I had envisioned as I labored over them.

And so, what I told Baxter the next day was that it really doesn’t do us a lot of good to strive for perfection.  It’s not useful to set up an expectation for yourself that you won’t necessarily be able to achieve right away.  Sure, I may make a hundred great pies in the future, but I’d only ever made one before, and even though that one came out beautifully it was not realistic to expect that these would be just right.  There is a good reason most people don’t try to make their pies from scratch: they’re hard!  I told him that I want to practice this year and work on improving some of the things that didn’t go the way I wanted so that I will get better at making pies, but what mattered was that I tried and they were delicious, and he was right – that was something to be proud of.

I talk to Baxter a lot about the fact that we are all working on things, that every single one of us has challenges.  Maybe my quest to make a nice-looking pie doesn’t appear on the surface to be as critical as the hard work he is putting into improving his writing skills at school, for example, but the essential lessons are the same.

It is so important to take the time to show our kids our own challenges.  They’ll learn from us when we express our frustration in ourselves and can be open about our own limitations. It is so helpful to share with them the lessons we are rewarded with when we take risks and make mistakes, and we really need to model for them that we can all be a hell of a lot easier on ourselves.

And when we spend 6 hours in the kitchen making pies that are downright cringe-worthy, we really ought to take a picture anyway, because those were hours well spent – and, after all, isn’t the learning process actually more important than the final product?

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I am Thankful for…

* my supportive, loving, and extremely funny husband;

* my sweet boys who still greet me with loud cheers, hugs, and kisses every morning and every single time I come into the house, making me feel like a rock star;

* our good health, which I never take for granted;

* the way in which my boys so often curl up at night in the big bed together rather than sleeping in their own beds (which are only 2 feet apart);

* all of my children’s grandparents and the generous support they give us throughout the year in their own ways;

* having all of my own grandparents still alive and living independently;

* giving my kids the opportunity to grow up near their cousins, something that meant the world to me as a child;

* friends who have become neighbors and neighbors who have become friends;

* a new city that suits me perfectly and doesn’t feel so “new” anymore;

* friends far and wide with whom I am able to stay in touch on a regular basis, thanks to the marvels of the Internet and modern social networking;

* learning to make a decent pie this year;

* working hard at running a successful practice that makes many people’s lives better and satisfies me so greatly;

* a change coming to America that we so desperately need and the fact that we actually made it happen;

* the sunlight coming through the stained glass window in my very own home, a sight which never ceases to fill me with gratitude;

* all of you, my friends and family, every single one of you.

xoxo Happy Thanksgiving, Wonderfriends!  xoxo

My Personal Twilight Zone

I feel a little like I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone for the past week.  It started last Sunday with a bad cold that forced me to miss a day at work and kept me under the weather all week.  On Thursday, Lyle became sick with a different sort of illness that’s, well, a messier type of thing.  He finally seemed to be bouncing back from that this morning but by early evening it was clear that he now has the bad cold, too. He has been napping 3-4 hours every day and then sleeping 12 hours per night.  He’s quiet and sweet in between, happy to cuddle on the couch and read piles of books or watch a video.  He smiles and says “Okay,” very softly after everything I say to him.  Baxter was very congested tonight, too, and my head cold is not completely gone yet.  Everybody’s on their inhalers.

Someone has been home in their pajamas all day every day for the past week, sometimes the sick kid and just as often one of the adults.

In the meantime, we hosted a good friend of mine from grad school for the past four nights.  She was here for the annual American Speech-Language-Hearing Association convention that was held here in Chicago this year.  I was able to make it to two of the three days, missing one day to take care of Lyle.  I was very grateful that she is a mellow friend, one who was just as happy as I was to eat a good meal and then veg on the couch in the evenings.  It was wonderful to catch up on the past 8 years and I was sad to see her leave this morning.  I truly hope she does not end up sick after her visit with this crew of ours.

I am struck by the fact that these changes in routine and health haven’t stressed me out.  Perhaps it’s because after I work tomorrow I will be home again for six days in a row and can catch up on whatever needs doing.  It helps that we are neither traveling for nor hosting Thanksgiving this week, and that I am looking forward to making two pies on Thursday.  Or maybe it’s just a slow period at work and I feel mostly caught up.  I won’t really know until I immerse myself in it again tomorrow and think clearly about it.  But I’ve been happy to be at home whenever possible, relaxing and resting, taking care of Lyle, and playing games and reading with Baxter.  I’m aware that I’m not writing much, even though there are a lot of things to share with you all.  I’m not doing anything much when I’m at home, other than wiping noses and doling out Ibuprofen.

Winter is here, and it’s nice to hunker down by the fireplace and relax.  I’m just glad that I’ve been able to let other things go to take advantage of the opportunity, something I haven’t always been so good at.

Out on the Town: Age 8

You all know by now that I have perfected the half-assed birthday party for kids.  However, after a blow-out 4th birthday party for Lyle in August, one that used up every ounce of party-planning expertise and dollar we had to our names, the idea of throwing any kind of organized fiesta for Baxter and his ever-expanding group of friends made us quiver in fear, gripping our checkbook.  And when he suggested that it was going to be a Pokemon party this year, I knew something had to be done.  Fast.

Enter the New Deal of birthday parties.  The Next New Thing.  We proposed that he invite just one friend for a full day of big kid fun on the town, things we have never done before and that only wise old 8-year olds get to do.  And the most amazing thing happened: he agreed.

Now, I will admit that a few days later there were some tears.  Baxter claims that I didn’t tell him this big adventure was in lieu of a big party, but that’s a simple case of not hearing what we don’t want to hear.  He pulled himself together and asked, “Will there still be lots of presents on the table at breakfast from you and Daddy and Lyle on my birthday?”  It’s really all about the presents, so you know what that means for our future – more presents from us and fewer parties. No problem.

The stars, moon, and planets aligned.  Matt’s parents were willing to take Lyle overnight and his cousin M was willing to go with him and have a special cousins weekend, so Lyle was not focused on what he was missing at home.  He had a wonderful time with his cousin.  Baxter’s best friend happened to be available the day we had set aside for this, with just two weeks notice.  And it all went off without a hitch.

First, we took the boys to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor (top floor) of the John Hancock Building.  Here you don’t pay for the view, just a drink and snack (or lunch, in our case).  We played I Spy among the skyscrapers until our eyes glazed over.  Caught up in the big kid adventure thing, I allowed Baxter to order a Pepsi with lunch for the first and last time.  I haven’t seen him so hyper since he was 3 1/2.

Our next stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, a gorgeous place we had not yet seen since moving here.  This is a rather pricey museum, but a good friend of mine checked her library for the Museum Pass a couple days before and was able to get one for me, so we went for free.  (I told you, Chicagoans are outrageously nice.)  This was great fun for all of us, and of course the hands-on nature of the exhibits made it perfect for the boys.  However, Matt and I agreed that age 8 is about the minimum age to really get something out of this place, because the kids still ran from one thing to the next, trying it out without actually stopping to read what it was about or learn something from it.  I can see as a destination that will be more fun as the kids get older, and might be a good place for teenagers.  But we covered the whole building and it was a huge hit.

 

After these big outings, Matt and I were happy to head home.  The kids were each handed an iPhone for the 20-minute car trips to and from downtown so that they could intensify their obsession with the new Jelly Car game.  We concur that Jelly Car is pretty rad – and the music’s not half bad, either.  We brought Mexican food home for dinner and the boys watched a Pokemon movie after dinner.  Baxter’s bedtime was a good two hours later than  usual, leaving him decidedly less hyper the following day.

Baxter was really blown away by the day he had, and we enjoyed it so much.  I suspect it will be far more memorable to him than if we’d had a bunch of kids over to play Pin the Tail on Pikachu.

Dear Baxter,

You asked for “a haircut” and “good marks on [your] report card” for your birthday.  Your fascination with the political process in general and the electoral college in particular has been heartening this year as we consider all that you have to offer the world as you grow up.  You have lots of good friends and are liked and appreciated by adults and children.  The way you seek out babies and toddlers and play so joyfully with them, even when kids your age are waiting for you to play, makes your kid-loving mama so happy.

When you got your flu shot yesterday, you actually got out of the car to go into the pediatrician’s office.  You also read your book until the last possible second without making a fuss.  Okay, so maybe I had to lift you up a bit to get you to sit on that table, but at least the nurse didn’t have to pick you up from the floor by your pants this year, giving you a wedgie. On our way into the office, you reminded me that the wedgie was a lot worse than the shot itself back when you were six.

And that’s just it.  You aren’t six anymore, or even seven.  Today you are eight.  That’s a pretty big number, Baxter.

Eight years ago you were born and I became a mother.   You are an incredibly loving, sweet, curious and earnest child.  I have loved these years of your early boyhood and recognize that you are on the verge of older childhood. This year will bring growth and much change for you once again, but I know that the essential you-ness will always be there.  And that’s all I need.

Happy Birthday, my 8-year old.  I love you.

Entering Middle Childhood – Almost

The bin with the blue lid that has sat atop the art cabinet for the past year and a half caught my eye today.  It is chock full of quintessential children’s music: Sesame Street, Ella Jenkins, Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, Music Together class cd’s, and local artist “Miss Kitty” from San Francisco.  The bin hasn’t been opened since we moved to this house.  I suppose we’ve bought new music in the meantime and haven’t thought about the old stuff.

Baxter, who has the day off from school, dove into the bin immediately and with great enthusiasm.  Wow, my old Sesame Street cd! Here’s Miss Kitty – it has “I’m So Big I Sit on the Potty” on it!  Can we put it on?  In consternation, I found myself putting on music I hadn’t heard in years and that Lyle had never heard.  My almost-8 year old sat on the bed in the playroom, glued to the little cd player, eyes wide.  Listening to songs that encouraged him to sit on the potty when he was 3 years old and that we had on constant repetition while went about our old life in San Francisco.

I too was transported.  I felt for all the world like I was in our flat on 16th Avenue in San Francisco, with the sun coming in those huge front windows in our living room and creating enormous rectangles on the gleaming wood floors.  With my one young child, I played Little People and dinosaurs and acted out his story The Too Tall Tree, and read what felt like thousands of books each day, and later prepared to welcome a second child into our lives.

Baxter asked me to put on the Sesame Street cd while we ate lunch today.  He listened, rapt, and became thoroughly excited about each song as it came on.  Mommy, is this the cd with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Elmo’s World on it, too? Oh, I remember this one! I love this one!  This from the child who last week could’ve been hired by MSNBC as its newest left-leaning pundit, waving his electoral map with confidence and seeming more 17 than 7.

He sits in the sun room now, reading Pokemon and humming a Sesame Street tune.  Caught between the worlds of the very young child and the much older child who is right around the corner.  I like it here; I don’t mind staying a while.

The Grant Park Report

 

I admit there was a part of me that felt reluctant to join the throngs in Grant Park on Election Night.  In part this was due to the reactions of many people who heard we had tickets, including some who had tickets themselves.  I got stares.  The crowd will be too big. I hope it’s safe. I heard there might be a million people down there.  It’ll take you hours to get home on the El. 

But it was one of those things that I just had to do – without over-analyzing it.  Similar to sending the Obama campaign and the DNC more money than we could technically afford over the past year.  And a lot like the moment when I was in Michigan in July, alone in the vacation house, and saw the email announcing the Jeff Tweedy/Barack Obama fundraiser and bought those tickets within 30 seconds because there was no way we could not go to that.  If I’d paused to wonder if Matt was going to be on a business trip that night or to consider that we might not get a babysitter, I’d have missed out on the tickets.  If I’d worried too much about crowd control or the possibility of violence (particularly if our man had lost) on Tuesday night, I’d have missed out on one of the most incredible events of my life and our life as a nation.  So I went, and with great enthusiasm.  Carpe diem.

I was not able to get to the park until 8pm, later than I’d hoped since the gates were to open at 8:30.  As soon as I emerged from the Jackson stop on the Red Line in the Loop, I was impressed by how many people were walking towards Grant Park.  I began to pass concession stands that announced Obama’s win on buttons, posters, and t-shirts, hours before CNN called it.  I had a lot of hope that he would win, but I was still a bundle of uncertain nerves.  I think I will always remember seeing my first “Yes We Did” t-shirt at one vendor’s stand, because the phrase was so incredible and new to me, and it was a shock to see in print before hearing anyone say it.  Matt captured the sounds of the pre-rally streets (including an “Obama” chant) on a short  audio file, which you can listen to here.

I found Matt right away because he is quite tall and was standing on a statue platform on Congress Avenue near the park entrance.  I was thoroughly satisfied with the organization of the event as we passed surprisingly quickly through a few check-points (we were never frisked nor were our bags checked, despite notices posted to the contrary, which really made me wish I’d brought the video camera or our SLR) but we did show ID a couple of times.   As we crossed the footbridge into the park, we had a perfect view of the Chicago skyline lit up especially for the event.  Office buildings spelled out “USA” or created an American flag with their lights, and the John Hancock building flashed red and blue lights on its spires rather than white lights.  It was a beautiful sight, and I turned to take it in behind me a great many times that evening.  I was flooded with emotion, feeling that we’d chosen exactly the right city at the right time when we moved here two years ago.

For much of the evening, we watched CNN on an enormous screen just as I’d left Baxter doing back at home. (And let me add that it was difficult to leave the kid behind, when he was literally bouncing off of his beanbag chair, waving his current electoral prediction map, saying things like, “Yeah, we knew McCain would get that state,” “Why are they projections now and not predictions?” and “This is good stuff!  Good stuff!”  Try tearing yourself away from that.)  The show on the big screen was turned off for periods of time so that we could listen to music, and then was back on each time a state was called.  The crowd booed the states that went to McCain with frequent screams of, “You can have him!” but went wild each time Obama won another state.  People around us were nervously checking their iPhones and Blackberries for online election results at all times.  Cameras were flashing non-stop and enormous flood lights blinded our views. We always knew there was a TV camera heading our way when the screams of the crowd drowned out the sound of the music or CNN.  We were not above screaming and waving in hopes of being on TV.

We were close in that crowd, and could not move around easily.  When I pulled my phone out of my handbag, I elbowed the woman next to me every time because there was simply no room to move.  But I loved it because we were surrounded by people of every race and walk of life there in Grant Park; there were two women in burqas, a group of young African-American men, middle-aged white yuppies, and a couple groups of college students close by.  On the train ride downtown, people were conversing in so many different languages, but I heard a steady stream of “Obama” the entire ride.  It was really beautiful.

What truly stood out for me, however, was the mood of this crowd.  From the moment I got off the train until the end of the evening, I was struck by a certain measure of calm around me.  There was emotional excitement, sure –  tears and cheering and screaming, depending on what was happening at any given moment, but there was something else that was impossible to describe at the time.  The next day, Matt and I both came to it on our own, using the same word to describe it: the crowd in Grant Park on Election Night was reverential.  Respectful of one another, not pushing to get to the front, not behaving in any way that was rude or dangerous or unpleasant.  Even walking through the closed off streets of the Loop at midnight, people walked slowly and even seriously, as if considering the monumental event we had just witnessed.  When someone let out a whoop of excitement, many of us answered it loudly and happily before settling back into quiet.  In fact, the tone of the crowd mirrored the tone that Barack Obama himself had set for us – the way he ran his campaign, and the serious tone of his acceptance speech that night.

I now have a deeper understanding of the delays in emotional processing the children I work with experience.  Yes, I cried quite a bit that night, starting with the “Yes We Did” t-shirt and then again when Obama took Virginia, and certainly culminating with the actual announcement that he had won, and seeing Obama and his gorgeous family appearing on stage still later.  But it was like a strange dream, standing for all those hours and being among 100,000 people to see him win the race and then hear him speak so eloquently.  Talk about sensory overload.  It wasn’t until the next morning that the truly weepy stream of tears started and seemed that they would never stop.  Trying to tell the kids about this historic event and their new president was extraordinarily difficult for us both, because our emotions about it were so overwhelming.

Matt has posted a short sound clip here of Kim Stratton’s gorgeous National Anthem in which you can hear the entire audience singing (another “Oh, wow!” moment – just try not to get goosebumps), and tomorrow he will post a clip (on the same blog) from Obama’s speech, recorded live [edited to include the link: here is the Obama speech audio clip].  My photos are here and Matt’s are here.  (Quite a few of the photos posted here were taken by Matt.)

There is a great deal more to say about how I feel about this election and its outcome, but there’s been such clamoring for me to get a post up here about the rally that I have to do that first.  It was one of the most exciting nights of my life, and I am so grateful to have been there.  I hope it serves as a reminder to me to always, always seize the day.

 

Halloween 2008

It was a wild Halloween, Wonderfriends.

For me, it started in the morning, when we threw a Halloween party for the kids in our preschool program.  We invited parents and siblings to come for the last 45 minutes of the day and had the most wonderful little bash, which culminated in the kids requesting their favorite songs from Circle Time and teaching their moves to their families.  We had a big, happy, laughing dance party: kids, sibs, teachers, parents, nannies.  It was loud, we had lights flashing, the place was decorated, the staff and kids were in costumes, and we plied them with absolutely delicious gluten-free/casein-free/egg-free cupcakes made by one of the moms (let me know if you want that recipe!).  And where was the dysregulation, exactly?  We aren’t sure, but it was nothing short of beautiful how well the kids handled everything.  A successful end to the second month of the program for all of us.  I wish I could post photos of the kids – they are so adorable!

After our staff meeting, where we sat around marveling over how well our charges are doing, I ran over to Baxter’s school where I helped out at their class party.  This is such a rare opportunity for me, but I seem to manage to make it to the Halloween party because my clients don’t mind me canceling sessions on Halloween afternoon each year.  Baxter was so excited to have me there that he’d worked for two days on mapping out a seating chart so that I’d know where to expect everyone to be sitting.  Which was extremely cute, but hard to follow since they were all in costume by the time I got there, and milling about out of their seats.  I snapped a couple of iPhone pictures, which prompted kids to come running up to me asking if I had an iPhone or an iPod Touch, and telling me exactly who else they knew who had one. “My Uncle Frank has one of those! You touch the screen!” said one kid to another.  The other kid said, “Yeah, I got one, too!” and ran off.  Alrighty.

 

 

Baxter and I headed home after school, which meant I was home a full two hours earlier than usual.  Thankfully, Lyle had been convinced to take a nap, so he was energetic and ready to party!  We visited with our condo neighbors for a little while and then headed out to Halloween Central, our friends’ neighborhood that’s just a couple miles away and filled with lovely single family houses and families who seem to live for Halloween and know just how to do it.  We trick-or-treated with them and then had a blast at the party at their house afterward with some really great families, where the kids ran wild in the dark backyard with glow sticks and the adults drank wine and discussed politics, raising urban chickens, raw food, and education. (Definitely not Real America.)  It felt for all the world like a gathering in San Francisco. Except for the hot dogs, which were a yummy reminder that we were, in fact, in Chicago.  Here are some photos from our evening out.

Harry Potter and the Monkey, at home:

The whole gang, ready to trick-or-treat: 

 Two of Baxter’s best friends, identical twins, went as bride and groom!

One of my favorite decorated houses:

Tired little guys get to ride in the Just Married wagon:

If you are related to me or simply procrastinating like nobody’s business, here are the rest of my Halloween 2008 pictures.