Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dream: The growing season

I had really high expectations for this summer.  I wanted it to be just like the exultant summer of 2010: the days all sand and salt water and the nights starry skies and ice cream. This summer we went to the beach a lot, we went out for ice cream regularly, and still it wasn't the same.

I blamed myself for this. Who complains about having over two solid months off to lie on the beach and gorge on ice cream? Apparently I do, and so clearly I deserve a large chunk of the blame.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I also blamed my kids at times, because whereas they skipped hand in hand through last summer, they have spent much of this summer at odds with each other. Just the other day Big E came to me exasperated and reported that Little E was "breathing down her neck". As I tried to patiently explain to her how much her little sister looks up to her and loves to spend time with her despite how intrusive it might feel at times, Little E came in and began to actually pant heavily and noisily on Big E's neck, which is apparently what she had been doing all along. If not the kids themselves, their newly minted sibling rivalry deserves a bit of the blame.

I blamed last year's part-time schedule, too. The school year that preceded 2010's summer included some of the actual worst days of my life. In contrast to that, the summer felt more than fun and relaxing; it felt triumphant. This past school year, I spent my mornings teaching students who were usually interesting and almost always entertaining, and I spent my afternoons focusing on my family in a way that satisfied me and smoothed over a lot of the guilt I've felt since I first put Big E in daycare seven years ago. I didn't need the time off half as much this summer as I did last summer, and thus I didn't enjoy it as much. So, I blame part-time, though not so much that I'm not happy to do it again this year.

The biggest culprit, though, didn't reveal itself to me fully until a week ago in the lunchbox aisle at Target. It was there that I had to gently talk Big E out of choosing the same doggy-shaped lunch bag as Little E. I told her that I was afraid she might grow out of it and change her mind about it once it was too late to get another. What I really meant was that much as I would love it if she could carry a dog-shaped lunch bag for the rest of her school days, much as I swear to one day fulfill the request she made a few years ago that I live in her dorm room when it's time for her to go away to college, I cannot stand the thought of the other second-graders laughing at her too young lunch bag. She ended up settling on a pink splash-painted number that she seems happy with, but I'm still hating myself for pushing her, even in a small way, to grow up any faster than she wants to.

I realized that it is all the growing up I saw this summer that has really kept it from measuring up to last summer. This summer I reluctantly packed up Little E's toddler bed, I nervously sent Big E on a five-day trip to Michigan with my parents, and I bravely fought back tears and the urge to vomit when I brought both girls in for their very first haircuts and watched the "stylist" at the overpriced kiddy haircutting place lop off three inches of sun-bleached baby curls that I'd been twirling through my fingers since Big E was a nursing infant.

They have to grow up, I know that. I need to accept it, if only to avoid spoiling any more perfectly good vacation time. Still, next week when school starts up again that lunchbag is going to get me. And the hair. I may be mourning the hair until next summer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Eat: Cookin' it old school

Last month we spent almost a week in my grandmother's Florida condominium.  She and most of her snowbird neighbors had flown north for the summer, but there were still enough retirees around to give us a little preview of what our golden years could look like. My husband and I took to it pretty well, I think.  He slowed his already glacial walking pace down to the point where octagenarians were hustling past him in parking lots, and I made these Ranch Oyster Crackers.

These no-cook crackers are the sort of  low-effort thing that I'm guessing one makes for 5 o'clock cocktails in my grandmother's palm-shaded, golf course-adjacent complex. I found the recipe in her old school handwriting waiting for me in her pantry during our July stay along with a note proclaiming their deliciousness and a bag of the necessary ingredients. I made it one night while we were there, and she was right: these crackers really are pretty tasty.

Right now I'm in the midst of furious preparations for a school year that is starting far too early and my kitchen is torn to the studs (which, as it turns out were all wrong and needed reconfiguring to keep the second floor from falling into the basement). Amidst chaos, this recipe, simple and redolent of the all-play and no-work bliss of retirement for which I think I'll be well-suited, is about all I can manage.

Nan's Oyster Crackers

1 bag of oyster crackers
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 of a packet of powdered ranch dressing mix
1/2 teaspoon of dill weed
1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper (black pepper and a bit of lemon zest could work)

Pour the oyster crackers into a large bowl.

Mix the oil, dressing mix, dill weed and lemon pepper right in the measuring cup.

Pour the oil mixture over the crackers and stir to coat evenly.

Let the crackers sit for an hour, giving it a stir every 15 minutes.

Enjoy with your 5 o'clock cocktail of choice. Or maybe make it 4:30 --you don't want to miss the early bird specials.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


From the time that I was in fifth grade until I started college, my family would pack into the station wagon each summer for our annual vacation week.  Over the years we took a lot of trips to Washington, D.C., spent a cloudy week in Montreal, tried Williamsburg, Virginia, and racked up some free nights in my grandmother's Florida condo.

I remember the monuments and museums, sure, but the comedy of the family travel drama tends to overshadow the travelogue.When my younger brother and I reminisce about these trips we talk about the time that my mother burst into tears upon first sight of our dingy Holiday Inn room and made us spend the rest of the night driving around searching fruitlessly for a new room, or the time she forced us on a sweaty march through site of the Battle of Bull Run and the ensuing interfamilial blowout rivaled the war between the states for hurt feelings and residual tension.

This talk always shocks my mother.  Though she did her fair share of fuming in traffic, weeping over accommodations and threatening to shut the whole trip down, her memories center around family togetherness and the sense of shared adventure. Until I became a mother I thought she was pretending not to remember the messier moments, but now I know that just as nature protects the species by dulling women's memories of the pain of childbirth, it protects the great tradition of the family vacation by filtering mothers' memories of the trips through a soft focus lens.

Though on our recent family vacation, I threatened more than once to call the whole thing off, by the time we hit the Delaware Memorial Bridge on our return trip, the frustrations, resentments and various sore spots I'd developed through the trip began to slip away. Though I'd tearfully apologized to my husband more than once during the trip for inflicting this expensive week and a half of punishment on us all, I turned to him as I drove across the bridge and sighed, satisfied, "Well, that was a nice trip."

I was telling the truth, because as I sped us up I-95, the hour that we spent driving around D.C. trying without a map to locate the zoo morphed from infuriating to humorous.  I remembered pointing out the Capitol to the girls each of the 15 times we looped past it, but not so much the tears of frustration that sprung forth somewhere after the tenth sighting. I smiled at the memory of my husband offering to run into a medical center in a questionable neighborhood for directions despite the fact that it housed only a detox center, an STD clinic and a psychiatric emergency room, and glazed over the part where I told him that if he dared to leave his wife and daughters in that parking lot I would be forced to lock him out of the car.

I thought back on the evening I spent getting reacquainted with a close high school friend I hadn't seen since college.  We sat with our husbands and watched our children play together in her very grown up home in Florida, far from our high school days in Central Massachusetts, and yet she was as fun and comfortable a presence as she'd been half a lifetime ago. On that drive back north I let slip away the hours leading up to our visit in which I'd been seized by high school-era anxiety about my clothes, my weight, my hair and the ridiculous spoiler on the back of our rental car.  And I tried to let go the haunting feeling I'd had woken with the morning after the visit that if high school me had been sitting next to me on that couch she'd have been less than impressed and not at all understanding about the rental car.

I remembered our visit to the Nickelodeon Hotel, the grand finale of the vacation, for the thrill the girls got from sleeping in their Spongebob-themed room and not for their teary souvenir demands.  The woman who crowded onto a small bench with us in the lobby during check-in and immediately began muttering angrily to herself and scratching as if infested became another travel anecdote punchline and not cause to search the suite so aggressively for bedbugs that Little E refused to sleep under her covers and would only allow us to drape her with a towel.

It is likely that someday my daughters will sit all grown up at my table finishing off Thanksgiving desserts and laughing about the time I used being desperately lost in D.C. to point out to their father why we really should have smart phones.  They may mock my shouting about how lucky they should consider themselves to have the kind of parents who would take them on vacation and shake their heads at the ridiculousness of dragging two young girls around a sweltering southern college campus so we could show them where we ate, where we went to class, where we lived, where we studied, where we bought books, where we went to parties, where we got our mail, and on and on.

If this happens I will probably remind them of bobbing in warm gulf waters, spotting dolphins, riding waterslides, seeing elephants feed and sitting in the gazebo on the campus pond watching the ducks land, but I hope that I'll also appreciate the humor in their memories. And I hope that they'll someday plan their own family vacations, so as to to prove to me that they weren't too traumatized by ours.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Read my Review of The Kid on BlogHer

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to step far outside of my reading comfort zone and read The Kid by Sapphire for the Blogher Book Club.

Please check out my review there.