Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gag Me (with your salmon, Mom)

Our approach to expectations for daughters' dinner eating comprises two thresholds:  eat most and you can be excused from the table; eat all and you can have something to eat later (usually fruit, sometimes "dessert").  Our daughters have a choice, then:  If they're hungry enough for something later, they can probably pack away the extra bites now.  If they don't feel like finishing a meal they consider less than spectacular, they're done eating for the evening (and they won't starve before tomorrow, we remind them).  Most nights they eat dinner with little fuss, despite various misadventures of yesteryear (here and the ultimate, here).  Last night, not so much.

The girls love my mom's salmon, which she marinates in a vidalia onion dressing and prepares often. For a dinner party on Saturday night, I used her protocol for cooking salmon (encased in a foil packet and baked 20 minutes at 375 degrees) but used a soy-ginger glaze instead.  Daughters didn't dig it.

So I warned them last night that dinner would be leftover salmon, and endured their moans.  At the table, they ate rice and kale chips and poked at their fish.  We languished at dinner, finally drawing exit lines on their plates.  Big Sis drenched her salmon in peanut sauce and mixed it with rice.  Little Sis gagged on a bite, her eyes bugging out so it made us laugh at loud.  They remained relatively cheery despite the torture.  There were no tears, thankfully; the tears generally reserved for insidious onions (Little Sis) and egregious green peppers (Big Sis). 

"Tell them about the time you guys threw food out the window," I urged Husband.  He related the legendary tale of Sauerkraut Night, when he and his four siblings tried everything including pouring sugar on their cabbage to choke it down.  But a more sinister plot unfolded, and when Grandpa Bob left the room, someone led the charge to throw the sauerkraut out the window, where it lay on the ground beside the trashcans, exactly where Grandpa Bob found it the next morning, and...well, consequences.

I had a boyfriend whose mom outed him for surreptitiously hiding food in the drawers built into their dining room table.  It wasn't until a mysterious foul odor permeated the dining room that an investigation was launched and his grisly stash discovered. 

As for me, my most inocuous strategy was hiding food (mainly mushrooms, universally detested by me and my siblings) in my napkin, and then offering to clear the table so that I could safely discard the evidence.  I also didn't see the point of water chestnuts, a featured ingredient in my mother's stir fry, so one time when assisting her in putting away groceries, I took the opportunity to hide the can of water chestnuts waaaaaaaaaaaaay in the back of a cupboard less traveled by. 

I still find water chestnuts pointless and yucky.

Then there was the one time my mother was making me a sandwich, and I (rudely, she recalls) exhorted, "No sprouts on my sandwich!"  She responded by adding a clump.  I sulkily took my sandwich outside and tried ditching the sprouts, which our dog hopefully picked up and then, thinking better, deposited in the side yard, where my suspicious mom found them.  She helpfully rinsed them off and made me eat them.  I'm so polite about my sandwich orders now, and I like me some sprouts. 

But my favorite fable of family food follies (and foibles) features my little brother, who passionately hated black olives.  We were either having taco salad or enchilada casserole--something customarily including the pitted perpetrators--and he was served the family's traditional "no thank you" portion. He refused to eat those olives, and there was a subsequent standoff.  He couldn't leave the table unless he shoveled them down. 

"I'll throw up if I eat them," he threatened my parents. The sibling crew rolled eyes.  We'd tried that tactic before.

"Eat your olives," Dad answered.

We watched as he gagged down the black offenders.  And then, he vomited.  All over his plate and the table.  His siblings stared with wide eyes and dropped jaws and a new profound respect for the littlest bro.  Our parents were vanquished.  Brother: 1; Olives and Parents:  0.  It was a momentous event, never to be repeated. 

What's your best family food fight story?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Kindness Jar

Something I'm working on, call it a New Year's resolution if you must, is being more careful with my language.  I don't mean cutting down on cussing, which is what I wish Pink would do, so I can play her CD in the car without raised eyebrows from the backseat while my finger hastily jabs the 'next track button' (On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be responsible for muting red-hot Pink down to a powdery rose).

What I'm paying more attention to is how what I say has the power to give and to take away.  To be generous and to diminish.  It can be a subtle distinction, with language.  So I'm watching the words I use.

I'm pretty sure it's part of the worldwide Rules on Resolutions that you are not supposed to give other people resolutions, but right about now I'd like nothing more than for my daughters to resolve to be kind and gentle with each other with their language.

Big Sis knows how to diminish the triumph of Little Sis's latest discovery or accomplishment with a "Well, that's easy," or "I've done that before...like a million times."  Little Sis, in turn, has perfected The Ignore, particularly when her sister is asking her a question, and employs mocking under duress.

I'm the referee who gnashes her teeth not only because solutions to their inter-sibling nastiness seem elusive, but it's become so routine that the strife is almost annoyingly boring.

I don't like it.  I try to "let them work it out," but have trouble standing by and not intervening when there's meanness.  We've taken away TV time, computer time, desserts, iPods.  We've instructed, pleaded, modeled, cajoled, hissed, demanded, and reminded.  To little avail.

When my own negativity about negativity threatens to suck us into a vortex of punishments and discontent, I usually find myself coming up for air and perspective.  Last Sunday, when I'd had it, I grabbed a glass jar formerly filled with holiday treats and plopped it on the counter. 

"This," I announced to the family, "is The Kindness Jar."  I pointed to a pen and some post-its.  "Your job is to notice and write down when someone has been kind to you.  It's not a contest to see who has the most slips of paper in the jar about their own kindness; I want to see how much kindness you observe around you.  We'll open it up in a week and celebrate some goodness."

The girls got busy in no time, looking for opportunities to scurry to the kitchen and scribble an anecdote.  While squabbling persisted to a certain extent, the girls paid extra attention to their interactions.  We had more harmonious evenings, and just knowing that family member over there might be writing about your act of benevolence encouraged more of the same.

Little Sis in particular was anxious to open the jar, but we made her wait a week.  On Sunday night, after celebrating Husband's birthday party with seafood and a trip to a restaurant of fancy desserts, we put on our jammies and opened the jar.  We each took and read a paper in turn. 

"Little Sis said I look nice"
"On a very cold night Big Sis gave Little Sis her jacket"
"Big Sis is tocking to me nicely"
"Little Sis was very encouraging when Big Sis was frustrated playing piano"
"My dad made me and my sister a reely good breftist"
"Little Sis shared her apple with me"

There was interest in counting who had committed the most kindnesses during the week.  But I reminded the girls that the goals were to both be kind and take note of kindness.  So we counted how many papers each daughter put in the jar.  They both wrote ten.  Perfect. 

Big Sis dashed off to write one more:  "I love my family," and we went to bed a little warmer and fuzzier. 

The debut of our Kindness Jar coincided with this week's national Great Kindness Challenge, in which the girls' elementary school participated, so they had the opportunity to spread their benevolent acts outward. 

Meanwhile, I lay in bed in last night listening to the girls mutually irritating one another and threatened to nix their screen time for tomorrow from down the hall.  *Sigh*

The Kindness Jar:  not a global solution, of course, but a reminder to focus on the positive.  We'll keep on trying. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Year's Tribute: Mammom

In keeping with my New Year's tradition of honoring someone who makes my life and work possible  (see previous year's posts here and here), I pay homage this year to my mother. 

I've mentioned some ways my mother is amazing in the past, including descriptions of how she modeled Doing the Right Thing when I was young and nurtured my own development as a mother

My mother is the touchstone of our large family; while she forgot her Facebook password and reads versus sends email, she talks to nearly all of her children by telephone during our morning or evening commutes each day.  It's apparent we all want to talk to Mom, a lot.

I have benefited enormously from living close to my parents, and my mother has assisted in the raising of our children from the start.  She was in their delivery rooms, at the hospital with us when Big Sis had surgery, and since the girls were young, watched them at least once a week for special Mammom Days.  She used to bring my infants to me at work so I could breastfeed them in the middle of the day; now she picks them up from school, takes them to the library,  oversees homework, and teaches them to play jacks and construct paper airplanes.  She attends their games and recitals and award ceremonies. 

My babies and their cousins have been guests at my mom's coffees with friends, in strollers on her walks, and in her grocery carts at the commissary. 

My mother reassures me at every turn.  This is normal, she reminds me.  You will get through this, she encourages.  You are not a terrible mom, she shakes her head.  She anticipates my own anxiety and works to alleviate it.  What can I do? she asks. 

She pays attention.  She knows my husband's habits and passions, saving her kitchen compost for his gardens and lauding his attentive fathering of our girls.  She listens to Big Sis and Little Sis and gently clues me in when an adjustment might be made here or there. 

She supports my decisions and endeavors, even when they're made with more heart than head, even when I doubt myself. 

She reminds me that she loves me, that she's proud of me, that she believes in me. 

She helped me develop self esteem, and she helps me sustain it.

In her I have a model for marriage, for retirement, for empty nesting, for grandparenting.  At the twilight of her career as a nurse, she embraced new habits and friends, joined the gym, and established new weekly traditions with my dad.  She dedicates herself to her children and grandchildren but ensures time for herself and husband. 

Thank you, Mom, for your role in my personhood, womanhood, wifehood, careerhood, and motherhood. 

I love you. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Family Action Plan 2013

At the playground a week ago, just after new year, a friend shared that someone she knew was creating a categorized life plan.  Having an avid interest in the Strategic Planning process (which we follow for goal setting for our school district, site, and programs), I was intrigued, particularly by the notion that our entire family could be involved. 

I happen to love charts; one year we made a Family Goals Chart and we currently have a Family Chores Chart on the fridge (with illustrations generously provided by Big Sis).  This year, with the structure of various categories in mind, I started thinking of verbs that might guide our decision making and planning for the year, like "give,"  "learn," and "visit." 

And thus our Family Action Plan was born:

On Monday night at dinner we filled in the chart together.  We decided "visit" was for people (so many we want to see this year!) and "go" for places; in the margin we wound up adding "do" because there were some actions that didn't quite fit the other verbs. 

One of my favorite categories is "try," where we have "grow watermelons, asparagus, and strawberries"; "golfing"; and "Thai food."  The "make" list will be fun to refer to on rainy or unscheduled days.  The "fix" category helped us prioritize home repairs, and "buy" to identify some worthy investments, like a new bike for Big Sis and a computer that works properly. 

I'm thinking my personal action plan might include "read," "clean," "give up," "accept," "start," "finish," "acknowledge/thank"...

How are you structuring your goals, plans, and dreams this year? 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Buckle Up: Minivan & Mini Cooper

There are so many joys to a nice long winter break; topping the list is time with family and friends. 

On Friday night I spent A LOT of time with some high-school buddies, whom I met for a drink after our high school girls' soccer game.  Spoiler alert:  I got home after 2 AM.  And what's even more perfect:  Husband and I and the kids were staying at my parents' house while our kitchen cabinets were being painted.  So I not only stayed out WAY LATE, but I had that weird guilty feeling of coming home to mom and dad's in the wee hours of the morning, sneaking in quietly-ish and trying not to wake anyone. 

Another spoiler alert:  it was more a night of hilarity than a night of debauchery.  But it felt really great to crack up with old friends and even shut down a few bars in our sleepy, touristy home town. 

We occupied ourselves for much of the time with a game of Who's in Your Minivan?  A colleague introduced me to this mental exercise back in 2008, which involves populating your vehicle with well-known folks you wouldn't mind sharing a long road trip with, based on your own criteria:  crush-worthiness, entertainment value, navigational abilities, snack provisions, etc. 

Note:  you and your friends can spend a long time debating and discussing criteria alone, and whether or not your passengers have to be currently living, and if you're driving a Honda van with eight seats or mini-er version with seven...

I had Lenny Kravitz in my 2008 Minivan, which led us to an analysis of his maintenance of the "It Factor," and the recounting of the time one of my friends inadvertently crashed a party he was hosting. 

Salma Hayek and Stephen Colbert emerged as popular choices.  I was talked into dropping off Matthew Fox, Brad Pitt, and Hilary Swank at the next rest stop, but I'm keeping Jon Stewart in shotgun and Brandi Carlile at an audible distance in my van.  I'd have to add Eddie Redmayne from Les Mis and Dax Shepard from Parenthood, as I am charmed by the passion of the former and goofiness of the latter, and the earnestness of both in their respective roles.  Robert Redford will round out my crew for obvious reasons, including his dedication to environmental issues and the possibility I'd get a discount for the Sundance Catalog

Let's face it; I could probably fill two minivans (Hey!  Who's in Your Caravan!), particularly if I expanded criteria beyond more superficial rationale and included the many figures I admire.  Okay, not that kind of figure--I meant people.  Sheesh.

Our discussion grew more serious when a friend challenged us to name "the one that got away," or the "what if" or "sliding door" people with whom we'd had brief encounters or missed opportunities.  We dubbed these revelations as "Who's in Your Mini Cooper?" acknowledging that most of us were unlikely to rattle off a long list of fish that got away.  There were high school sweethearts, college buddies and post-college people to consider as we pondered the might-have-beens

Spoiler alert:  there will be no great revelation of the occupants of my Mini Cooper.  Ha!

But who's in your minivan?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The last time I played in my high school's Women's Varsity Soccer vs. Alumnae game it was ten years ago.  Legend has it I told one of my best friends, who played in that game in December 2002 and on many teams with me back in the 80s, that I was feeling "kind of funny" and maybe I should "go buy a pregnancy test." 

Somehow, Big Sis survived that game, which I recall being a little rough and rendering me barely walkable the next day.  Nonetheless, I was safely pregnant.  We don't remember the score of that game, but we remember that I emerged with a bun in the oven. 

Big Sis and Little Sis came out to watch me play today, ten years later, in my next soccer game (I should really stick to one game per decade, because that pattern is working for me, apparently, unlike my legs).  I went into today's game with excitement (I'd been out of town or oblivious for the last nine games and today was an opportunity to play again!), reassurance (I'd heard there are usually So Many former players available that playing time could be negotiated; I planned on subbing out after five minutes), and trepidation (my knee, injured from a mere Recreation League Coaching Clinic, has only recently started feeling better--would playing in this game be worth wrecking it for good?). 

I showed up at the field on time, donning our high school's (lucky) gym shorts, running shoes, and my daughter's soccer socks and shin guards.  And for an excruciatingly Long Time, I was the only alumna there, as students/teenagers/current players swarmed.  I asked them all how their holidays were going, but inwardly I was panicking. 

Oh heck, I thought.  What if I have to play The Whole Game?  I had not planned on this. 

So I was definitely one of the alums counting the arriving alums on her fingers (dangerously close to start time, we were only up to 5).  I was not, however, one of the alums rolling a goal toward the fifty-yard-line in an attempt to shorten the field (though I could be overheard agreeing this was the Widest and Longest Field EVER), nor attempting to add an extra extra current player to our team (only 10 alumnae showed up, so we had to borrow a Varsity player) to make 12 , which is never the number of players on a soccer team (that I know of). 

FYI:  They made us roll the goal back and return one of the kidnapped ringers.  

We played three 20-minute "periods" (which is never the length of a soccer game.  That I know of).  But which was 20 minutes longer than many old and young players wanted to play.

In the end: 

We beat those youngsters (and when I say Youngsters, let's be clear:  at the end of the game I asked my fellow alums who was next oldest after me and one of my teammates pointed to another alum and said, "I think we're both 22?").

We did a round of penalty kicks after, which preyed on one of my very worst fears, manifesting in a recurring nightmare of me vs. goalie in which I clutch and miss the shot, every time.  But this time, I scored!  (I suspect the goalie, a current student, might have gone easy on me...she didn't seem to move at all...)

We laughed a lot:  About counting the time remaining in each period.  About catching our breath.  About running into each other (I think I was in about 95% of the body-on-body incidents).  About unexpectedly winning (we did have some incredible collegiate players--and a current Varsity player--on our team, though...). About hurting in every possible place.  About negotiable calls:  we had no referee, so I took the opportunity when a ball rolled out of bounds and my team yelled "Goal kick!" as an opposing player claimed, "Corner!" to pull vice principal and yell at our opponent, "Referral!"

I left with a geometric soccer-ball imprint on my right thigh, earned when an airborne ball hit me hard on the leg.

I played soccer again!  So fun!  I was one of the teammates hoping for the third 20-minute period, even though I was exhausted.  It could be my last soccer game, ever, I figured.  Let's go!

I was starstruck:  I told the players from both sides that I could say from now on that I'd competed with and against incredible high school and collegiate players, including NCAA champs.  Yeah!

I was proud of myself:  I wish for myself some daring adventures in 2013 that challenge my comfort zone.  Today's soccer game was emblematic:  I am uncomfortable (I've already popped Advil and soaked in the jacuzzi), but triumphant.  I don't know if I played well (informal feedback suggests I was "running around a lot"), but I know that I got out there and played among current students, ran harder than I thought I could, had more fun than I thought I would, and bonded with a team like I remember doing in high school and college.

I hope I inspired both my daughters and the women who played to come on out, even when they're fortysomething, and represent. 

I told my father tonight, "I hope it's not the coolest thing I do for myself in 2013, but it just might be..."

He pointed out, "It's a heck of a way to start."