Tag Archives: Parenting

Senior Babies

Standard

I met some of my best friends at a prenatal exercise class. We were from all walks of life, but we were all going through the same exhilarating and terrifying experience of gestating a human being. Our ranks diminished one by one as our tiny humans made their way into the world. New mothers would disappear for awhile into an all-consuming regime of sleepless nights, the management of endless bodily excretions, and trying to keep a wriggling, mewling creature alive.

Once we managed to fumble our way through those early days, we found each other again. We would get together at each other’s houses, which had all been redecorated in a similar aesthetic featuring bulky plastic baby paraphernalia that sprouted overnight in all of our living rooms like giant, colorful mushrooms after a rain. We called our get togethers “playdates,” but they were not so much for the babies as they were for the mothers.

Every playdate would begin or end with a photo session. We’d line up our babies on a couch like so many sacks of flour and snap merrily away, trying to record the sweet memory for posterity before they toppled over.

Scan 6Scan 5Seventeen years passed like a dream. Recently, I got together again with a couple of those friends and our babies for another photo shoot. This time it was for senior pictures! Our babies are in their last year of high school now and are applying to colleges.

We are lucky to live just down the road from this baby. She grew up to be a delightful combination of sweet and sassy. Whenever we go away, we entrust our entire menagerie to her capable care.

IMG_5485IMG_5474IMG_5601IMG_5654 I visited these twins just days after they were born. They were impossibly tiny and their little legs were still scrunched up tight…They’ve grown into handsome young men who are a credit to their parents.IMG_5542IMG_5551IMG_5560IMG_5460IMG_5433We managed to snap a few photos of this baby before he had to leave to get to his piano lesson…IMG_5413IMG_5416IMG_5420…thereby missing Couch Babies Photo Shoot 2.0:IMG_5578IMG_5528IMG_5625

I may have to cheat a little nowadays to be at the same altitude as this boy…

IMG_1629IMG_1623

…but he’ll always be my baby.

Scan 9Scan 2IMG_1611

 

A Fishy Story

Standard

For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7 

My children are descended from a long line of liars on both sides of their family tree. From the moment they entered the world, they’ve been raised in an intricate and treacherous web of secrets and lies. It’s exhausting to live like this, but we know no other way. It’s programmed deep in our DNA.

Mostly we lie for benign reasons. Like many parents, we’ve spun tales of Santa and the tooth fairy.

IMG_2606But we’ve also dipped our toes into more questionable acts of deception. For instance, when my oldest son was a toddler he once asked me why a squashed squirrel in the middle of the road wasn’t moving.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 8.36.27 PM

How could I break this kid’s heart?

“Oh, him?” I replied, “He’s just taking a little nap. They do that sometimes.”

Another time I wandered down the feminine product aisle in the grocery store with my second son.

ScanWith his blankie clutched in one chubby fist, he trailed the pointer finger of his other hand along the packages of maxi pads and tampons as we walked down the aisle.

“What are these?” he asked.

“Oh, just ummm…things for women.”

“But, what are they?…Cheese sticks?”

“Yep. Cheese sticks,” I replied. “For women.”

I will admit that there have been more egregious examples of deceit. It’s possible that on an occasion or two, I may have asked my kids not to mention something to their grandparents, “because they’re from another generation and another culture and they wouldn’t understand and we wouldn’t want them to worry or make them sad.”

It was only last week that I realized all these years the little punks have been storing up every single lie ever told in their steel trap brains.

I was driving my 15-year old home from his afterschool activity. As we pulled into our driveway, his older brother happened to pull in right behind us. He emerged from his car, dripping with sweat and lugging the enormous gym bag he insists on carrying everywhere. (It’s actually the large duffle bag I used myself when I was a college student to carry an entire semester’s worth of clothes and books back and forth between my house and campus. I’ve offered more than once to buy him a smaller gym bag, but he’s always demurred, because “it holds all my stuff.”)

But I digress…He had told me that morning he would drive straight from school to the open mat session they were having at his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, just as he had done the week before.

IMG_0969

So sweet. So innocent. Such liars.

“Oh, hey!” the 15-year-old addressed his older brother as he got out of the car, “So you went boxing again?”

Through the car window, I could see my son shoot daggers at his younger brother with his eyes. He put his fingers up to his lips and curled his lips into a silent, but unmistakable “SHHHHH.”

Busted.

It’s difficult for me to understand the appeal of grappling with a sweaty stranger, yet I’ve let my son do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When he started talking about doing boxing, however, I put my foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be allowed to do this. The boy is about to apply to college. Does he really need to get his head bashed in for sport?

I suspended his driving privileges for a couple days and read him the riot act for lying to me about the boxing. When his dad came home and was apprised of the situation, he launched into a lengthy disquisition of his own.

“Even worse than the fact that you went boxing, is the fact that you deliberately lied to us about it…” he said in an injured tone.

My son could bear the hypocrisy no longer. He yelped in fury and began to enumerate the many times we had lied to him and to others.

We all went to bed that night feeling bruised and battered and not unlike that squashed squirrel in the road.

At 1:30 am I awoke from deep slumber to the strong smell of fish frying. Surely this was just one of those nonsensical, yet hyper-realistic dreams?

I stumbled down the stairs to investigate and found my thwarted pugilist standing over a frying pan.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I asked, my eyes squinting in the bright light of the kitchen.

“Frying fish,” my son replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“Wh- why are you frying fish at 1:30 in the morning?!”

“I was hungry.”

“Where did you even get the fish?”

“I caught it a couple weeks ago.”

“Well, where has it been all this time?”

“In the chest freezer.”

The exchange was so surreal and yet so banal. I was at a loss.

“The whole house reeks now. Next time you’re hungry, could you please just have a bowl of cereal like a normal person?! And make sure you clean up after yourself when you’re done!” I said and lumbered off to bed.

When I went downstairs the next morning I saw that he had, for the most part, cleaned up his mess. I did find a carefully labelled Ziploc bag left on the counter top that had until very recently contained “two longnosed sunfish fillets.” As I looked around the kitchen I also discovered a gallon jug of canola oil. I stopped buying vegetable oil years ago when I read about its carcinogenic properties.

“Where did this come from?” I wondered out loud.

“Oh!” my daughter piped up, but then immediately stopped herself, “Well…actually I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.”

She took one look at my face and began to sing like a bird.IMG_1163

“Last week when ‘N’ drove himself back from his piano lesson in Crozet, he stopped off at Great Valu and bought fish and frog legs and that’s when he got the oil too.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.08.56 PM

That one in the middle? She’d sell her brothers down the river for a song.

Her response so perfectly reflected our bizarre and dizzying reality. It’s damn near impossible to keep track of what we are or are not supposed to tell each other or what we know or are not supposed to know. Though I hadn’t known about the vegetable oil, I had in fact known about the fish and frog legs. I had seen a small fillet in the fridge, but it disappeared soon after and I had forgotten all about it. As for the frog legs…my son fried them up and ate them the very same day. (And by the way, in case you, like my eccentric son, were wondering? “They taste like river chicken…kind of chickeny and fishy at the same time.”)

“But wait a minute…what about that other fish he bought? Did he already fry that?” I asked.

“No. He bought that fish to feed to his other fish. And he caught the sunfish at his friend’s house to eat himself,” my daughter patiently explained.

IMG_7678

My kid buys groceries for this thing.

“So you knew about the sunfish?”

“Well…yeah,” she answered evasively, wondering if this admission would get her into trouble.

“Did you see it? Was it a whole fish?”

“No. He came home with the fillets. He must have cut it up at his friend’s house.”

“And you saw him stash the fish in the freezer?”

“Yeah.”

“And how come I never saw this ginormous bottle of canola oil until this morning?”

“Oh, that’s because he was hiding it in his gym bag.”

College Bound

Standard

I’m not quite sure how this happened. One minute my friends and I were pushing our babies in strollers, the next minute we’re taking those babies on college tours. Earlier this week I took some family photos for friends who are actually dropping their daughter off at college this weekend…

Family photo 2017 closeup 2Jeff and Kat 2017Dad and Claire 2017 full lengthClaire and Mom 2017 closeupAndrew and Mom 2017 1Claire and Andrew 3Dad and Kids 2017IMG_5000Dad Claire Mom 2017 2

Good luck & Godspeed

A Day by Emily Dickinson

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Darwin helps us evolve…

Standard

 

 

Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

IMG_4520.jpg

Chance

Standard
img_6544-2

One in a gazillion

As I was braiding my daughter’s hair this morning, we were chatting about one of her teachers who is about to have a baby.

“Does she know if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.

“No! They want to be surprised!” she replied, “Did you know that I was going to be a girl?”

“Yes, I did! You know how I hate suspense!”

“So they could tell that I was a girl before I was born, but they couldn’t tell that I had this disease?”

My daughter was born with a condition that allows her to live a perfectly normal life as long as she takes medicines throughout the day.

“Yes, that’s right. We didn’t realize that until you were born.”

“What were the chances that I would be born with it?”

“Well, we didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that there was a 1 in 4 chance that you would have it.”

“Oh GREAT!”she replied, “So there was a 3 in 4 chance that I wouldn’t have it?”

“Yes, that’s true,” I replied, “But there was only a 1 in a gazillion chance that you would be the amazing and awesome person you are…so I think we really lucked out.”

Weekend Snapshots 43, or: The Ice Queen Cometh

Standard

My husband went to Scotland last weekend to give a talk at University of Edinburgh. He got to spend some time with our niece at her new school and he’s been able to check in on his parents in England. He’s also carved out a little time to do some hiking. It seems like he’s been gone for an eternity, a feeling that is only exacerbated when he texts me photos like these:img_7081

img_7079img_7080

…complete with breathless, rapturous captions about the wondrous beauty he is experiencing.

We’re having much smaller-scale adventures at home. For example, on Friday my daughter spotted this in our backyard:

img_1683We think that rather fearsome bird perched on the run-in shed is a Red-tailed Hawk. I had never fully appreciated what the phrase “sitting duck” meant until recently. My daughter did not at all appreciate my observation that this would make Reason #927 for not getting the pet ducks she’s been pining for…

On Saturday I made shakshuka for the first time, which – miracle of miracles – everyone liked:

img_7061

Oh, shakshuka, where have you been all my life?!

I adapted this New York Times recipe for the dish, substituting in ingredients we happened to have. (Sautée an onion, a bell pepper, and a few cloves of garlic. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. Add a carton of diced plum tomatoes and stir until sauce thickens. Stir in about a cup of crumbled feta or goat cheese. [I used a little of both]. Crack eggs over the mixture and bake in 375 degree oven for about ten minutes). The kids ate it all up with slices of buttery toasted sourdough bread.

On Sunday morning I picked up my daughter from a sleepover and we headed out to the field for her brother’s game. His team won by a large margin, but in the final moments they failed spectacularly at one attempt to get the ball into the net. A player kicked it from only about a foot away, but instead of going in, the ball got a little too much loft and improbably landed on top of the net.

How in the world did they not get that into the net?” my daughter spluttered, clutching her head in disbelief, “Grandma could have gotten it in!”

“Grandma’s Grandma could have gotten the ball in! I mean…”

scan-5

She plumbed the depths of her wildest imagination to come up with an even more preposterous scenario: “I mean…YOU could have gotten it in.”

end of the middleTears of remorse sprung to her eyes as soon she saw the shocked expression on my face. Of course, they immediately turned into tiny little icicles…

Brrrrrr, that was cold, little Ice Queen, but I still love you anyway.

img_7072I’ll probably forgive Mr. Scotland too one day…

Weekend Snapshots 42

Standard

My family and I went to NYC this weekend to see my cousin in one of the final performances of Julia Cho’s Aubergine. It’s a play about the barriers to communication and understanding; it’s about the ways in which we try to commune through food; it’s about how we live and die. Our cousin played the part of Ray, a Korean-American chef who is taking care of his dying father. They have always had a tortured relationship marred by the inability to truly connect with one another. As his father lies comatose, unable to utter more than a groaned word now and then, Ray wrestles with the weight of all that was unexpressed between them during a lifetime. The play was beautiful and moving, funny and desperately sad, and so much of it felt very close to home…

Thursday

There were a lot of loose ends to tie up before heading to Arlington, where we would spend a night at my parents’ house before driving the rest of the way to New York. For one thing, we had to make sure the pets were set with everything they needed while we were gone. I did an inventory of their food supply, then handed my phone to my son and asked him to run down to the basement to take a picture of the new kitty litter we’ve been using so we’d remember which kind to restock. Feeling rather smug about my prudent foresight, I strode over to the pet supply aisle in the grocery store and pulled up the pictures on my phone to discover this:

img_7008

The Failure of Communication: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts

Friday

The next day my mom cooked my kids’ favorite lunch: tender, salty mackerel with crispy, crackly skin.

In Aubergine, one of the characters talks about how her father would always eat the head and tail of the fish and give her the middle of the fish. One day she serves him the head and tail of the fish and magnanimously announces that she’s giving him his favorite part.

“Rice pot!” (i.e.: Dummy!) he says with exasperation and explains that he had always eaten the head and tail so that she could have the best part of the fish.

As the audience absorbs this revelation, Ray asks, “What part did your mother eat?”

As so often happens these days, my mother was too exhausted by her culinary labor of love to eat any fish herself.

She wasn’t too tired, however, to take care of some other pressing business. Before we left for New York, she handed me a thick envelope. She had prepared an identical one for all of her children. I opened it to see that it was a map and description of the burial plots she and my dad bought for themselves a few weeks ago. She had also included the contact information for two minister friends who already agreed to perform their funeral services.

“We got a 10% discount for buying early!” my mother chirped brightly as she dropped her latest weapon of mass destruction on our heads. “I thought we should be buried right under some pine trees, but your daddy was worried about the roots spreading. So we picked a nearby spot where we’ll have a good view of them. Remember! Put your dad on the left side, and me on the right. We’ll be able to call to each other in the morning and say, ‘Good morning! Have you eaten breakfast yet?‘”

Oh, dear God! Waterboarding? The rack? These don’t hold a candle to the myriad creative and devastating ways this woman devises to torture me.

img_7041We drove up to NYC where we met up with the rest of our family:

img_7015

img_7019

Admiring photos of the grandkids who couldn’t be there…

Saturday

Breakfast of the Champions.img_7022

My brother took my boys to the Pan-American No-Gi International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship at City College of New York. Got that? Pan-American No-Gi International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship at City College of New York! Now say it quickly ten times!

img_7033

Meanwhile, the rest of us wandered around the vicinity of our hotel.

We stopped in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral:

img_1659img_1662Had lunch at Rosie O’Grady’s…

img_7044-1

Then headed over to the theatre to see the play…img_7028img_7037

img_1671img_1673

That night my four siblings and I spent a few quiet minutes with my parents in their hotel room, just the six of us. We thought we’d just have a casual chit-chat, but then my dad, a man who favors stiff pats over hugs, asked us to all hold hands with each other. He said a prayer for each of one of us and all the spouses and children in our family, asking for blessings for each of us by name.

Damn. Nothing like a good old-fashioned Pan-American No-Gi tag-team loving beatdown from your parents, the reigning champions of the emotional choke-hold. Clearly, this kind of thing should be banned, as there is no possible maneuver by which to escape.

Sunday

We drove back to C’ville. I decided to give my son some much-needed driving practice, and let him take the wheel for the last fifteen minutes of the drive:

img_7046It went pretty well until he almost drove off the side of the road…

There’s a line in the play I can’t remember exactly, but the gist of it was:

In the midst of life, we are in the midst of death…

I texted this photo of his traumatized little brother to my siblings:

img_7047

My sister wrote back, “Oooooh. So that’s what faster than a bat out of hell looks like!”img_7050

Despite the plot twists and turns, we made it back home safe and sound.  img_7051