Monday, November 30, 2015

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Why I would make a terrible food blogger:

1) It generally only occurs to me that a recipe is good enough to merit its own post after I'm halfway through eating it.

2) If I do try to construct a fancy food presentation for a photo, my children believe that is their cue to stick their faces within one inch of the dish.

Case in point:
It is literally the only time my children want to have their pictures taken.
In fact, my daughter was determined to maul this bundt cake the way a rabid wolf might attack anything that moves. I am not joking when I tell you I threw a handful of M&M's on the kitchen table to distract her and then ran away with the cake in order to take a photo.

In a panic I searched for the perfect backdrop. I knew I had mere seconds to accomplish the task at hand; Elise devours chocolate with astounding speed and ferocity. I can't imagine where she gets it from.

I finally settled for the rug in our foyer. Yes, the surface on which people wipe their muddy feet was the perfect place to set my scrumptious dessert.

Meanwhile, another child began yelling from the bathroom "COME WIPE MEEE!" Ignoring his cries for the sake of art, I frantically arranged the plates to create the illusion of 2 things we never actually use while eating: tablecloths and restraint.

In a frenzied cold sweat, I positioned myself above my masterpiece and whipped out my camera phone. Unfortunately, despite my feverish pace, I was too slow. I watched as a tiny hand reached past my foot to grab the artfully placed fork just as I snapped the photo. The life of a food blogger is super glamorous, you guys.

3) I post a fantastic Thanksgiving recipe the week after Thanksgiving.

It's ok, you could still make it for Christmas. Or for Tuesday. Whenevs.

So glam. So delish. 
Mmmm. Nothing makes me want to eat food like a picture of half-eaten said food on a dirty plate.
My friend Alev made this Pumpkin Bundt Cake several years ago and it was so good I hounded her for the recipe until she gave it up. I've made it every autumn since because I like to steal other people's best recipes and pretend they are mine.

If my remarkable food photography has not already convinced you to make this dish, please allow me to explain the gloriousness that is bundt cake.  Bundt cake is obviously a fabulous dessert, but it's even light and muffin-y enough to pass as a suitable breakfast item. You can skip the ganache if anyone objects to their breakfast being glazed in chocolate. Or you can just not invite those people to breakfast.

Also, pumpkin counts as a vegetable so you could totally eat this for dinner too. 

Finally, did you know that 'ganache' is harder to say than make?? Seriously, SO easy. You will be ganaching all the food after this.

There. I hope I've convinced you. I'll just leave you with this one final photo and accompanying recipe. I'm sure "Martha Stewart Living" will be calling me any minute.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine: 3 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp cinnamon

Add the following and blend until well mixed: 1 cup melted butter, 4 large eggs, 2 cups pumpkin purée

Stir in: 1 (12 oz.) package of chocolate chips

Bake in well-greased bundt pan for 1 hour until toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from pan and cool.


Bring 1 cup heavy cream to a boil, pour over 8 oz bittersweet chocolate (do not use chocolate chips). Cover with foil for 5 minutes, then whisk together. Pour over the cooled cake!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself...Unless it's Kinda Hard

I want to turn off the news. I want to snuggle my kids in their beds and read stories and forget about all the hurt that exists outside our very door. I want to avoid debates and uncomfortable conversations and just stick with sharing silly stories of motherhood and awkward pick-up lines. But there’s one story I can’t stop thinking about, a story that is nagging my mind and haunting my thoughts every time I try to get on with my comfy life.

This story is about a man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. As he is lying helpless, 2 men walk by. They are respected figures in their community; they are religious leaders, but they walk on past. Perhaps they do not have the time to help or do not feel the obligation to this stranger who is so far removed from their busy, privileged lives.

A third man walks down the road. The thing about this third man is that he is of a completely different nationality and culture than the stranger. In fact, their cultures despise each other. Even still, the third man helps this stranger. He puts all of his own plans on hold and spends the day tending to the stranger’s wounds, giving him a ride back to his town, finding a place for him to recover and footing the bill for the entire ordeal. Even more remarkable is that just by entering the stranger’s land, the third man could have been killed, his people were that hated. He risked it all to help a stranger.

I probably don’t have to tell you that this story is the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke when asked “who is my neighbor?”

The Samaritan gave his time, his money and risked his very life to help a man he had been taught to fear and hate.

And Jesus says “Go and do the same.”

I fail every day at finding Jesus in the needy, the neglected and the marginalized. How easy it is to see a homeless person and think “addict.” A welfare recipient becomes a “freeloader.” A refugee becomes a “terrorist.”

I don’t want to spend my life espousing Christian platitudes that fall apart when I’m forced outside my comfort zone. My greatest hope as a parent is to teach my children to love God and love others. Not “love others who look like you.” Not “be kind and have courage…unless you’re scared of the unknown.” Not “do unto others…unless it gets in the way of your own self-preservation.”

It’s hard. There are so many questions unanswered, so much pain, so many reasons to shut our doors to refugees in need.

But I can’t ignore the one truth that I know for sure:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

A Syrian refugee family living in my city. Click here to read their story.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Finding Goodness in the Cracks

*Originally published on Hello, Dearest for MOPS International

When it comes to a Thanksgiving feast, there is only one thing more important than preparing the traditional eats: making sure everything looks perfect enough for a magazine photo shoot. Because if you can’t impress your friends and family with your impeccable food presentation and themed tablescapes, then what is the point of the holidays anyway?

At least, those were the thoughts that lurked in the back of my head a few years ago as I prepared to host a dozen or so relatives for Thanksgiving dinner. The menu was planned, extra linens were purchased and approximately 72 trips to the grocery store had been made. Only one thing could stand in the way of my perfect Thanksgiving celebration: pumpkin cheesecake. You see, there was one flaw in my cheesecake that bugged me to no end each year. Every year I baked it; and every year it cracked.

I usually disguised the crack with artistic swirls of whipped cream, but that year I was determined to make a picture-perfect pumpkin cheesecake.

I stayed up late one night researching no-fail, no-crack cheesecake baking methods. Some recipes swore by the water bath technique. Others suggested adding a little cornstarch to the batter. Whatever tricks and tips the recipes recommended, they all preached the importance of cooling the cheesecake very slowly. Whatever you do, DO NOT open the oven door while the cheesecake is baking.

So that year, with the help of my eager 3-year-old son, we put all of the advice to work. We added cornstarch to the batter as we discussed his favorite part of preschool (lunchtime). While preparing the water bath, we debated the very best superhero (verdict: Superman) and as we added the finishing touches he confided in me his future ambition (to be a toy salesman). Finally, we popped the cheesecake in the oven and shut the door with our fingers crossed.

Periodically, I peeked through the oven window. My cheesecake was progressing beautifully! I turned away to continue other preparations only to hear a little voice behind me, “Look, Mommy! Our cake is going to be so yummy!” I turned and to my horror, saw my son peering in at the cheesecake, with the oven door wide open.

I screamed. I stomped. I threw a dish towel on the floor. I may have banged my head against the refrigerator. It was not pretty. And then I saw little tears beginning to well up in my son’s eyes, “I’m sorry, Mommy, I just wanted to peek at our yummy cake.”

Needless to say, our cheesecake came out of the oven with a crack that year. Actually, it was more like a giant crater. And somehow, despite the crack, it was still delicious. In my quest for perfection I had missed the goodness in the cracks.

A perfect cheesecake is not nearly as important as the act of baking with someone you love. What is on the table is not nearly as important as who is around it.

I apologized to my son for my dramatic outburst and promised myself to never again get so carried away by cheesecake, which is no small undertaking considering the power that cheese and cake possess when they join forces. Funnily enough, the crack in our pumpkin cheesecake has become a Thanksgiving tradition just as much as the dessert itself. I no longer try to hide the crack, instead it reminds me not to focus on the imperfections, but on the beauty in the flaws.

This year, let us be thankful to gather hand-in-hand with the people we love. Let us celebrate the goodness that comes from acknowledging our shortcomings. Let us be thankful for those who love us, cracks and all.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Not Hate Your Spouse

There are few certainties in this world. However, in my experience, one of those certainties is whenever you start to become overconfident in an area of your life, that is generally the time the universe decides to give you a swift kick in the pants.

For example, one time a friend of mine asked for advice on dealing with her misbehaving 3-year-old. My own 3-year-old happened to have a good Wednesday that week so I was feeling particularly confident in my parenting skills. I don't remember what words of wisdom I bestowed upon her that evening, but I will never forget my son's preschool teacher pulling me aside the next day to tell me that my 3-year-old had spent the morning acting like a rabid dog and had clawed another child's face so bad he drew blood.

I immediately texted my friend and told her to please ignore all of my previous advice. "Instead, just throw out all the granola bars and maybe get a tattoo that says 'this too shall pass' on the inside of your hand so you will see it whenever you get the urge to face-palm."

So you see, I'm a little hesitant to share advice. Especially marriage advice. Because it may cause my husband to claw at my face like a rabid dog.

I kid! I kid!

Actually, John and I recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I have been married 10 years to the funniest, smartest, most loving guy a girl could ask for. But sometimes I forget. Sometimes I forget all those things under the stress and strain of everyday life.

All of his stellar qualities I fell in love with become commonplace as the days pile on and the weeks become months of needy babies and dirty laundry and home maintenance projects.

And when life takes dips into drudgery, as it often tends to do, resentment rears its ugly head. And who gets the brunt of this anger and frustration? None other than the partner I pledged to walk through life with.

What can be done to uproot these seeds of bitterness before they grow into full-fledged hate for your spouse?

This is where the advice part comes in, but even with 10 years under my belt I can't help but feel unqualified to offer martial wisdom. Luckily, this is not my advice. This advice was given to me by a speaker I heard several years back. I honestly don't even remember who she was, but I've never forgotten what she said.

Her advice for a happy marriage was simple: index cards.

Yes, index cards.

It works like this. Let's say you've asked your spouse to take some chicken out of the freezer so it can thaw for dinner. He forgets. As the five o'clock hour (or the dark time where dreams go to die, as we call it in my house) approaches you discover his oversight and you are gripped with the horrible realization that there is no dinner and delivery pizza will take at least 45 minutes, so you might as well throw some cereal boxes on the table and let the children duke it out over who gets the last of the Lucky Charms.

Did I mention this scenario was hypothetical? Anywho, in such desperate moments, we inevitably look for someone to blame and our spouse is the obvious scapegoat. Rather than giving the benefit of the doubt, our thoughts immediately turn sour. I can't believe he forgot such a simple request. If he wasn't so preoccupied with work, he would have remembered. If he was thinking about my needs, he would have remembered. He's so selfish. He doesn't care about me. He doesn't care about us.

It sounds silly, but admit it, we've all fell victim to letting those little lies invade our head. Sometimes, when I'm trapped inside my head, I convince myself that the lies are truths.

This is where the index cards come in. That speaker, all those years ago, shared that she had written down truths about her husband on a set of index cards so that when she felt the lies in her head, she had some solid truth to use against them. She would read through her cards until she was no longer mad, and the bitterness never had a chance to take root.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I have never written down the truths on index cards, but it's been on my to-do list for about 5 years now, so I'm sure that counts for something. In the meantime, I do have a mental list of truths about my husband always at the ready in my brain. If they do ever make it to index card form, they may look something like this:

He always opens the door for me. Even after 10 years.

He works long hours to provide for our family.

The children adore him.

He has immediately forgiven me every time I have hit the house with our car.


He stands firm in his convictions and beliefs.

He does a hysterical impression of Dr. Phil.

He does a hysterical impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He does a hysterical impression of the Crocodile Hunter (admittedly, that one was funnier before he died. But seriously, John should probably just do impressions whenever I'm mad at him because who can stay mad at the Crocodile Hunter?)

And just like that, with a bit of review and repetition, these truths begin to soften the shell of bitterness covering my heart, and I am reminded of why I love him so fiercely.

It's a simple little exercise, but I swear it works every time. Maybe because it's the often-quoted Corinthians passage in action: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Perhaps I should have more wisdom to bestow after 3,650 days of life with the same man. On the other hand, I believe I've worn the same pair of sweatpants-as-pajamas for 3,645 of those days, so maybe you're better off just sticking with the index cards.

Nothing to see here, Universe, go find some other (sweat)pants to kick.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Very Worst Pick-Up Line

On the last day of summer vacation I loaded up 3 kids and 2 bulging beach bags and headed to the pool. We didn't get very many pool days this summer thanks to the Broken Leg Crisis of 2015, so when I asked the kids how they wanted to spend this last hoorah, the pool was definitely their number one choice (right after I said no to Target).

Besides, the pool would be a welcome distraction from the mixed emotions about starting Kindergarten the next day. Not a distraction for Jack of course, he was fine, but to keep me from trying to pull him in my lap and smell his hair and force him to look at his baby book for the 18th time.

It was a beautiful eighty degree day and the pool was relatively empty save for a handful of sunbathers and a few families with small children. 

I sat on the stairs in the shallow end, the water rhythmically slapping my knees and the sun warming my shoulders as I watched my kids bob up and down, playing a pool game of their own invention. The last day of summer vacation was shaping up to be a fantastic day, until the lifeguard blew his whistle to signal adult swim, and it all went downhill from there. 

I held Elise's hand as we all trudged out of the water toward our chairs. As I handed out towels and snacks, I noticed a man standing about two feet away from us, staring in our general direction. He was tall, broad-shouldered and muscular, probably in his late 20's. I suspected he was also quite attractive, but it was hard to tell since he was wearing giant reflective sunglasses that seemed to cover half his face.

He stood there, rooted to one spot, with an unwavering gaze that caught me off guard.

My first thought was to immediately scan our surroundings for the thing which had so completely captured his attention. Was there a swarm of bees behind us? Were they giving out free ice pops at the snack bar? Were those brazen Europeans trying to sunbathe topless again??

When I could spot nothing that seemed out of the ordinary, another thought dawned on me. Holy moly, he is staring at me!! I became flustered and immediately aware that bending over to retrieve dropped goldfish dramatically increased the rolls in my stomach.  I instantly stood up and tried to position myself in a casual, yet very skinny pose.

Most of my days are spent with little children who are unconcerned with how I look and who are actually rather fond of squishing their tiny faces into my cushy stomach. Most adult interaction is with other moms or with Mike, the very nice man who fulfills my home shop order at the grocery store so I don't have to go into the actual grocery store and push my kids around in the giant two-seater racecar cart which has the propensity to knock over the very large display of loose nuts which can be heard bouncing and rolling all over the store as they cascade to the ground and then Mike has to sweep them up as I back away apologizing profusely.

Anyway, the point is that I no longer have any idea how to behave in a situation where a young, shirtless man is about to ask for my number or tell me I'm beautiful or offer to buy me an ice pop. I just tried to stand there in my skinniest, casual-est pose, entirely ignoring my children's screams of He took my granola bar! or When is break time over?! or Elise just peed on the ground!

I was completely preoccupied with composing a response to whatever pick-up line he decided to use. I would let him down gently of course. That's so funny you thought I was the babysitter! I had no idea that tummy-slimming one pieces were what all the young girls are wearing these days! Actually, I know it's hard to believe, but these are all my kids! I'm married to a wonderful man, who is also tall and muscular and looks great without his shirt on. Thank you so much for offering, but you see why I cannot accept an ice pop from you.

Yes, that is what I would say. So I stood there, sucking it in, and he stared. And I stood, and he stared. I'm not sure at what point staring goes from flattering to creepy, but it probably happens a whole lot quicker with a 33-year-old mother whose 3 children have emptied the entire contents of her pool bag all over the wet cement, than it does with a 21-year-old at a bar.

I had had enough. This was ridiculous. I was SO DONE with this charade. I marched right up to Shirtless Joe, close enough that I could see myself in his stupid, shiny glasses. I gave him my harshest glare (which is about as threatening as a scolding from Mary Poppins) and tried to summon the courage to say something really snarky and clever like Can I HELP you? or the classic Take a picture, it'll last longer!!

Then his friend walked up.

Shirtless Joe took off his glasses and placed them on his chair. His friend then took him by the elbow, led him across the pavement, and guided him into the water...because Shirtless Joe was blind.


I know there is a lesson in this story somewhere, like don't judge a book by it's shiny, shirtless cover or pride goeth before a super embarrassing fall, but I am not Aesop.

Instead, I will take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to my husband for loving me and my squishy tummy and please don't ever leave me because the only men who stare at me these days are BLIND.

(Now that has to be the very worst pick-up line of all time. ;) ) 

Monday, August 31, 2015

When You Can't Stand Your Husband's Favorite Thing

Please indulge me a minute as I begin this post with a ridiculous metaphor:

It's like sitting in a crowded auditorium in, let's say, Switzerland, watching two presidential candidates debate in German. They are arguing back and forth and the audience interjects applause or disapproval at appropriate times, and I get the feeling that even if I happened to speak German I would scarcely understand the policies over which they are debating anyway. Honestly, they could elect a St. Bernard to run the country for all I care.

Actually, a man debating a St. Bernard would make for a much more entertaining event. Certainly the St. Bernard would have wonderfully heroic stories of rescuing stranded skiers on the slopes.

I begin to imagine myself lost on a freezing Alpine mountain, overwhelmed by the looming threat of death, but looking quite stylish and not-at-all-fat in my svelte new ski suit (WHATEVER IT'S MY BLOG).
Oh look! It's me!
Suddenly, I hear the distant bark of a friendly St. Bernard who guides me to safety. My husband is so grateful that he promises to never ever take me to another Swiss presidential debate and we spend the rest of the trip feeding each other fondue in our mountain top chalet.

Actually, I'm not even sure the Swiss  have presidents. Or St. Bernards. The only things I know for sure about Switzerland is that they ski a lot and eat fondue. At least they do in my blog.

I have never visited Switzerland, but I have been to several sporting events with my husband and I have found them about as enthralling and as difficult to decipher as two middle aged persons arguing in German. 
Statue of famous baseball dude. I assume.
Usually when I accompany John to a sporting event there is always a moment in the car when he reaches over, grasps my hand and holds my gaze with a silent smile. I have decided he does this for one of two reasons: either he is temporarily overcome with his undying love for me or, more likely, he is offering up a silent prayer that I please, please not embarrass him with my complete and utter ignorance of all things athletic.

I like sports about as much as John likes art museums or musicals. Sometimes I feel terribly sorry that he didn't marry a wife who is more interested in sports. I bet a sporty wife would know all the appropriate times to yell things like "c'mon Ref!" or "where's the flag?!" A sporty wife would not ask him cringe-worthy questions at a basketball game like "how many more innings are there?" Or, at a hockey tournament, loudly inquire in front of his friends "does this mean they are going to do an instant death round?"  If you do not understand why those questions would make someone grimace then I love you and we should be best friends. 

If you know my husband at all then you know he is a die-hard fan of the Baltimore Orioles which, I have learned, is a professional baseball team. Even though we live a few states away, he manages to make it to a couple games a year and last summer he even managed to con me into following the Orioles to Chicago for our anniversary trip.

John has told me that he would one day like for us to retire to Baltimore. He has a grand vision of us buying an apartment downtown, becoming season ticket holders and following the O's around the country for away games. 

I told him I'd rather retire to Guantanamo Bay. Then I felt bad of course, because he really is passionate about this baseball team. I mean, he swears he loves me more, but when I suggested he get a tattoo that said "I love Anna more than baseball" he wasn't exactly on board. 
Which way back to the hotel??
He has also always wanted to visit Camden Yards (the Orioles' stadium) on opening day which, unlike the retirement plan, was something I could get behind. In fact, he referred to it as a "lifelong dream." Naturally, I encouraged him to make it happen because you must always encourage someone's lifelong dream. Consequently, one of my lifelong dreams is to take a Mediterranean luxury cruise. Just think of it, I mentioned to John, we can revel at the beauty of the Ancient Greek ruins! We can explore antiquities in Istanbul! We will tour the colorful Amalfi Coast with Alessandro, our personal Italian guide !! John looked at me incredulously and said, "But the O's don't play in the Mediterranean."

And that is how I ended up in Baltimore this past April on opening day with my husband and 2 boys. (Some amazing family members volunteered to keep our two-year-old and because of them our trip actually felt like a vacation, so THANK YOU, FAMILY.)

John assured me that opening day at a ballpark would be magical. He promised the excitement and electricity in the atmosphere would be unparalleled to any other game I had attended, and as we entered the gates, merging into a buzzing sea of orange and black, I thought he might be right. Maybe this was the day that the greatness of baseball would be revealed to me and I would finally fall in love with the game and OH MY GOSH ARE THOSE CRAB NACHOS?!?

Oh yes, I did.
My usual method of watching a sporting event generally goes something like this:
1. Focus on the game
2. Immediately begin thinking of something else
3. Try to clap when our team seems happy
4. Combat boredom by taking periodic trips to the bathroom
5. Cry happy tears of relief when it is all over

(Oddly, John employs a very similar coping strategy whenever I drag him to a musical theater performance.)

However, I was determined that on this day, on opening day, surrounded by my loves, I would be so enraptured by the magic of the game I would not lose focus for one single second. I was feeling quite optimistic when we settled into our seats. Sure, the temperature was hovering around 48 degrees and my fingers were starting to go numb, but I was ready to show my support for the team by scarfing down every last white-cheddar-and-lump-crab-covered kettle chip as the players took their places.

Actually, I couldn't help but wonder if the chill in the air was slowing down the players, who seemed to keep the game moving at an even slower pace than normal. We watched as the pitcher threw the first ball. We watched the batter not swing at the ball. The pitcher threw another ball. The batter did not swing. All of this throwing and not swinging took about 27 minutes. I'm sorry if this description is a little boring, but just imagine how it felt actually living through it.

Finally, they let the poor guy walk to first base and a new player stepped up to the plate for another round of throwing and not hitting and throwing and OH MY GOSH IS THAT A CRAB AND MAC-N-CHEESE HOT DOG?  

 It was. Apparently it is a legal requirement to include crab in every dish in Baltimore.

In fact, that very morning at a popular local diner I ordered the Crab Cake and Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict and declared that I had found the thing I am going to eat for brunch in heaven.
They even serve a Crabby Bloody Mary because IT'S THE LAW.
You know where else has a lot of crab? The Meditteranean. At the thought of a tropical paradise, I couldn't help but imagine strolling down an exotic Maltese beach, looking very stylish and not-at-all-fat in my colorful sarong and coordinating bathing suit. I am enraptured by the dazzling blue waters when my foot is abruptly and precariously caught between two jagged rocks and, horror of horrors, the tide is rising rapidly. Alessandro, our personal Italian guide, hears my screams and leaps into action, trying but failing to free my foot. All hope seems lost when suddenly, another figure emerges. "Get back, Alessandro! This is my wife WHOM I LOVE MORE THAN BASEBALL and I will be the one to save her from a watery grave!"

And right before I could concoct the perfect rescue scene, I was jolted from my daydream by a deafening roar from the crowd. Everyone was on their feet ecstatically cheering for our team and I had no idea why. I didn't even know which inning it was or how many outs there were or if we were even winning or not.

However, I was composed enough to snap a picture of my heroic husband hoisting our middle child in the air to celebrate the moment.
Forget famous baseball dude, they need a statue of these cute guys. 
And, it turns out, that moment was my favorite part of the entire trip.

It wasn't the electricity of the crowd or the phenomenal play that I will remember. I doubt I will ever appreciate the game the way he does, but in that moment I was filled with happiness and excitement simply because he was happy too.

Maybe we don't need to be passionate about all the same things, as long as we are passionate about each other.

Just then Jack leaned over and asked, "Did you see that double play, Mom? That was awesome."

I replied with a blank stare at first and then a smile slowly began to spread across my face as I realized what I just heard. Not the thing about the double play, whatever that is, but the fact that my 5-year-old is somehow more knowledgeable about baseball than I will probably ever be AND HE THINKS BASEBALL IS AWESOME.

This is huge.  There is at least one other person in our family with whom John can share his love of baseball. And it is not me! Our marriage is saved.

I reached over, gave Jack a big hug and said, "Yes, that was an awesome double play."

And, with a sigh and a smile, I let my mind wander where it pleased.

I should probably start planning that Mediterranean cruise.

Bye, Baltimore! I'm sure we'll be back!
Just not for retirement.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Moments that Moms Need Most

It was Saturday night. The kids were finally in bed. The mess called dinner had been wiped up, rinsed off and the dishwasher hummed softly. The bathwater had been drained and the plastic toys stacked precariously along the sides of the tub.

I gathered discarded clothing and forlorn playthings in my arms as I made the trek up the stairs. There was a baseball game on TV. My husband sat engrossed, directing the players as if they could hear him (a quality I've always found endearing, personally). It was the top of the 8th inning, which meant absolutely nothing to me except that the game would last at least 30 more minutes, which really meant that I would have 30 minutes ALL TO MYSELF.

The thought of 30 restful minutes by myself with no interruptions sent me rushing up the stairs with the hurried enthusiasm of a young child who has discovered his mother's stash of sour gummy worms and must stuff them all into his mouth before she gets out of the bathroom. #truestory

I jumped into bed, burrowed in the covers, surrounded myself with pillows and propped my laptop on my knees. This is my go-to form of relaxation, "internesting," as John calls it. I sighed deeply, relishing the moment, and flipped open the computer screen, ready to kick off a killer Saturday night. What first? Should I catch up on some blog reading? Organize my photos? Right after I check Facebook...

And then I heard it. That one sweet word which is so filled with love and tenderness, until it is uttered after 9:00pm with the same inflection as a dying cat.

"Maa-mee? Maaaaaa-meeeeeeeee??" the little voice pleaded, peeking around my bedroom door.

GAAAHHHH!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! WHY???? is what I wanted to yell very loudly, but instead, with uncanny restraint that should probably earn me some sort of medal, I quelled my exhaustion and frustration enough to hiss between clenched teeth, "NOW WHAT IS IT?"

"Mommy, I just want to give you one more good-night hug."

I eyed him suspiciously. This was approximately his 27th request since being tucked in. Against my better judgement I ever-so-tenderly barked, "ok, fine, but make it quick."

 My son slowly sauntered over to my side of the bed. He set his worn, blue blankie on my lap, wrapped both arms around my neck and squeezed tightly. My laptop slipped off my knees as I returned the embrace. Maybe it was because he had just turned six, or maybe it was the way his once-tiny body now practically ran the length of my own as he crawled in beside me, but something sent a pang through my heart as I watched him.

"Do you wanna hear all the X-Men I know?" he asked. Stall tactic number 28.

"How do you know about X-Men?" I replied, taking the bait.

"My friend from swim lessons. He knows all of them. There's Wolverine and Cyclops, they're good, and Magneto is the bad guy and he has the coolest superpower..."

But I was only half listening. My brain was confused. Wasn't he just two years old, toddling around the house with a paci and this same raggedy blanket? I must be really exhausted. I blinked and shook my head to clear the fog, but there he still was, nearly 4 feet tall and using words like "magnetic forcefield." He will be starting real, official, all-day Kindergarten in a few short days. He is reading and writing, swimming and biking. I can see the young man he is becoming and yet, here he still sits with all his baby teeth, rubbing the silk of his old blankie.

On a whim I reached up and gripped his tiny bottom tooth with two fingers. To both of our shock and amazement, it wiggled.

"JAAAAAACK!" I screamed, breaking out of my stupor, "YOU HAVE A LOOSE TOOTH!!!"

A dumbfounded giggle was all he could manage until his father walked in the room. "DADDY!! I HAVE A LOOSE TOOTH!!"

I glanced at John and immediately recognized the same look of throat-catching disbelief spreading across his face; not that he couldn't believe his son's tooth was loose, but that he had failed to realize our firstborn child was now old enough to have a loose tooth.

I am not normally the weepy mama. I didn't shed a tear at the first preschool drop-off or when they moved to big boy beds or even at any of their births. It's not that I'm an unfeeling robot, I think it's more that I have a control freak tendency to brace myself against these typical tear-jerking moments. Conversely, something sappy will catch me off guard and I will end up weeping into my potato chips over a Hallmark commercial. Or the stupid Giving Tree book. Don't you see, kids? The tree gave EVERYTHING to the boy (sob) and the tree was (sob) HAPPY. Is this not a metaphor for our lives??

This is probably why I did not need a tissue for preschool graduation, but now I began to choke back sobs over one tiny wiggly tooth. And don't tell him I told you so, but John suddenly needed his t-shirt to wipe something out of his eyes.

Jack glanced between the two of us, not sure what to make of the sudden outburst of emotion. "Um, are you guys ok?"


I took this to remember these brothers with all their baby teeth.

Also, I may print it out and clutch it to my chest as I uncharacteristically weep throughout the entire first day of Kindergarten.
Then Henry, unable to sleep with all the commotion, came barreling in to investigate and it took all but 5 seconds for the boys to end up a tangle of limbs and giggles, steamrolling my nest of pillows in the process. Also, the term 'boys' includes their 6 foot 3 inch father, whom it appeared was having the most fun of all in this spontaneous wrestling match. 

I tried to shush in between belly laughs, Shhhhh! You'll wake up the baby!, although it almost seemed a shame she was missing all the fun...almost.

The baseball game was over, as were any hopes of a restful half hour to myself, only now, it didn't so much matter to me anymore.

I did not get the chance to relax that night, but when I finally did go to bed, I felt invigorated and inexplicably happy.

I suppose there is no rest for the weary mom, but instead we have these moments. And these God-given moments are even better.

These moments of laughter fill me up until my heart overflows with contentment. These occasions of togetherness are the answers to a prayer I didn't even know my heart had prayed and they keep me going day after day. These bittersweet instances remind me of the brevity of childhood and leave me longing for more of these moments.

These are the moments that I need most.