Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recipe for Saving Play Dough

Not all play dough recipes are created equal. This one that I pilfered from my mom's recipe box is excellent (I usually half it):


2 c flour
1/2 c salt
2 c water
2 T oil
2 T cream of tartar
food coloring

I put everything in a cold pot and mix well. Once mixed, turn on the heat to med-hi and stir until dough and no longer sticky (this happens pretty quickly).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day of Hellishness

Last night I flew home from Boston. The weekend was literally perfect. I think we talked straight from 9AM Friday to Sunday at 3. Apparently I had been starving for exactly that. And we wandered through Linda's town, drove to the shore, drank wine on a pier, sat in the sun, cooked together, and sat out on Linda's porch/sun room -- the perfect tree house.

Even though I landed after Silas and Eden's bedtimes, Ben picked me up in LA with both kids. The entire 45 minute drive home was practically euphoric -- we were all aglow and beaming at each other -- and seemed to affirm my hunch that this week would be FULL of energy, creativity, and great patience.

And then this morning arrived.

I had been up with Silas who just "needed" me from about 3AM-5AM, and at 6 he announced he was awake for the day. From that minute until now (7PM), we have done nothing but grate on each other, making for a day of tension and meltdowns. At 6PM, I wasn't just exhausted or on the brink of insanity, I was beaten and beyond discouraged.

In a matter of 10 hours I feel like I've become the most clueless, impatient, discouraging mother who knows nothing of her own child or how to meet a single one of his needs and has no idea how to reconnect after a few days away (which may = utter abandonment in the mind of a 3 year old??) That, and the fact that I have much less than a smudge of patience to my name.

And so I am now wrapped up in all sorts of thoughts about how Silas will be damaged for life because I don't know how to attune to or receive him, don't respond well to all sorts of whining and demanding (or better yet, don't see through those things and meet whatever needs are beneath).


This is not the regenerated reunion I was anticipating.


It is now an hour and a half after I wrote what's above. For the first time in 12 hours, Silas and I just connected leaning over a pot on the stove sprinkling cream of tartar and squeezing squatty bottles of food coloring to make the perfect green. Thank goodness for play dough and for the process of making something together...

What's amazing is that after this 20 minute togetherness, the rest of the night went seamlessly, and he is now tucked into bed.

How incredibly complex and utterly simple these little people are.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting out of Town

I travel a lot. My travel almost always involves corralling clothes, blankies, pacifiers, bottles, sippy cups, cheerios, sandwiches, cheesesticks, grapes, train cars, crayons, play dough, books, rattles, more books, strollers, medicines, soaps, lotions, toothbrushes, bathingsuits, shoes, and all sorts of clothing for three.

Tomorrow I am flying to Boston. Alone. For a long weekend. With girlfriends. And sangria. And margaritas. And uninterrupted sleep. And Springtime in New England. And the ocean. And walks and coffee in the mornings.

2:00 tomorrow afternoon, I will be on my way to the airport with a suitcase full of only my things.

It turns out, though, that getting to 2:00 tomorrow afternoon is at least as complicated as it would be were I taking everyone with me. Complication #1: the sheer act of removing my physical self from this house on a Thursday afternoon creates, in and of itself, all sorts of upheaval, starting with the fact that it leaves Silas and Eden home alone -- very inconvenient, a little illegal, and quite expensive to remedy. Three babysitters later, Thursday afternoon and Friday are covered. Complication #2: Silas has a fever for the second night in a row that shows no sign of breaking. I have yet to remedy this or the fact that when Silas is sick the only thing he wants is me.

Before I stretch the list to Complication #20 (there are that many), I will paste a conversation I had with Annemarie, a friend I'm meeting in Boston, that illustrates how exhausting it is to extract oneself:
(you need to know Greg is her husband, that he recently traveled to Argentina for work, and that he's currently working 18 hour days on a case so the girls are staying at Annemarie's parents' house for the weekend)

I was just talking about how INSANELY DIFFERENT
our leaving is.
When Greg went to Argentina
he literally packed one bag.
That was his only job for leaving.

8:15 AMmy job is
to pack the girls up,
get them to my mom's,
teach my mom all the insane rules Madeleine's school has for what kids can bring in their lunches,
teach her how to get to swimming lessons,
clean the house for the cleaning lady,
leave money out for her,
pack my bags,
figure out how to get the girls to my mom's
and get to Dulles by 9am--
oh also
add to that- trips to the pediatrician
and all of a sudden realizing both girls outgrew their shoes
and I need to get them to the shoe store before leaving town.
and laundry.
We are so essential!!
But I just made a cup of coffee
and canceled my plans to go to the Corcoran (boo)-
and somehow it will all get done.
I also have to buy more motrin.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Driving Home From School Today: What can happen in a 14 minute span of time

On our way to the drive-thru bank, Silas spots Plums Cafe out the window: "I've never been to Plums before, Mommy."
"Yes, we went there on Easter, remember?"
"It still IS Easter!" (secret insistence that he should get more presents and candy).
"Nooo, Easter is only one day, and it was Sunday. It's the day we celebrate that we have LIFE, that God loves us so much, that Jesus Rose! We say, he is risen! he is risen indeed!" "What Risen mean?"
"To rise means to go up, so if Jesus is risen, that means Jesus went up -- Jesus went up into Heaven" (or at least up to God)
"Because he died"
"..." (I am not sure whether I have ever explicitly said that Jesus died) "Yes, he did die. And people were really sad. But then 3 days later they discovered that he wasn't dead any longer -- he had risen! And then his friends realized they didn't have to fear anymore, and we don't either. Jesus is with us. And we will go to heaven too."
"... "
"Mama, I don't want to go to heaven right now"
"oh- You don't have to."
"I just want to go home"
"Yes, me too. We are going home. Heaven is far far far in the future"
"When is it?"
"In 100 years. That's really long."
"You and daddy will go to heaven and I will stay here?" (I'm not sure what kind of question this is -- worried? scared? He's been having some mad separation anxiety lately, so I feel it out)
"Would you like that?"
"Yes I would. You and daddy go to heaven and I will stay with a babysitter"


A few minutes later I hear laughter in the backseat, the giggling laughter of a madman. I turn around to see Silas holding the one my-little-pony we own, trying to pull of her head. Unprecedented violence against the toys.
"What are you doing?" (I think it's a little funny, so I lay down no laws)
(through laughter) "I try to pull its head off!!!"
"Why?" (still waiting to see where this will go, knowing that I pulled the head off the one barbie I ever had -- that was more on principlem, though).
(still laughing) "Ella do this all the time!" (Ella his 4 year old cousin we just spent a with who could not have been pulling off pony heads because there were no ponies with us).
"She does? Did she tell you that?"
"No, Uncle Max tell me that." (ahhhhhhhhhh! my whole childhood is flashing before my eyes) "He say Ella ALWAYS do this" (more forced madman laughing and pulling).
I am wondering if this is true about Ella's pulling toys apart, but regardless, have no doubts now that Max is the one who's filled Silas's mind with headless ponies --- POP! -- I turn around to hysterical laughter and see Silas holding the peach pony head, amazed by such freedom.


Then we pull up to church where I have to drop off a check. I leave the car running with Silas and Eden inside and walk the 20 feet through the front door (which is propped open) to the desk. Mid-conversation with Gina, I hear the engine of my car shut off. I turn. Silas -- who apparently can unbuckle his seat belt and get out of his booster without a hitch AND who is wearing his neon green rash guard because he chose his outfit for school today -- is in the driver's seat busily adjusting the mirror and levers. He seems unbothered, and YET, the car is silenced. Unmoving (thankfully!) but silenced. I walk over, "I driving, Mommy!" He continues driving. "And I take the keys out!" he tells me matter-of-factly.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

In the Morning Kitchen (not to be confused with In the Night Kitchen, once of Silas's favorite book)

Oh, mornings.

I've always been a morning person. The women in my family for decades have awakened early and savored the soft pocket of time before anyone else wakes.

But mornings alone and mornings with small children are different beasts. And the definition of "morning" tends to be different too.

Today, Eden woke up hungry at 5:45, and by 6, Silas was calling for me. We piled them both in our bed, pretending we could buy a few more minutes of sleep. As usual all we got was wiggling, little bodies inexplicably edging us almost off the mattress and wild elbows and knees hitting our eyes, noses, and chins.

So down we went.

Eden sat in her high chair squinting at the lights and squeezing banana in her fists. Silas knelt on a chair scooping up spoonfuls of oatmeal and asking incessantly for the rice krispie treats we made for school. And I stood at the counter holding a hot mug, watching them.

I have been wanting to make bread for weeks now. The thought of kneading and punching down the airy dough, of shaping a loaf, of watching it rise and brown, and of eating my own warm bread has been calling.

So I reached for my binder of recipes and flipped through the pages:

-Lucy's Basic Bread -- Lucy, my mom's long-haired-Montessori-teacher friend who never had children and always baked bread, who now lives somewhere in the Northwest, who was always beautiful, appealing, and inaccessible, who drove across country with my mom and a huge brown bag of buttery popcorn.

-Auntie Anne's Baguette -- my white-haired Minnesotan great-Aunt, who is sweet, full of faith and looks just like Mrs Claus (and whose husband may as well BE Santa)

-Gail Mott's Porridge Bread -- for years, Annemarie and I filed through the Mott kitchen door with coats and bags and textbooks (and now toddlers) and pried lids off round tins of cookies or hunted for a wax paper-wrapped loaves of banana bread. Most of my favorite baking recipes are Gail's.

I decided on Gail Mott's Porridge Bread, and beat my tiredness into the dough on the counter, folding it and folding it as I added at least 3 more cups of flour than the recipes called for to get rid of the stickiness (somehow, the bread was still good).

Later in the day, I came across the blog The Wednesday Chef, which sparkles and inspires. Her entry from March 30th, which is below, hummed right to me:

Sunday morning, pad quietly into the kitchen. Kettle on, cupboards open. Pull out the box of cake flour, just the right amount still in the bag, the bottle of inky molasses, soda, baking powder. Two eggs from the fridge, cold and smooth in my hands; spices from the freezer, their bottles frosting immediately in the warm kitchen.

Baking first thing in the morning, before the first cup of tea, before opening the door to get the paper, before even being entirely awake, is one of life's small pleasures. One of my life's small pleasures. I love the silent, solitary work in the kitchen, the concentration, the satisfaction at seeing a few simple ingredients come together under my hands and blossom into something else entirely.

It so happens that the best recipes for this kind of early morning venture are plain and homey ones. They have to be. I'm not interested in four-layer cakes at 9:00 am on a Sunday, or in rolled fondant, or pastry cream. What I revel in making are recipes that dirty just one bowl, that surprise you with their ease, that come laden with history, the knowledge that they've been made a hundred thousand times before, in thousands of kitchens, by thousands of slightly sleepy home cooks who don't have the luxury to worry about whether or not the cake will rise or turn out as it should.

The Fan

In Silas's very early days, I learned how essential baby-sleep is for all involved. So I began putting a fan in his room to insure napping and to soften the sounds of life -- doorbell, phone, car alarms, sirens, neighbors, footsteps.

Several times it crossed my mind to turn the fan off, to let the child sleep in the midst of noises. But each time it came down to his little tired eyes looking up at me from the crib, I'd switch the fan on, unwilling to chance interrupted sleep. I'd discovered a magic trick -- why not use it? And in no time the fan became an addiction, a glorious, sleep-inducing addiction.

Two years later, Eden arrived, and thank the lordy for the fan! It drowned the screaming, the night waking, the out of sync living of the two. In a matter of months, I knew the kids would share a room, but for now, the fan could rage and keep us sane with sleep.

I heard the nagging voice say I was conditioning them to sleep only with a whirring cushion of sound and many times resolved that THIS nap was the last fan nap. But then the next nap would come along, or bedtime, and I wouldn't be able to resist switching on that little Hawaiian Breeze to lull my babes to la la land. And as I did, I would weakly promise myself that after THIS sweet nap, we'd stop with the fan all together.

Then, we moved the kids in to Silas's room and the fan was just enough to take the edge off night screaming. So once again, I switched it on resolving that in a month or two, once they were accustomed to this shared space, I'd be done with it.

I think it was daylight savings this Spring that threw me into memories of bedtimes. I remember lying in bed with my head near the window, the evening bright golden, sleeping with just a sheet, listening to the older kids playing in the street, listening. I remember dishes clattering in the kitchen, silverware dropped, muted voices -- my parents' voices, their dinner parties and friends downstairs, the sounds of the cars passing by who threw their headlights in window panes across my ceiling. Those sounds were comfort, company.

But here I was, wrapping my children in sound-dulled, insulated slumber.

I haven't taken the fan out of the room yet, but I've left it off the last few days -- baby steps, you know -- and in a few more days, I may be ready to take it out all together. Slowly, slowly, Eden and Silas will learn the sounds of house, the assurance of voices around them.


On Tuesday, for the first time in AGES, I felt like I was a great mother. I remembered that I can make the world magical for Silas and Eden. I had a well of patience and creativity and could think clearly enough to draw from it. We played on the beach in the sunrise. Took a pink bubble bath. Had a picnic on the back deck. Walked to the park. Read books. Made Spring pictures with Silas's art supplies (thanks L's!) Played on my bedspread until we were all laughing.

I used to have these days frequently. Constantly when the world was only Silas and me. Often when Eden was a snoozing baby. Seldom to never, in the windy whirl of two active babes. And I hadn't even noticed.

Yesterday, I was with my friend Kelly, who always makes me want to live a little more purposefully. She asked how my weekend had been, and I told her I'd spent the day Saturday driving to and from LA for my writers' group, and Sunday teaching an art journal workshop.
That must have been refreshing. Was it?
I thought for a minute -- Not really... Isn't that strange? I was doing things I love and was alone, but I didn't come back reFREShed. Why is that?

A few minutes later I pictured a map of the week in my head and laughed. Oh. I HAD been recharged. The afternoons away, in my own space, making art and talking about poetry with other writers, blew out the fog and cleared the way for our Tuesday weather.

Refreshment is funny that way; it slips in the back door. When I come home after being away for a bit, the instant I walk inside, life is back full swing, all hands on deck. Nothing feels changed.

But then, I put my hand in my pocket and find that Silas's purple plastic gems are somehow there, and I have a little more to give.

If I can remember, in the midst of children demanding, wanting, waking, coughing, sniffling, thirsting, yelling, pushing, needing, talking, talking, talking, questioning, how important it is to push back my chair and take a walk alone, then I can come back a little new.