Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Perfect Cake

On Friday, I baked a cake.  If you know me well, you probably know that baking is not really my thing.  I make cookies with my kids and let them help me bake boxed cupcakes, because that's what moms are supposed to do.  I don't really enjoy it that much.  And baking from scratch...no.

It's too precise.  I don't have the patience.  Rarely do I have an hour or more to dedicate to the creation of sweet, baked goods.

But, last week was also my birthday.  And this summer, my aunt gave me my grandmother's birthday cake recipe.  In her handwriting.  Framed.  The most weep-worthy gift I can remember receiving in a long time.

And this cake...it's my whole childhood.  It's part of every birthday, every celebration, every family get together.  It recalls memories of gentle hand slaps as I tried to swipe the icing with my fingertip, smiles from my grandmother as she shooed me away, and laughter as we sat around enjoying the treat.

I had decided weeks before that I'd make it for my birthday.  But just so happens that my birthday always falls at a bad time.  Back to school.  And this particular year...Back to School Night.  So it had to wait a few days.

Friday morning, after dropping the kids off, I went to the store to buy real sugar, white flour, and Crisco.  Things I haven't bought in a long time.  And that afternoon I set out following directions to a tee.  Sifting flour and cocoa together three times.  Adding only one egg at a time until it was fully immersed in the batter.  Adding baking soda to freshly brewed coffee and watching it foam up the sides of the measuring cup.  Whisking continuously until the flour thickened the milk.  Waiting 5 minute for the vinegar to sour the milk.

So many times I wanted to cheat.  Is it really necessary to add eggs individually?  Sifting?  Really, is it needed?  Sour milk?  Wouldn't regular milk do?

But I didn't.  I took every step as my grandmother had laid it out.  Waited each time she asked. Alternated ingredients each time she instructed.

It took me an hour.  An hour before baking.  I'm not sure I've ever spent an hour baking one thing.  Especially not a cake for myself.  But as I was sifting and whisking and alternating I thought a lot of my grandmother.  She was so patient and seemed to take her time with everything.  At a time when conveniences and time savers were at a minimum, she seemed to enjoy the long tasks of shucking corn and canning vegetables.  She could be found weeding her garden most spring days.  If she wasn't home, she might be picking berries to make jam later that day.

I rarely have that kind of patience.  I won't make a recipe that has more than 5 ingredients or takes longer than 30 minutes.  My house is only kind of clean most of the time because I don't scrub grout with toothbrushes or dust picture frames.  And it is a rare, RARE occasion that I move furniture to vacuum.

But Friday, I made myself enjoy it.  And I did enjoy it.  I performed each task meticulously and checked each direction thrice.  Friday I had the time.  Friday was my last day of unemployment.  I had spent the last 6 weeks cleaning and organizing and playing with my kids and working out and maybe binging a few Neflix shows.  And Friday was my last day of nothingness.  The kids were all in school.  No chores.  I finished House of Cards on Netflix.  So what else could I do but bake the perfect cake?

Tomorrow I go back to work.  I go back to a previous employer in a town I used to live in.  Tomorrow I go back to the craziness of juggling work and school and activities and me time.  But Friday?  Friday was all about the cake and making it just right and seeing to it that my grandmother gets to touch my kids life in some way.  And after all of the instructions and time it took to create, it was perfect.  Exactly as I remembered.  And I know my grandmother would be happy to see me enjoy every moment it took to get there.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer Flies

Is it seriously August?  I always look so forward to summer.  No strict school/homework schedule.  We kind of bail on extra activities to free up our evenings.  But between different camps and visits with relatives and family reunions and beach trips and weddings...the summer just flies by.

I think I last wrote on Cohen's birthday and so much has happened since then.  SO MUCH!!

Let's see.  We went to the beach.  It was not our typical beach trip with extended family, in a big house, in South Nags Head, for a whole week.  Instead it was 5 days, in a hotel, in Kill Devil Hills.  And it was just the 5 of us.  It was nice to have a vacation with just us.  Not that we don't love the big family trips, those are awesome.  But it was low key and relaxing to just do our own thing for a few days.  It was expensive, since we had to pretty much eat out every meal.  The hotel was, ehh.  I guess what you get with a beach hotel.  The beach was crowded.  But we had such a great time.  We had one day where the water was so calm and shallow that the kids played all day and there was no worry about waves or riptides.  We played putt putt and ate crab legs and drove bumper boats and had fun drinks.  I would have loved for it to last a few more days.






Then we celebrated Ainsley's 9th birthday.  I'm not even sure how that is possible.  She is growing up so fast and everyday I'm slapped in the face with the realization that she's that much closer to being a teenager and an adult.

We are skipping parties this year so we took a couple of friends to Chuck E Cheese and then out for ice cream.  Then we had dinner at a hibachi place.

Next we headed to North Carolina for our annual family reunion.  My dad is one of 7 siblings.  The alternate locations every year so the planning falls on each of them once every 7 years.  My dad is not in the best position to throw a family reunion for 50 people, so my sister and I took it on this year.  I got to spend the whole week with my two nephews (one of them just a few weeks old) and my sister.  And we shopped and cooked and cleaned all in preparation for the arrival of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  The reunion was great and I think everyone had a great time.













Then Monday it was back to camps and work and reality.  And back to a big decision that we had to make.  Let me take a step back.

About three weeks ago the organization I work for presented me with a non disclosure/non compete agreement.  Originally they had wanted it signed  by the following Friday.  Due to questions and issues, it got put off a few times.  I spoke to a lawyer and some HR people and some recruiters about the document.  And here is what I gathered from all of that.  It was enforceable and it was very broad.  It would have definitely limited my employment opportunities after I chose to leave my job.  It would have also limited my employability if I was let go from my job.  Usually these types of agreements are given to high level people (which I am not) and are used to deter the sharing of proprietary information (which I don't have).  It is also usually presented upon employment and can be used to negotiate pay and severance packages.  The organization would not even consider a bonus or a pay raise tied to it.

Monday was the deadline for signing and I chose not to sign.  I was then told that I was no longer employed with the organization.

So boom!  I am unemployed.  Yesterday was a tough day, but I think that had more to do with my lack of sleep than not having a job.  Today is better.  But it is a strange feeling, not having work to do.   I've either been working or in school since I was 15.  And to be basically fired?  Wow.  That's new too.  I've never left somewhere like that.  I'm friends with all of my old employers and coworkers.  Seems like that won't be happening this time.  Supervisors are not so happy with me.  The organization apparently couldn't care less about me.  But it is what it is and I don't regret my decision at all.  I'd rather take my changes now without restriction than sign a document that would completely tie my hands.

It's hard to know what to do with myself, but I will work out and clean my house and do some projects I haven't had time for and look for something new.  From the very start of all of this I've felt like it's one of those "a door shuts but a window opens" situations.  I've been looking to leave my job for awhile, but haven't managed to gain the nerve to do it.  So really, though it's hard to be so idle, I'm glad and I'm not worried.  I know I'll figure something out.

And that about catches you up on all the happenings.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Three

Dear Cohen,



Yes, I know...your birthday was 2 weeks ago.  What can I say?  You were born at a crappy time.  I was just telling someone the other day, that if I had put any forethought into life I would have gotten married in March and had all my kids in April.

June is tough.  The day we brought you home from the hospital, daddy dropped us off then ran around switching cars and installing car seats so we could pick up Freddie and make it to Ainsley's final cheerleading performance.  Three days later, we had the end of year picnic for Ainsley's first year of elementary school.  The next week was dress rehearsal and performances for dance class.

With the end of school, the end of my fiscal year at work, mommy and daddy's anniversary, the end of all activities...birthdays can get lost.  But somehow, I believe that you will always shine above all that.  You definitely make your presence known.  You are not a wallflower and you will not be overlooked.

Three is a tough year.  I don't know one parent of a three year old that will say "Three is a breeze."  They call them the terrible two's, but in my experience...two's got NOTHING on three.  You, however, are WAY ahead of your time.  You've been acting like a 4 or 5 year old since you were 1.5.  So I'm kind of hoping we're past the worst of it.  Although, knowing you...well, let's just say you take everything to a whole new level.  I'm sure it will be awhile before we are out of the difficult years with you, that is, if there ever is an end.



You are my toughest child.  The most stubborn, the most strong willed, the least easily distracted.  You know what you want.  You have always known what you wanted.  You get what you want, by any means necessary.



You are crazy, insanely, wickedly smart.  You have the vocabulary of a 5 year old.  I have no doubt that you could hold your own in a kindergarten class.  You're just shorter than most kindergartners.  But that brain and mouth work so quickly.



You are so beautiful.  Recently we attended a memorial service for my grandfather, and I saw so many family members that I hadn't seen since high school or college.  I pointed out my kids and I believe every single one of them said something along the lines of "Oh my, he looks like an angel."  And you do.  With those deep, big blue eyes and that soft wispy white hair.  And your rosy cheeks and perfectly pink mouth.  You look like you could sprout wings at any moment.  But, please read the above paragraphs again.

You are sweet and loving.  You kiss anyone that comes close to you.  And everyday when you leave daycare, you hug every one of your playmates and teachers.  But that angelic little face can contort into a monster before our very eyes.



You are not shy.  You talk to anyone.  You tell stories to strangers.  You have lots of friends and lots of admirers.

You are such a special little boy, even with all the challenges that come with raising a little guy with your big personality.  You have made us laugh.  You have brought us such joy.

The other day I asked Freddie if he remembered our family before you were born, and he said no.  And honestly, I can barely remember what life was like before you.  You complete us in every way.



Happy Birthday buddy.

Love,
Mommy

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gone

I ignore news.  I totally avoid big stories.  So honestly, I have no idea how or why or when the gorilla thing happened.  I know the very basic details and you know what?  I'm not going to read about it.  Because I don't want an opinion about it.  You can call me ignorant and stupid...I don't care.  The fact is, that we are in information overload these days with the internet and social media.  I simply can not care about everything.  I would be a ruined soul.  I can't do it.  

Just last night I told Clif that I had no idea what had happened, but my Facebook feed was cluttered with rants about how everyone should stop judging parents.  Yet, I didn't see anyone judging.

And then I came to work this morning and browsed some websites and WOW.  Judgy McJudgerson everywhere.

I have no idea what that kid's parents were doing.  I have no idea if the zoo was justified in shooting the gorilla.  I have no idea who is to blame for any of it.  And I don't want to know.  But what I do want to do is share the following story.  But before I do, I want you all to know that I am a closet anxious person.  I pretend to be really calm and collected, but inside ANXIETY ABOUT EVERYTHING.  People think I have my stuff together and that I don't let things get to me.  But inside WORRY AND OBSESS ALWAYS.

So when it comes to my kids, I worry.  A lot.  If I'm out and about, I'm constantly counting them and making sure my eyes are on them.  One, two, three.  Pause.  One, two, three.  Pause.  One, two, three.  Over and over again.

This past weekend, I took the kids to Virginia Beach to visit a friend.  It was me and my friend and our 5 children, ages almost 3 to almost 9.  On Friday night we walked about 5 blocks to a playground on the beach.  It's in a very populated place.  It's near a very large statue that Cohen immediately took a liking to.

"Mommy, what that?"
"Mommy, can my touch it?"
"Mommy, you throw me in the sky so I touch the turtle?"

I put him off for the 30 minutes that the kids played on the playground.  Telling him we'd go look on our way home.

And there I sat, counting heads.  One, two, three, four, five.  Pause.  One, two, three, four, five.

When it was time to go, it was dark and 5 kids and 2 moms were accounted for.

I told the older 4 to stay put and not run ahead like they had on the way.  I told them it was dark and we wouldn't be able to see them as well.  And then I walked Cohen to the statue, crowded with people.  He touched a couple of fish and could not reach the turtle.  I was gone for 3 minutes - maybe.  I went back and only 3 kids remained.

Freddie was gone.

"Where's Freddie?"

No one knew.  I froze in a sea of people.  He was gone.  

"Where's Freddie?" I asked again.  Blank faces.

One of the other kids said something about the direction he had seen him go.  I left Cohen and Ainsley with the other mom and started running down the beach, screaming for Freddie.  I could barely breath.  Tears were hot in the corners of my eyes.

What if I lost him?  What if I never saw him again?  What if someone took him?  What if he wandered into the ocean?  What if he gets to the street and is hit by a car?  What if, what if, what if?

"Excuse me mam?" A man stopped me on the boardwalk, "Are you looking for your son?"

"Yes!" I cried.

"He's about a block up with a police man."

I don't think I even thanked him.  I just ran.  And there he was.  Fingers in mouth, crying, hiccuping, terrified, and with a police officer.

I called his name and scooped him up as he ran to me.  Thank God, thank God!

I lost him.  But I found him.  I wasn't watching for a few moments and he disappeared, but then he was back.  And I wanted to cry and scream and laugh all at once.  My legs felt like jello and panic continued to course through my veins as we walked back to the rest of the group.

I'm a good mom.  I'm not perfect.  I make lots of mistakes, but I do lots of things right.  I don't lose kids.  Ever.  But I did.  I looked away for a moment, walked in another direction when I thought my instructions were clear, and poof.

I don't know what that toddler's parents were doing - maybe they were smoking crack in the bathroom.  Or maybe they were distracted for a tiny moment by a phone or a stranger or another kid.  I'm really sorry that an endangered animal was killed.  But the idea that it can't happen to any of us.  Well, that's ridiculous.  And in that moment, what would you want done?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Light Bulb

I have always worried about money.  Always.

I have always felt like I'm drowning in my finances.  Always.

When I was a kid, my parents weren't handing me 20's every week for the movies or new clothes at the mall.  It was made very clear, very early on, if I wanted that, I'd need to work.  So, I started babysitting when I was 11.  I even advertised.

I didn't get a car until I was almost 20.  And then it was my parents' 1988 Bonneville.  I paid and borrowed my way through college.  I racked up lots of debt the moment I graduated and decided to live on my own, even though I couldn't afford it.  Especially when necessities like rent and power were accompanied with happy hour bills and eating lunch out every day.

But, I pulled through.  I paid off that debt.  I bought a new car when the Bonnie died.  I paid off student loans.  I paid for my wedding.  I bought a house.  I did all of that with zero financial help.  And I'm proud of that.  Financial freedom, is freedom.  No one got to to tell me who was invited to my wedding, because I was paying for it.  No one could yell at me for skipping an 8 am class, because I was paying for it.

However, I have always worried about money.  Always.

My one wish has always been to not worry about it.  I'd like to not have to think about every penny.  I don't need to be rich or live in a mansion or drive a BMW, but I'd like to just go through life not worrying about everything I spend.  I've spent my entire teenage and adult life working towards that goal.

Yet, I do worry.  All. The. Time.

And then in the strangest of moments, your brain comes to realizations.  It happened last night as I was driving home from swim lessons.  It's important to note that I was driving home from swim lessons because they aren't cheap.

I sat at a light and watched a young woman walk the median holding a sign.

"Please help.  I have 2 children and can't pay the rent or buy food."

This is not a new sight.  I see people holding signs, asking for money at least 5 times a day.

I watched her pace and hold her head down.  I watched her look up shyly and accept money, whispering "Thank You" and "God Bless You."  And I remembered that I was her, and now I'm not.

It wasn't that long ago that my husband lost his job and I was pregnant with a second baby and we didn't have a year's worth of savings and we collected unemployment and bought groceries with credit cards and fell behind on mortgages.

The light changed and I held out my $10 and told her to take care and drove away.

There was a time that I worried about how I would pay for groceries when my credit card was maxed out.  And there was a time that I worried we'd lose our house and where would we go.  And during that time I had 2 kids that needed me to figure it out.

I don't worry about that anymore.  There's not a day that goes by that I wonder how I'm going to feed my kids.  Ever.  Sure, I think about how we only have 9 years until Ainsley goes to college and how on earth are we going to save for it by then.  And I worry about coming up with a down payment to buy a house when all of our savings seems to go to one of the rental properties we own.  And I worry about how I will pay for a vacation and a 3rd birthday party and a 40th birthday party and camps all in the course of one summer.  But I never worry that my kids will have a warm, dry place to sleep.  I worry about luxuries.

And all of a sudden a light bulb exploded in my head.  All of my wishing and working and hoping towards a worry free financial life?  Really, I have that.  I don't have to raid my coin purse to afford diapers.  I don't have to wait until pay day to buy milk.

Let's be honest, I'm still going to worry.  Apparently, that's what I do.  I'm not sure where all the brain activity would go without worry.  But I'm going to worry less.  And I'm going to remember that all of those things I worry about are not necessary.  And I'm going to hope that the young mom in the median with the sign gets to the same place one day.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Confessions of a Failed Tooth Fairy

When Ainsley lost her first tooth, I wrote a blog post about it.

Freddie lost his first tooth about 2.5 weeks ago...but it seems much longer.  A lot has happened since then, but that's another post.



Yesterday, he lost his second tooth.  If you look at that picture above, you can see that other bottom tooth holding on for dear life.  That one's gone now too.

So today, I write a post about Freddie losing his first two teeth, and how Clif and I are possibly the worst tooth fairies ever, and how my sweet little Freddie is growing up so fast.  So here it goes...

Freddie's front two teeth had been so wiggly for so long.  He's not one to push things.  He barely touched them, for fear of the pain.  There were lots of questions "Does it hurt?  Will I get a new tooth?  Does it hurt?  Will it bleed?  Does it hurt?"

But just like most first lost tooth stories, it happened in the blink of an eye.  All that worry and wonder and curiosity and then just, pop...out it came, like nothing.

It was bed time.  As usual, Cohen and Freddie chose this time to really turn up the craziness.  So I was lying in their bed trying to get them to calm down, when I just had to walk away.  So there I stood, in the hall telling Clif something, my back to the boys' room.

I saw Clif's face first.  Wide eyes, slow grin.  I turned to see a crazy excitement and uncertainty in Freddie's eyes.  Then, of course, there was the blood smeared lips.

Then the annoyance of late bedtimes and overactive children drifted and the house was filled with laughter and "Yay Freddie!" and giggles and hugs and "Freddie!  You lost a tooth!"

When the story finally game out, after he got over the shock of it, after he laughed and high-fived and hugged back, then we found out that Cohen and his little left hook was the catalyst.

The boys were rough-housing...shocker.  And Freddie wanted to make this part very clear...UNINTENTIONALLY...Cohen punched his cheek while his face was pressed against a pillow.  And that gave just enough push on the tooth for it to pop from it's tiny socket.  Always protecting his little brother, that one.

Yesterday, Freddie and I were alone in the car heading from the grocery store to pick up Cohen.  He took a bite of his secret donut (don't tell Ainsley and Cohen!) and then out popped the second one.



Look at those crooked little grown up teeth coming in.  I think there will be braces all around for the White kiddos.

And just like that he's down two teeth.  Of course this wasn't the first tooth, so the tooth fairy failed miserably and I am sitting at work writing a note in swirly handwriting and red ink from a little imp named Shimmer who has ONE JOB and she can't get it right!!



I've said it before, and I'll say it again...pretty sure our tooth fairy is drunk in a ditch most nights, because who makes excuses like "I don't fly well in the rain?"

Shimmer is the worst.  She's written lots of apology letters like this to Ainsley too.  And we've learned that she doesn't get to teeth lost after 4pm until the next day, that she doesn't expect teeth to come out less than a month apart, that her magic is spotty and doesn't work on certain days of the year, that she has enough teeth for her current castle that she's building, and that she doesn't work on holidays...days before holidays...or days after holidays.  That girl has a sweet benefit package.

I get so excited for them when things like this happen.  When they take that next step to being grown.  But then it makes me a bit sad.  Right now, you can't even tell that Freddie has lost any teeth unless he shows you.  But I know that lost baby teeth, means those giant grown up teeth come in right behind them.  And that baby smile turns into a kid smile.  And those chubby cheeks slide away and reveal cheekbones.  And those big bellies slim to reveal ribs and ab muscles.  And those silly words like "hopsital" and "shase" and "elligator" are corrected and become "hospital" and "chase" and "elevator."  So I try to write it all down right here, so I'll never forget.  So I'll always remember that sweet, gruff, Boston accent he had.  That little big voice that was so deep and manly, but still soft and childlike.  My Freddie will grow into an amazing man - sensitive and sweet and caring.  But I always want to remember the beautiful boy he started out as.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Half Way

We are walking the dogs along the busy road, the sun is falling fast, and the cool April air is getting colder with every step.

Ainsley runs ahead, then runs back, "Mommy, watch.  This is my tired round off."  She runs again and does a lazy, crooked, cartwheel, sort-of.  Then falls on her bottom.

She bounces up, runs toward me and says "Okay, now this is my real round off."  She runs faster this time and does a round off.  Definitely not perfect, but not bad either.  "Did you see?" she asks.

I nod.  I watch her skip towards the intersection and I try to remember the last time I skipped.

"Mommy?" She calls, "Are you still looking for them?"

"Yes, Ainsley."  I scan the grass, "There's one."

"Oh wow," she exclaims, "That's a big one.  How did we miss that on our way?"  She runs up the slight hill and gently picks the green stem, not to disturb the cottony wisps on the end.

"You do this one," she says.

"No, you do it.  It's almost perfect."  I reply.

She stops, thinks, then blows.  The little buds dance and flip on the wind.  She tells me that she always wishes the same thing so it's guaranteed to come true.

And then we're walking again and I'm listening to her tell me silly lies, then scream "April Fool's" over the roar of traffic.  And I'm thinking that she'll be 9 soon.  That time is going too fast.  Nine is half way.  And I'm thinking that I just love this age.  I never thought I would.  I thought I'd hate the pre-tween, big kid, on the edge of childhood, years.  I thought I'd always crave a baby.  And sometimes I see a picture of her in a car seat, or a video of her singing as a toddler, and my heart almost explodes with want and need for time to stop.  But I love her at this age.

Challenges? Yes, there are challenges.  But mostly I love the contradiction that is this age.  The moments of maturity surrounded by giggles, tangled locks, missing teeth, and cartwheels.

Yesterday, while I showered, she asked if she could wear make-up out of the house and I told her no.  In a moment of content, she accepted no as an answer and left the room.  As I finished washing my hair, I thought that I should have told her why the answer was no.  That I should have said, this moment is fleeting - please hold it as long as you can.  These are your last moments of little girl.  That make-up makes you grown.  And grown girls don't skip home.  They don't do round offs or swing from tree branches.  They don't sound exactly like Ariel when they sing in the shower.  They don't rush down stairs on April 1st wondering what tricks have been played.  They don't blow dandelions into the wind, believing the puffs will carry wishes into reality.  They don't slip their hand inside their mother's absentmindedly while practicing times tables.

Nine is half way.  How can we be half way?  There will be so much time for make-up and grown up girl things.  Right now, I just want us to enjoy the little girl that we'll both miss one day.
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