I try to see the humor in existence—even when sometimes it is hard to find and masquerades as a horrible life experience. (Anybody else have a car muffler that sounds like a congested, forty-year smoker? That will teach me for running over that deer.) Sometimes that humor cuts sharper than a scalpel and hurts as much as it heals. And sometimes, what looks like failure, is actually a win.
This past weekend I had a moment where I tried to figure out what kind of parent I am. (I’ve been meaning to get around to it; it’s been eleventy years now and it seemed about time.) We all think we know what kind of parent we are going to be before we ever set a foot in the baby aisle or pee on a stick.* We know we are going to be kind, patient, and fun, in other words, nothing like our own parents. Then reality hits.
Forty-thousand diapers later and about two-thirds of me going grey, I now approach parenting as a mostly hands-off, break-glass-in-case-of-emergencies involvement. Hear a crash upstairs followed by a total absence of any sound? Immediately investigate! Discover grandfather clock which has mysteriously moved from wall to couch on its own. Child plays nearby, innocent of any involvement. As no one is concussed and the clock still works, avoid pointless lecture and hope he’s learned some sort of lesson about gravity.**
This pretty much sums up my parenting skills—except for in those extraordinarily rare moments when I pull my head out of my…places unmentionable…and actually pay attention.***
So Sunday, when my son is losing his ever-loving mind for the thousandth time about who-knows-what and was beating himself and the area furniture in frustration, I try to be the lonesome voice of reason amidst the chaos: “What’s wrong, sweetie? How can Mommy help?” (Subtext: I will give you anything—you name it, A mountain of bacon? A vat of ice cream?—if only you’ll shut up!) But, my non-verbal son can only cry incoherently and continue his self-destructive rampage. I cannot fix what I cannot understand. I try to leave him to ‘calm down’ only to be drawn repeatedly back by his anger and tears. I am the tide to his disconsolate moon. I finally force him to try and explain what is wrong using his iPad. (A communication of last resort—he hates typing and is just as likely to hit me as to tell me anything when we use it.)
I type as I talk:
Me: “What’s wrong? Why are you so mad? What do you want?”
(A tumbleweed rolls past and somewhere a coyote howls.)
I repeat this message despite his attempts to shut down the device and snatch it away. I persist. He finally gives up fighting my efforts and writes:
Son: “I want you to be really…”
Me: “Really what?” I say and type. “I don’t understand. You can’t be ‘really’ without a verb. Really happy? Really sad?”
I am often stymied by his word choices and I think, he is equally confounded with expressing any feeling beyond pain or hunger; but after a moment, he answers.
Son: “Really sad.”
Me: “What are you sad about?”
Son: (No answer.)
Me: “What can mommy do?”
Son: “I want you to be really.”
It feels like a communication failure and then, I realize, he wants me to be really. Whatever really refers to…he wants me to be it with him…fully focused and engaged. He can’t really explain how he feels and I can’t entirely understand. But I can ‘be really’ for him.
And really, that’s all he’s asking me to be.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Or hand, in my case.
**You can spin most accidents into a real-time study of scientific principles—not the least of which is how to tie a tourniquet in an emergency.
***Moments when I am a clued-in parent are as rare as Haley’s comet, but not nearly as predictable.
[Remember: Parenting is like gambling, if you want to feel good about it, only count the wins!]
I am writing extemporaneously tonight. I could say I am being introspective, but what I really am is overly tired and desirous of sleep.
I have often mistyped something and decided whatever I wrote must be the title of a book the universe wants written. So, I give you tonight’s installment:
Seven Deadly Since…
I was typing a search for an article someone referenced and typed ‘SINS’ as ‘SINCE’. So, my question is…what is the universe telling me? What do you think a book with the title Seven Deadly Since would be about?*
Share your thoughts as you may.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*For some reason, my brain is churning out a weird hybrid of Disney’s 7 Dwarves and a Law & Order episode. There would be two police officers hunched over the corpse of a call girl under glass and one of them would say, “I guess we’re looking for a line up of short, pick axe-wielding diamond merchants.” His partner would crouch and look at the apple left in the victim’s mouth, and say “Hi Ho indeed!”
I read a lot of science fiction, chock full of heroines who kick ass and take names…and then grind those names in the dust of a thousand incontinent camels. I was in the military*. I have managed to change a plugged up sink. So, you’d expect that I would be able to face down your basic household pest with some equanimity. You’d be wrong.
I’m doing laundry in the basement. It’s night. It’s dark. The room is full of ominous shadows. I’m wearing shorts and have bare feet. If I were a cute, eighteen-year-old co-ed there’d be someone lurking in a corner wearing a hockey mask intent on resolving some mommy issues with a chainsaw.** Instead, I am a middle-aged frump reaching for a pile of wet towels.
(Cue the horror music.)
I’m lifting a piece of laundry when suddenly a creepy mustache bolts from its hiding place and races like a deranged zipper past my toes.
(I hit the ‘K’ extra hard, about two octaves above middle C.)
I chuck the laundry and bolt up the stairs. After my heart stops trying to choke me and drops back into my chest cavity, I gird myself (with long pants, socks and shoes—I wasn’t messing around) and tiptoe back down to the cave of the beast. I manage to finish throwing the laundry into the machine, glurg some detergent in and skedaddle back up the steps—leaping a bit in case one of those hideous creatures had laid a trap for me. Relieved to be alive, I celebrate with ice cream. Like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men In Black, I thought the danger was past.
A few loads of laundry go by and I start to relax. I’m doing a load of black clothes and I reach down and grab a pair of pants and I’m just going to check the pockets when one of those creepy mother… [expletive deleted] …crawls out and drops into the wash. I don’t have much of a killer instinct. I’ve never hunted despite firing several types of fire arms*** But that sonuvabitch [expletive not deleted because DAMN!] was going down. I quelled the squeamish notion that I was washing my clothes with a monster and that I’d be wearing dissolved bug bits for days and moved the dial to the ‘Extra Heavy’ setting. I wanted to be sure to drown that bastard but good. I later asked my eleven-year-old to move the wet laundry to the dryer so I wouldn’t have to face touching the shredded corpse—thus answering the question, “Would I ever implicate my child in a murder in order to hide my crimes?”
I now use the payload retrieval device left over from my surgery to grab each piece of laundry and give it a shake over the utility sink before I attempt to check for crayons. (I deserve a bloody medal for this act of bravery.) Laugh if you will, but I have no interest in become a ghoulish headline:
WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN BASEMENT, BUGS TO BLAME
Neighbors report they heard screams in the night and called police. Upon arrival, the officers found a woman (name withheld pending investigation), wearing full hockey gear and holding a meat mallet, lying in a pool of fabric softener. A can of industrial strength Raid was beside her.
A preliminary hunt for signs of a break-in turned up nothing as the victim was home alone and all the doors were locked.
“It was the oddest thing,” a source at the crime scene reports. “If I had to guess, I’d say they got her during the rinse cycle because that’s when she dropped the Downy.”
Evidence suggests giant house centipedes may be to blame. The crime scene investigators drew straws to see who would have to collect the multi-legged bodies recovered from the scene. The monster-sized insectivores were identified by a local expert. “It’s unusual to see so many of the creepy buggers in one place.” Said Bern “The Bugman” Bukowski, an entomologist attached to the County Sheriff’s office. “They are very territorial. But a swarm, while rare, would make sense if the nest felt threatened.”
A follow-up report revealed massive bruising, which was apparently self-inflicted, to be the cause of death.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*My military service was not the AHOY kind or the HooRaaaaah gung ho kind but the Stand-in-Line-and-Pretend-to-Be-a-Tree kind. I do an excellent impersonation of a Baobob.
**Considering what happened next, I’d have preferred the saw-wielding maniac. Then maybe my brain would have done something productive.
***Firearm training included a grease gun—an odd weapon like a caulking gun with bullets. Slow as the firing mechanism was, I suspect throwing the ammo would have been faster and more accurate.
You know how you sometimes picture a perfect occasion? Not really? Okay, c’mon! Work with me here. Your brain is crammed with the planning, the vision of how exactly something is supposed to go?* Then the wet fish of reality hits you upside the head? Yeah, that’s pretty much how my efforts to host a tea party this past week went.
First came: The Idea. Last summer whilst my son was at camp, I visited Mackinac Island and enjoyed a sumptuous, if overpriced, Tea at the Grand Hotel. I thought to myself, “I ought to host an event like this!”
Second came: The Recipe. Reading Sarah—A Young Foodie’s—Blog I was inspired to try and make the Foolproof Victoria Sponge.** I had the chutzpah to look at sugary, confection perfection and say, “I can bake that.” Turns out, it wasn’t so ‘foolproof’ after all.***
The recipe itself was fairly basic—if calling for an inordinate amount of butter and eggs. But the numerous British terms had me revisiting my childhood fear of metric conversion and scrambling around my local Meijer’s store trying to locate something called ‘Caster Sugar’. Turns out there is a stage between the coarse granulated grains most of us use in baking and the fine, talcum powder consistency of powdered sugar. It’s called Baker’s Sugar here in the States—in case you want to try making this. (Read: in case you are a masochist.)
The day before the party, I’m cleaning my house like a mad woman, throwing together the makings of three…count them…three kinds of tea sandwiches, lemon zested cookies and the delectable dessert which is to be the crowning achievement of my table. I decided to tackle the sponge first. I’m like a virgin on her wedding night—nervous, but excited. But I’m all, “Bring on the groom…er…I mean, cake.”
Third Came: The Wet Fish of Reality. I pull together my sponge ingredients, painstakingly following the instructions. I slid my pans into the oven and commenced work on the sandwiches…only to discover the bread I had put in the freezer had fused each slice next to the other. While struggling to dissect that mess, the wonderful odor of cake rising in the oven prompts me to peek in and see how it’s doing. (Did you gasp with horror? That’s because you know what’s coming. It’s the slasher flick equivalent of a sorority girl heading into a dark cellar. You are all collectively shouting: “No! Don’t Go In There!)
When the timer finally dinged and I pulled my masterpiece out of the oven, it was to discover that my beautiful-smelling dessert looked like a California sinkhole had formed underneath it. My cakes had fallen. (I’m not sure where the bridal analogy would go in this scenario…but calling my cakes flaccid would be appropriate.)
Faced with my Failure Sponge and shredded loaf of bread, did I give up? No! This is where the British came up with the stiff-upper lip-ism. When faced with defeat…we rise to bake again.
Not trusting my first efforts, I find what looks like an easier version on the internet and throw that into a spring form pan and hope for the best. It came out of the oven looking pretty good. I hurdled the stumbling blocks to making the perfect tea party and sallied forth. Tally ho and all that rot.
(Musical Interlude: Cue Verdi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons )
The day dawns, birds are chirping. The house is looking about as good as I can make it—as long as no one opens a bedroom door or goes into the basement. I have a fridge full of prepared food. I have the makings of a dessert. I decide to get my hair cut and styled as a treat before the party. (I was not going to mess up that bathroom.) It was only when the stylist is getting out her blow dryer that I remembered I left the sandwiches in the freezer. Panicked, I text my mother-in-law to take them out. I just crossed my fingers and hoped they would thaw in time.
The hour before guests are to arrive, I discover to my dismay that, sometime in the night, the second cake I made had deflated into a dense, rubbery disc. This is where I learned that eating the failed efforts of the first cake meant I had nothing to fall back on! (By the way, it was flat—but delicious.) With no time to try for a third cake, I slice the vulcanized monstrosity and smother it in fruit and whipped cream and called it ‘Good Enough’.
Everyone was very complimentary. Despite the jam causing the heavy layers to slide apart and the whipped cream to squoosh out the sides when it was cut, the guests called the cake delicious. Which just goes to show—being polite sometimes requires a judicious amount of lying. I don’t regret trying something new. But next time I host a shindig, I am probably buying something instead. Or better yet, I’ll just watch Downton Abbey and laugh at all the perfection depicted.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Ask any bride who ever planned her “Dream Wedding” how it actually turned out. (Have a box of tissues ready just in case it turns out they are now getting a divorce.)
**The Victoria (meaning victorious) Sponge—most ironically named dessert of my baking career.
***Here is the recipe, if you feel lucky. Ask yourself, “Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?
Raspberry and Blackberry Victoria Sponge
For the sponge :
1 Cup (8 oz) softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
2 Cups (8 oz) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 ¼ Cup (8 oz) 250 g caster Baker’s sugar
4 large free-range eggs
4 tablespoons good-quality raspberry jam
300g (about a cup 1/2 each) of fresh raspberries & blackberries, washed and dried.
Preheat your oven to 190°C/375°F/gas Grease two 20cm sandwich tins cake pans with butter, line the bases with greaseproof paper and dust lightly with flour.
Beat the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. A great tip is to stop when the mixture turns from being slightly yellow in color to almost white. Add the eggs one by one, making sure you beat each one in well before you add the next, then add the vanilla extract and the flour. Divide the cake mix between the prepared tins. Spread it out well with a spatula and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and risen and a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly, then carefully turn out on to a baking rack to cool completely.
Whip the cream with the vanilla bean paste and sugar until you get soft peaks- careful not to overbeat it though! Spread the jam and then the vanilla cream over one of the cakes. Place the second cake on top, spreading onto it a thin layer of whipped cream and decorating with alternating raspberries and blackberries. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
***You Read This Far Bonus***
British Expressions You Need to Know:
Sandwich Tin = Cake Pan
Caster Sugar = Baker’s Sugar
8 oz = means different ‘effing’ sizes because it is a measure of weight not volume, you idiot. (Sorry, this is my dictionary so I get to say it like I mean it.) So 8oz of butter is one cup but 8 oz of flour is two cups. I hate math, have I mentioned this?
Self-raising Flour = Self-Rising Flour (and actually means that in high humidity, your cake is probably going to fall.)