Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning



Typical Saturday night


In our backyard. Came out back to look at the stars. I think my neighbor is screening a movie. If I had to guess I’d say Mad Max. Alex gardened today so it smells like mulch. Neighbors have been grilling. Air conditioners. There’s a nice breeze. City trees are rustling. I hear people yelling from the street. And then they go away. The kids are sound asleep. I think I’ll set the coffee maker and start tomorrow out here. 

Parenting, part 1 (optimistic title)

WHERE to begin…now with the older child in Kindergarten, I thought it a good time to start noting what we’ve learned about parenting in the 8 years of childrearing (2.5+5.5) we have under our belts.  Not that any of you need to learn from us – rather, to create a Told You So document for the kids when they have kids (karma’s a bitch by the way).  See the thing is, I am in awe of people who have more than two.  If we had more than two we’d need a lot of land, a permanent baby nurse and an electric fence, for starters.  So we stick with what we’ve got.  As the daycare teachers say, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset!”

First, get a crew of babysitters.  You need a team.  Someone who can cover various workdays.  One or two who are willing to stay late on weekend nights.  Someone mercenary who is basically willing to answer the call at all hours.  And make sure the kids like them.  If the kid really doesn’t like them, you won’t either.

Next, find parenting books/resources that work for you.  This works for me.  It’s a little awkward in the middle of a heated interchange to tell your kid “Hold on!  I have to look that up” but I’ve done it.  Scoff if you will, but this parenting thing doesn’t come as naturally to me as others.  I need professional help and I have a library of that.  I’ve also developed the habit of reading a few pages on my way from work to pick up the kids – it helps me get into the right frame of mind.

Speaking of frame of mind, have you noticed that so much of parenting is really less about the child and more about you?  Oh yeah dude, trust that if you have ANY issues (anxiety, fear of flying, Oreo’s addiction) that you were able to manage easily pre-kids, a 3 foot child is uniquely qualified to shine a bright light on that junk.  Figure yourself out. Little cracks in your ability to be calm and mature become chasms and there you are, yelling at a being no larger than a smurf.

My husband accuses me of Projecting, a term I have come to hate but probably because he’s right (I call it Planning and Forecasting…whatever). But when it comes to kids this can be dangerous.  See our daughter tussle with another child about a toy and in my mind, fast forward ten years and there she is in a stolen car doing donuts on our front lawn (another reason we are not likely to move to the suburbs – no front lawn).  And then we get back to The Reasonable Place.  See, the thing about parenting I’ve found is you feel the stakes are so high.  It all matters so much and we (I) can put so much weight on the small things.  What do we learn?  Chill out and try try again.

Just know that once you have more than one almost everything in the house is about “Justice and Property Rights”.  No words of learning or wisdom here, just calling it out because when we defined it this way rather than “Having two kids is about a lot of yelling and grabbing between them all the time” world got a little better.

Lastly, it’s all about you.  The more you take care of yourself as a parent the better parent you will be (BTW, I am not talking about the parents who define this as “hey kids we’re taking off on a three month trip because we need ME time”).  No, I mean the basics (find time to exercise, read, play a game, talk to a friend, have a sit down dinner without your kids).

Actually this is last, we’re learning to ask for help.  Send the kids to a playdate.  Do some tag team parenting – not everything needs to be done as a whole family.  Find a friend who you can talk to about this stuff with no judgment.  As my friend Suna poetically says “it takes a village, yo!”  I could not agree more.

This is a big learning process for me and a lot of times it’s not easy – so it’s with optimism that I write Part 1 – as they get older it is bound to get way more complicated – and I am hopeful that as time marches on there will be more Aha! moments…because it is so wonderful and it goes so very fast.

Ode To Pregnant Women Everywhere (composed on the subway)**

Our coats no longer zip, our feet won't fit our shoes. We haven't seen our toes for weeks. We've got the pregnant blues.

We waddle to and from our tasks like ducks with 'roids, OH BOO. Our backs are sore, its all a bore! We've got the pregnant blues.

It started with the barfing, night sweats and fatigue…then came a moment in the clear! The second tri, we'd need.

But then the moment passed – we're back! With symptoms yuck galore. All leading to the birth of a child we'll sure adore…

Pubic pains, o' lack of sleep, and headaches two or ten. Reflux, heartburn and congestion…CRIPE, when will it end?!?

No sushi, soft cheese, beer or wine, the righteous do declare. To them we say "bahh humbug you!" And darn it all, screw them!

With lots more weeks to go we shout, "oh say it isn't true!" We may just burst or stay in bed. We've got the pregnant blues.

It is all worth it, yes indeed, a child's a true delight. But all we ask is a FULL NIGHT'S SLEEP!!! And with that say we say, GOOD NIGHT.


**it is a blessing and a gift.  the blessing/gift  that keeps on giving 🙂

Letter to a Granddaughter

Sometimes I wonder why I am still awake. 

Right about now, 12:34AM, was my father's favorite time of day, other than dusk.  He was a night-owl.  I get it from him.  And he used to love staying up late to chat.  So perhaps now he wants to chat from the grave, as they say.

If he were alive at this moment, he would provide me with several snippets of wisdom and memories that he'd want passed to his granddaughter. 

Dearest Avery,

I used to call your mother "Minny" when she would call on the phone. I would say in a big voice "hello, Minny!"  I used to call your grandmother "Duck" and she returned the favor.  These are fun little things you should know.  Terms of endearment.

Always listen to your music a little (or a lot!) louder than your parents like – but none of that tinkle music crap (no Vivaldi, no Harry Connick) go for the good stuff – Schuman, Sinatra, Ella.  If these names are not familiar, ask your mother.  I shamelessly bought her CDs until the day I died and she better still have them!

Eat chocolate every day…DARK chocolate.  Milk chocolate is for the birds.

When you start at a new school or a new job, ignore everything people tell you about themselves in the first month – all lies!  The truth comes out later.  And then you should pick your friends.

Don't worry so much.  If you do worry, don't worry about that either as you cannot help it.  It's in your Finnish and Irish blood.  Just do as the Brits say and "Keep Calm and Carry On"

Watch as many black and white movies as you can. 

Give your father a big hug every day and call him as often as you can.

Give boys a break when you are a teenager.  Boys are stupid but usually nice and just cannot help themselves.  Be patient with them.

Go to church.  If you don't understand why, keep going. (and make sure your mother and father go too)

Martinis are good.  Vodka straight up.  No ice.  Extra olives.  Save this piece of advice until you are of age (18).

Go to Paris.  It was my favorite city – Oh Paris!  Try to live there. 

Take piano lessons!

When you like something, buy at least two.  If you really like something, consider starting a collection.

Appreciate the beauty of sour cherries.

Good friends are not always the people you talk to most often.  Sometimes there are people you talk to infrequently, but it's as if you are picking up mid-comma.  These are great friends.

I am more interested in your editorials than your headlines. 

Avoid Repubicans.

Gray is a fantastic color.  Brown is hideous.

Remember where you come from.

Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you will certainly meet them on the way down!

Always have a good TV and pay attention to what's on.  Your parents are certain to disagree with this but I loved TV and know better than they.

Whenever you visit a restaurant, be sure to grab as many of their cards as you can.  They make fabulous bookmarks.

You should know that the day I baptized you I was not in good shape.  Things were going down hill fast, as they say.  But the MOMENT I baptized you it all lifted.  No pain, no weakness, only strength and the peace of God himself came through me. 

Always order dessert.  The chocolate dessert.

Love, your Grandfather

p.s. I am certain there is more to come on this later…not sure this is kylie or dad speaking.

You Know You Are Raising A Toddler When…

Back from a very nice holiday break!  It’s funny – I don’t normally get a chance to spend that much time with my daughter (day in, day out, all day).  Six words: God Bless Stay At Home Parents.

After a few days of non-stop kid-dom, a few observations on raising a toddler. 

You know you are a parent of a toddler when:

  • You know all nursery rhymes/child songs by heart. This goes without saying. A slightly less obvious observation is that you get so sick of certain songs that you spontaneously compose new lyrics just to freshen things up – think “The Wheels on the bus have been jacked by thieves, jacked by thieves, jacked by thieves!”
  • A hot mess in a ten pound pant is a source of parental pride
  • Mac and cheese is a food group
  • Rummaging through your once It Bag (the last expensive thing you bought for yourself), in the midst of a wallet and lip gloss you find a half full bag of prunes. You decide to keep the sticky prunes in the Spendy Bag because you never know when your child may need reinforcements.
  • You walk into a non-child friendly house (e.g. grandparents with lots of things on counters) and do a 007-like scan of all of the objects in the room that your child is likely to pickup/throw/break/hurt herself or others with/steal/swallow and you implement "The Sweep".
  • You can smell Cheerios a mile away.
  • Your NYC apartment has a parking space for strollers. These strollers are part of your furniture scheme and storage strategy.
  • You seriously contemplate Mister Potato Head’s value as an object of contemporary art (retro Murakami?) and leave it on your mantle in the living room. Mur
  • You think nothing of eating the apple peels your child discards as she eats the real part of the apple. You used to be grossed out by sloppy seconds but now you are, well, a parent.
  • You trade in the Jeep Wave from your 20s to the Toddler Nod in your 30s. This Toddler Nod is frequently found while pushing your toddler down a street passed other toddlers in strollers. Parents nod to each other in solidarity typically as children ask sweetly to “GET OUT!” of the stroller or demand “SWINGS!” as you head to the grocery store (The Nod says “Yes, I know. Good luck.” In Super Parent Town Park Slope Brooklyn The Nod can be more of The Sneer as Granola Uber Moms think “Just LOOK at that poor child in man-made fabrics. The horror.”)
  • The 2 hour mid-day nap no longer means you are chilling out recovering from your hangover (though having a hangover may still be true); rather, it means time to fold the laundry/start dinner/fake a manicure/finish a house project/unload the dishwasher/deal with work email/do 10 push-ups (counts as a workout, right?)/vacuum/ clean apple sauce from the cabinets (HUH?)/and take a shower. Bottom line: you get more done in a 2 hour naptime than you used to get done over an entire weekend in your world of "BK" (before kids).

And we just have one.  How do people with several kids do it?  Really!?!?  Write in tips to let me know. 

Cake and Sagge

One of the best things about having a child is the opportunity to see that child learn and grow.  Even the little things – when they first smile, when they first use their hands.  And every once in a while, they really astonish you.  Tonight I had two such moments with our daughter. 

I got home from work and she and I were treasure hunting through my work bag.  Out of nowhere, she says "Cake!".  I said "We don't have any cake." She looked at me, as if to say "You fool" got up, went to my bookshelf full of no fewer than 75+ cookbooks and fished out At Home with Magnolia.  She brought it to me, pointed to the cover and said "cake!"

I was a little speechless.  I knew she knew the word "cake."  I did not realize that at age not quite 21 months she would somehow know THAT cookbook and associate it with cake, let alone be able to fish it out of a crowd.  I had never shown it to her before.  She then got up, went back over to the shelf and picked out none other than More From Magnolia.  She came back, said "Lap!", sat down on my lap, and we paged through the cookbooks looking at cakes as if we were reading Mother Goose.  I go to bed with cookbooks too.  Clearly, this trait runs in the family.

And clearly, my girl likes cake.

And further evidence she is not one to deprive herself of the great pleasure of life, this weekend in the car she pointed her little barefoot foot of hers at me and said "sagge?" as in "massage."  And tonight as I rubbed her back before turning out the light, she said "sagge" once again. 

Clever girl.  No doubt she is her mother and father's daughter.

Recipe tweaking, my daughter the clepto and a desperate housewife.

Well I just cannot leave well enough alone – and that is good because we all have our own mark to make on this world.  So yes, I am going to tweak a well reviewed, well received, professionally edited recipe from Epicurious.  Here it is: Roasted Chicken Breasts with Paprika, Chick Peas and Tomatoes.  It was good.  It would have been great with one major modification: no oil on the chicken.  Yes, use the spice oil on everything else but on the chicken alone, just shake cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.  Make sure, btw, that you DRY the chicken first.  The key here is crispy skin.  I hate soggy chicken skin.  Truly, what is more vile?  But crispy?  Truly, what is more delicious?  So why add oil?  Oil only defeats your quest for crispy skin.  And yes, I used thighs. I like thighs better because, well, they taste better.  This is a matter of personal preference. 

My 18 month old daughter is a thief.  She lifted a Hershey Bar at a grocery store today as we rolled through checkout.  Oh yeah, that was my kid.  This is yet another sign that she is channeling my dad.  Not because he was a chocoholic (he was – EPIC) but because my Episcopal priest of a dad had a tad of the clepto in him.  Let it be said, post-humous, that he was known to in his words "sample" the merchandise at grocery stores and other establishments.  He never got caught.  Divine intervention.  And for the record, I returned the incriminating evidence (good thing I am a total chocolate snob and only eat dark expensive chocolate).

John Hughes has died and this is a major loss to our culture.  I grew up with those movies.  This calls for a marathon.

I had no child care today so ended up taking a vacation day at home with the kiddo.  How did we spend our time?  Naturally, channeling suburban mothers far and wide, we went to Target.  Damn that place.  Is there a $100 tax upon entry?  Seriously, I went for diapers and left a c-note poorer.  There was that little toy for Avery, the wipes that I remembered were running low, cannot forget the overnight diapers and of course, there was Ina.  I have been holding out on buying Ina's new cookbook Back to Basics but today I caved.  So in her honor, tonight I am making dinner from said cookbook.  Menu: Tuscan Chicken, Asiago Polenta (inspired by her cheddar grits), Confetti Corn.  And then, not inspired by Ina, blueberry turnovers.  For the record, I am barefoot, I was in the kitchen and I am not pregnant, all suburban not working today mom evidence to the contrary.

I don't even know what happened in the market today.

Close to finishing The History of Love – pretty darn good book though I loved her hubby's book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close much better.

And finally, anyone notice that in the children's book Where Is Baby's Mommy, the mom is only found at the end buried in the bed with the covers over her head?  Could she be more depressed!  Anyone else have a desperate housewife moment with that one?  Seriously, they may as well have put tequila in her sippy cup! 

Great Gift Idea

I meant to write about this a while ago but forgot!  So here we go – if you are looking for a great gift to give new parents, have I got an idea for you.  New parents get many wonderful gifts – books, blankets, clothes.  We got to know our UPS guy personally after Avery was born. 

And then a friend sent us an email basically saying "Call this number, our treat."  So we called the number and wouldn't you know it but it was a personal chef on the other end of the line.  Our friends had hired her to come and cook for us one night, to celebrate the arrival of our daughter.  How fabulous is THAT. 

We talked to her about food likes (many) and dislikes (few), favorite meals of all time, and other particulars to give her some ideas.  And then, she arrived at our house one evening after we had put Avery down and calmly started to set up.  She set the table, arranged the kitchen, and poured us glasses of wine.

She proceeded to serve us a delicious four course meal including watercress soup with white asparagus, red snapper, quail and a rhubarb tart.  She cooked, served the meal and cleaned up the kitchen.  She was quiet as a church mouse and cooked like a fiend. 

It was heaven.  We had not been out in weeks, had a little anxiety about leaving as we had not yet hired a babysitter with whom we were comfortable and were hankering for a nice evening with real food – prepared by someone else. 

I don't think it is the cheapest gift, but I would definitely do this for someone else – maybe go in on it with other people – because it was different, in line with just what we needed, memorable and a huge treat.  Here are a few pictures from the evening:





Observations from a Working Mom on a Business Trip

As many of you know, I am a fairly new mother.  And I have a full time job.  Right now I am in California, nearly 3,000 miles away from The Bean, Crunch 'n Munch, Super Baby, Avery Boo, Little Punky La Roux (if you have a child, I am sure you can relate to the nicknames).  I am currently on my first extended business trip away from her.  I have been away from her before for a few days, in Germany for a wedding.  That was hard.  This is hard too, but different since it's for work.  I am still new at this mothering thing, but have a few working out-of-the-home mother observations.  Here they are:

  • Comfort with leaving her is directly related to having a great nanny.  We have a great nanny.  I never think twice when I leave the house.  Even for a few days.

  • She is ok without me.  Her father is a great caregiver.  I am not the only one who can raise her.  I know this sounds like an obvious observation, but I think mothers have a gene that tells us we have to be the one who does things.  I know that is not true.  It's great if I can be that one, but let me not undermine or underestimate her father's ability to take great care of her.

  • She will remember me when I get back.  It may take her a second (she is only 8 months old…not even…7 months and 3 weeks) but recognition "wait, I know this person" happens.  That is a wonderful thing.

  • Being away clarifies work for me – I better love what I do, or else.  If not, being away shines a bright light in your face that you cannot ignore, as there is real sacrifice.  Thank goodness I have a very meaningful career.

  • And finally, there are two first times for everything: the first time she does something, and the first time I see/hear/witness it.  So far this week, I have missed "Ma Ma Ma", the first real crawling and picking up an object with two fingers.  Big sigh.  There is an upside…perhaps if I stay away long enough, she will be potty trained when I return.

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