Leland pointed out to me that I inadvertently posted an awesome photo of Charles:
Can you spot the awesomeness? Let’s look closer:
Yep. Kid loves him some chocolate fro-yo.
A few months ago, my parents invested in a bidet seat. Yes. A bidet seat. It’s a toilet seat that functions as a bidet.
Did they put it in the master bathroom, right off of their bedroom? No, they put it in the downstairs bathroom, the one everyone uses when they have parties and gatherings or even just neighbors stopping by. Further, they encourage people to use it. Like, “Hey, before you go in there, let me tell you about our cool, new toilet seat! You can get a mini shower and an air dry! Not to mention, the seat is heated! We hope you enjoy it.”
I’d like to say that nothing in my parents’ house, my childhood home, is weirder than being accosted about the function of their bidet/toilet seat before you go do your business, but I would be lying. Oh, what a strange house it is.
Of course, they also want to know how you liked it after the fact. When you rejoin the group, no matter how big the dinner party or whatever, my dad will ask in front of everyone, “How did you like it? Did you test out the water feature? How about the air-dry? We love it!” So you get maximum embarrassing questions and too much information about my parents’ bathroom habits all in one shot.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last, strange piece of technology, furniture, or household item my parents have invested in. Shoot, even their house is a testament to being different – it is frequently mistaken for the airport office (though who in their right mind truly believes that Ilwaco, Washington’s 2000 ft runway requires an office, I don’t know) because it does not look like the more traditionally-shaped homes around it. No, it’s all kinds of weird. My mom’s countertops are yellow. The entire house, both floors, are covered in linoleum. They have a small, lighted runway and a compass rose inlaid into that linoleum. Did I say small? I meant 8 feet long. Instead of using a regular coffee pot, my mom has a weirdly-shaped percolator that once it comes apart so you can drink the coffee in the bottom half, the top part can’t be set down anywhere except in a second pitcher. To me, that involves a lot more hassle than it’s worth to make coffee. Sometimes they cook dinner on a block of superheated salt set up on a campstove in the dining room. I could go on.
Let me clarify: I love my parents, and they should be able to buy whatever makes them happy. Truthfully, their attraction to household oddities explains a lot of my personality, and I have as much fun as they do with most of their weird possessions. Most.
The first time we went to that house with their new bidet seat, sure, I tried it. But I certainly didn’t feel clean after being blasted with water, and the air dry, in order to fully dry my nether regions, would have taken forever. So I forego most aspects of the gadget and I enjoy the heated seat instead.
However, a few months ago, during that first trip after bidet purchase and installation, I heard a shriek! and a certain 3-year-old began to cry, issuing great sobs of fear from the bathroom. Oh, can you imagine? He had, of course, gone to go poop on the toilet and then grabbed the remote control to operate the water and air dry. Except his little butt isn’t where the bidet seat is pointed and that kid, well, he got a bit more than he bargained for. I’m pretty sure we had to do an entire wardrobe change because there he was, screaming at the top of his lungs, tear-streaked, poopy butt, and covered in toilet water that had sprayed him from head to toe. I’m not sure he had any idea what he was touching when he picked up that remote.
Now, when he’s in the bathroom, he tells me, “That’s a no-no touch, right mom.” Right, kiddo. I’ve tried to teach my parents to childproof, and you would have thought that the incident of the pepper spray would have convinced them, but here we are again.*
*Did I tell you about that? I can’t remember. And I just can’t bear combing through the archives right now. Suffice to say, pepper spray is pretty nasty stuff and shouldn’t be left where toddlers can reach it.
I love how this photo looks like we’re holding hands, but really I’m pushing his hands away from the phone. He’s a bit grabby.
Charles has had a really tough time with me leaving lately. When I drop him off at school, he whines and hides behind me and clings and tells me, “I hate school! Don’t go, mommy! I want to go to work with YOU!” Or when I go to my Rotary meeting Wednesday mornings, if he’s awake, he begs me to stay: “Don’t go to your meeting, Mommy, I will miss you!” And when I pick him up from school he always says, “I’m happy to see you, Mommy! I missed you today.” It’s enough to break my heart.
(Thankfully, all reports indicate that within 30 seconds of me leaving the building, he is happy and excited and goes on to have a wonderful day. So. I don’t feel too badly about leaving him.)
In a sheer “duh” moment, Tony and I realized that in the past year, Charles has had to give up being number 1 in our lives. He has had to cede his place as the baby to the new baby, learn to share his toys, share his space, and share the affection of those around him. It’s been tough for him. Do I have to tell him, frequently, “Yeah, honey, I will happily read you a story, but I have to feed baby James/change Jamie/wash the baby, etc”? Yes, yes, I do. In addition to saying, “As soon as I finish brushing my teeth/putting away the dishes/feeding the dog/folding the laundry, etc.” So, we decided that we would spend some one-on-one fun time with each of the boys, every week. I call them Mommy Dates (though, by default, the other kid gets a Daddy Date at the same time. But Tony probably doesn’t call them that).
On Wednesdays, Jamie and I go to swim class. I don’t have a photo because, well, we’re in the pool, but it is fantastic. Jamie loves bouncing in the water, splashing around, chasing toys, and jumping (falling in a controlled manner) into the pool. It is a time reserved just for having fun, and not for having fun but also cooking dinner, or folding laundry, or writing an email, or cleaning house.
Does any one else do this? Spend time with your kids but not be 100% there because there is all this other work to do and someone has to make sure that dinner gets on the table and we are all clothed? I hate it, but I just can’t figure a way around it. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done. I have GOT to stop multitasking, though. These boys deserve better.
Anyhow, Jamie and I have a blast at swimming. And then we put on jammies and, for at least the next few weeks, we will join up with Tony and Charles at the All-Comers Track Meet afterward for a picnic dinner and to watch (help) Charles compete.
He wants to run races, too.
Charles, on the other hand, got to go buy some new jammies and have a smoothie with me on Saturday. And mood improvement? Oh, yes, we saw it immediately. Turns out that paying attention to just him for an hour-and-a-half makes him more confident and happier.
At Jamba Juice in Safeway.
So I think we’ll continue this in the weeks (years?) to come. One-on-one time with each kid. Make them feel special and like they’re the only one who matters for at least a little while. A break from the reality of a sibling and housework competing for mom’s or dad’s attention. A date.
On another note, do you want to see what happens when you feed an almost-one-year-old plain frozen yogurt (because that’s the kind I like, shut up.)? It was pretty dang funny.
Oh, good gawd, that’s sour.
My brother’s birthday, as it does every so often, fell on Father’s Day this year (so did my father-in-law’s birthday, but we are celebrating that next weekend) and my parents were in town, so we had a lot to celebrate yesterday. I don’t know how it is in your family, but in mine, celebrations generally require food. Good food, and lots of it.
Being his birthday, Leland got to choose the dessert, and he chose lemon meringue pie. Tony, being one of the dads in the equation, chose dinner, and he chose steak and garlic mashed potatoes. My parents were in Hawaii until Saturday night, so my dad didn’t really get a say in the preparation, but he loves garlic mashed potatoes so I knew it would all be okay with him.
I married into a good last name, because I LOVE to cook. Before those rascally kids who demand so much of my attention came along, I cooked elaborate meals all the time (Tony and I also ate a TON of pasta, though, so it wasn’t all gourmet up in here). And baked goods. I’ve never been great at making bready things, like cinnamon rolls, but I have a talent for pies and cakes and cookies.
But do you know how time-consuming it is to make a lemon meringue pie? And then to cook a meal for five adults and two children on top of that? I had mom’s help, and I was still in the kitchen all day long! (It all turned out perfectly, by the way.)
Today, I am cooking in quantity once again, but this time it’s for charity. For the first year, our Rotary club offered a dinner-a-month-a-year item at our annual auction, and I volunteered to cover one of the months. Two dinner-a-month-a-years were sold, and I’m doing them both on the same day to save myself some time and effort. Here’s the menu:
Salad with chevre, almonds, blueberries, and a honey-balsamic vinaigrette
Pork Ragu (recipe here, scroll to the second from the bottom) with polenta
Molten chocolate cakes
Sounds pretty good, right? The ragu is one of my favorite recipes, something I could eat all the time, and it looks really good, too. But oh boy, it takes a long time. I’m going to be cooking for the rest of the afternoon.
As you might imagine, weddings in France are a bit different than those in the U.S. Well, to be fair, I’ve only experienced weddings in the Pacific Northwest and in France. For all I know, Pacific Northwest weddings could be totally different than those in North Carolina, for example. But you get my point: cultural differences and traditions make for a different wedding than you might find in the U.S.
Different, though, not worse. This wedding was awesome.
at the Chateau
Good looking boys! (the one who doesn’t belong to me is Philemon, with whom we stayed. Well, we stayed with his family, not just him.)
The bride and groom live in England, the bride is French, the groom English. There were people from France, England, the U.S., Germany, and even Zambia there to celebrate (probably some other countries, too). We enjoyed a superb four course meal, drank delicious wine and beer, danced, laughed, and generally enjoyed ourselves in, yes, a chateau. Some of the things I especially loved:
1. The bride and groom hired three babysitters, all of whom spoke English, to help out with the kids. This was especially important because French weddings tend to last LOOOOONG into the night. In fact, Solène (the bride), remarked to me that while she expected the British in the group to be ready to leave around 11:30 pm, since the pubs all used to close at 11 in England, the French would probably be disappointed if the party didn’t last until dawn. We left around 1 am, but I understand the dancing lasted until around 3. We had small children who needed their beds by 1, but until then, they totally enjoyed having babysitters to look after them, and I loved being (mostly) free to enjoy myself.
2. The bride and groom sent up hot air balloons at nightfall. No, really! They were these adorable paper balloons and they lit the bottom of them and they rose in the sky as they filled with hot air. It was beautiful.
Photo from Chris’s brother-in-law
3. The traditional brioche at midnight. This is more of a tradition on the Brittany Coast than elsewhere in France, but it is wonderful all the same. Just when you’ve hit that wall, long after dinner has ended but well before the night is over, out comes another delicious treat to push you through.
4. There was a Champagne tower, a pyramid really, and the bride and groom poured Champagne in the top glass and it flowed to the next and the next and the next and it looked really cool.
This photo also from Chris’s brother-in-law
5. Sparklers on the cake. Future brides, take note, because that was fantastic.
From what I understand, there were only two hiccoughs in the entire day. The first was that the groom’s parents got a bit lost on the way to City Hall for the wedding, and it was a good thing that the wedding was on French time, otherwise they would have missed it. As it was, they arrived shortly after we did, which was about three minutes before the whole group was ushered into the room where the ceremony was to take place.
The other hiccough was mine.
I brought one dress with me. And matching heels. Because why in the world would I have brought more than one dress halfway across the world when packing space was so limited? I wouldn’t have, and I didn’t. I actually packed super light for this trip, and for that I am proud of myself. BUT.
The zipper on my dress broke.
Not because the dress was too tight. Because the zipper was just crap.
Of course, I didn’t figure this out until 20 minutes before we were supposed to leave the house because I got everyone else dressed first. Mom never goes first, or mom is liable to be smeared with something gross and indelible before we even leave. So. Catastrophe, with zero time to spare.
After determining that the zipper could not be fixed (not even with swearing and tears, can you believe it?) and that I would not fit into any of Soizic’s dresses, Tony and I hatched a plan: we would drive to downtown Nantes where he and the boys would drop me in front of the shops. I would race in, find a dress, and buy it.
So I did. I can only imagine what the poor shop assistant at Zara thought of me as I pulled her aside, explained that I had broken my dress and had to be at a wedding in ten minutes, that my shoes were yellow, and I needed something to wear. She was a peach, though, and even though she had to guess my size (I have no idea what size I am in European clothing), she grabbed five dresses for me to try. I chose the first one, paid for it, and wore it out of the store.
We made it to the wedding with minutes to spare. From my way of thinking, I took all of the bad wedding juju on myself. It was, seemingly, the worst thing to happen that day, and that’s saying a lot. After all, it didn’t end up too badly.
And I made it in time to fulfill my role as the “mom who hands out sweets to all the loud children.” The bride and groom’s son was none too happy with the whole affair until we got there with Charles, and then he, Charles, and all the other little boys (so many boys!) stuffed their faces with gummy frogs throughout the entire ceremony. Win.
New French dress
I feel just so blessed to have been a part of this wedding. Ten years ago, I had the enormous good fortune of landing in a host family that became like another family to me and made me another daughter in their family. How many people get to choose their family? I got to choose mine, and I am so flattered that they chose me, too.
Me with Alain and Jeanne-Marie (after the yellow shoes came off) and their two other “daughters” (among the thirty or so exchange students they’ve hosted over the years), Dana and Emily
I subscribe to the theory that your birthday lasts at least as long as the cake does (exceptions include eating all the birthday cake in one sitting, of course). By that token, my birthday lasted until at least Tuesday.
But it started last Wednesday, the 30th, with a “Happy Birthday, Mommy!” from Charles and a relaxing last day in France. Soizic (we stayed with her and Guillaume and their lovely family) prepared Boudin for lunch, which is… BLOOD SAUSAGE, DUHN DUHN DUUUUUHN! And it was sooo good. Tony did not partake.
We had a pleasant afternoon touring Nantes, saying goodbye to my French family, and then we finished off the evening with the first of my birthday cakes after a delightful dinner of salad with a large slice of toasted whole-grain French bread with melty goat cheese on top. Yum. The cake was delicious as well, a rich chocolate, dark and thick but not too sweet. The kicker, though, was the tangy, homemade rhubarb ice cream. Oh, God, you guys. When I can find space in my freezer for an ice cream maker, I might just make ONLY rhubarb ice cream. It was so, so good. And just to show you how much I love my children, I fed most of mine to my teething baby. He liked the flavor, but I think he liked the cold in his mouth even more.
When I got home, my mom had also bought a cake for me, and Tony and Loris filled my house with flowers for my birthday:
Peonies from Loris
I have thought before that it would have been a neat thing to take photos of all the flower bouquets I’ve received over the years. I don’t get flowers so often that my camera would be overloaded, but it might have been nice to have an album of beautiful flowers to flip through to remind myself of the love they represent.
Tony also bought me some beautiful roses this week, and I am running out of places to put flower vases – with kids, they just can’t go lower than the counter. So, my counters look amazing right now.
In all, I had a lovely, low-key birthday. I am a big fan of birthdays, and I think people should have amazing birthdays and be heaped with adoration on their birthday, but you can’t always have a blowout, amazing party. Sometimes, you get to have lots of cake and wine and flowers, instead.
My birthday kicks off what I am going to refer to as “birthday season” in our family. It starts with me, then comes my mom 11 days later, then Leland and Joe on the same day a week later, then Jamie ten days after that. Add in several friends’ and kids-of-friends’ birthdays, and it’s a cake-tastic month. Here’s a photo of the cake I made for an employee this week:
Chocolate Wet Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting and Strawberries
Leland wants a Lemon Meringue Pie, so at least we’ll have some variety there. His birthday (and Joe’s) is also on Father’s Day, so we’re going to have an extra-special meal. I’m going to bake Jamie’s cake, too, but I’m just not sure what to make.
And that reminds me: HOLY SHIT MY BABY’S ABOUT TO BE ONE YEAR OLD.
I don’t think I can handle this.
I’ve tried a few times to write about what was, in truth, a ridiculously funny paint mishap without referencing how much my Mother’s Day sucked, but I can’t. It was depressing.
I think I have a two-fold problem: First, my expectations are much too high – I would like to be acknowledged for my role as a mother on Mother’s Day, through a traditional method like a card, or, you know, words from my families’ mouths, as well as a slight bit of pampering (thoughtful gifts would be awesome, but I know enough not to expect that). Say, an alternative to me fixing every meal on Mother’s Day, as well as someone else doing the dishes and the laundry, etc. Second, I am undeserving of my high expectations because I am not a good mom. Really, when you have such a shitty day with zero appreciation for being a mom on a day set aside specifically to honor mothers, what other conclusion is there?
So, my resolve is to fix things for next year. I will work harder at being a good mom, playing with the kids, keeping things clean, etc. I know I need to do a better job of cooking healthy, interesting meals, so I am going to start there. Even though we have a housekeeper clean up the place every other week, the house is a mess all the time, so there’s that to work on as well. My hope is that my kids and husband will start to think that I don’t deserve to be completely ignored on Mother’s Day and will at least say thank you for what I do as a mom. I will also recognize that even though I try hard to show my love and appreciation for my mom and mother-in-law on Mother’s Day (and thus model how I hoped I would be treated), I should never expect thoughtful gifts or expressions of love from my family. I’m just not that great of a mom, despite my amazing role models, and I clearly don’t deserve anything.
Additionally, I hope to avoid ruining my favorite skirt on my next Mother’s Day. Because that is what happened this time around…
You see, Leland and I had to do a bit of work at the office on Mother’s Day. There was no other time, and we had a good friend and colleague in our area (on a Mother’s Day trip with her mom) who took us all to lunch and then consulted on some photography issues at the office for our new website blah-de-blah blah blah, work stuff, you’re bored already, aren’t you? Okay, I’ll stop writing about work and being depressed and get on with a story that ends in me covered in paint.
We were setting up to paint a chalkboard wall. Did you know that chalkboard paint exists? It’s so cool. You can just paint a big swath of blackboard right on your wall! I wanted to do this in Charles’ room, but it was a bit dark for that. But now, we have an awesome alternative to an expensive, smelly white board right in our office meeting room! I love it!
So, yeah, I was wearing a white skirt and a tank top. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I am not a sloppy painter (Aside: my mom once knew a lady who wore one outfit all day, regardless of what she was doing – even if it involved gardening or other dirty jobs. The trick is to just stay clean and I hope to achieve this level of cleanliness and dressiness. After all, who has time for multiple outfit changes?). I tied an apron on that covered the whole front of me and my clothing and Leland and I set to work taping off the borders of the chalkboard. Then, I grabbed the paint can and started shaking it up to mix it. I decided that “shake weights” must be totally bogus and also, how does a “shake weight” not ruin your elbow? Paint was good and shaken, so I set it on the table and asked Leland where to find a screw driver to open the can. Screw driver found, I opened it and turned back to finish the last bit of taping with Leland before we painted.
These people also look ridiculous.
Leland didn’t realize that I had opened the can of paint.
He wanted to “shake weight” too.
He “shake weighted” the can of paint all over my backside.
In a horrific splash, a good third of the quart of paint splashed all over me (I was bent down to finish taping the bottom of the wall) and the floor. It was thick and sticky and cold.
Picture, if you will, the moment after something awful happens: the dish you were holding is on the floor, shattered into a million pieces. The mailbox you ran over is stuck underneath your stopped car. You just had black paint splashed all over you in a leased office. What do you do?
What did I do? Well, I suppose I had two choices: I could cry, or I could laugh.
If there’s one thing that having kids has taught me, it’s that it is far better to laugh in these situations than to get upset. After all, no amount of furious crying was going to get the paint out of my clothes or off the floor. And Leland, poor Leland. He was in shock. I think he thought I was going to rip him a new one.
I didn’t. I laughed. And I laughed some more. And I looked at my backside, at the black paint covering me and my white skirt, and I looked at the front of me, my unscathed apron, and I laughed. And I looked at the floor with a big splash of black paint all over it, and I laughed.
Oh, friends, it was all ruined. We started and then finished painting the wall by sticking our brushes in the puddle of paint on the floor. The carpet is toast. I had to sit on a garbage bag in the car just to get home where I scrubbed paint off of my calves and lower back and threw my clothes in the garbage.
It was all so funny, but it was also really sad. I really liked the skirt and shirt I was wearing that day. White skirts are pretty fashionable right now, and I can’t find any out there that I like as much as I liked that one. And every white skirt I see, I’m reminded of how horrible I felt at the end of Mother’s Day, knowing that I’m just not good enough.
Note: Usually, I’m a chronological person. That is to say, I prefer to tell stories chronologically. However, due to a lot of things, I don’t think I can tell about our trip to France in a “Day 1, Day 2” sort of manner. It might just be more interesting this way.
Today is D-Day. A little over a week ago, we visited Normandy, the American Cemetery, the Peace Memorial (because that sounds better than “war museum,” which is what it is) at Caen, and Omaha Beach.
You know what I will probably always think of each year on June 6? I will think of how beautiful those Normandy beaches are, especially in the early summer. And also how large they are. And how long the crossing must have been for the Allied forces at half-tide. And how the men in those first boats, those first many, many boats, must have been shot one by one.
Because when you stand up there and look over the expanse of beautiful coastline, man, those beaches are big. And long. And the Nazis had some pretty easy pickings at first.
That had to have been a hard thing to do, being part of the Allied landing crew. Especially if you were among the first to launch and land. Most of those men were younger than I am now. I looked at my boys as they played around at the memorials and overlooking the beaches and I hope that they never see war like that.
The truth is, of course, that they won’t. War is different now. Peace in Europe is different now. Not that the wars that my children might see will be any less horrifying. They’ll just be different.
I take comfort in the fact that, sixty-eight years later, the beaches are beautiful places to throw a stick for your dog and dig in the sand with your kids. We work really hard to remember this war when other wars are forgotten. November 11 is Veteran’s Day, not Armistice Day (WWI). Are there any days of remembrance from the Korean War or the Vietnam War or Desert Storm or the Civil War or the War of 1812? I think the level of atrocity in WWII, the level of casualty, is just astonishing. It was a war fought for the right reasons and deserves to be remembered. It’s nice to know that Normandy works so hard to remember, that the American Cemetery is so well-visited.
But it’s also nice to know that the beaches can be beautiful, tranquil places or recreation again, too.
Yesterday, the kids woke us up at 3 or 4:30 am, depending on how you look at it: Charles went to sleep at 4 pm and patently refused to wake up for dinner, so he slept through until 3 am, when he woke up famished. He was placated for about an hour by peanut butter, but then had to go potty and needed help, and then Jamie woke up. Last night, both kids were asleep by 7 pm and were up this morning at 5:30, so I think that’s progress.
The thing about jet-lag is that it applies to people who have a sleep schedule or who are not chronically sleep-deprived. In other words, not us. Jamie had the hardest time adjusting to a nine-hour time difference and was, for each of the eight days we spent in France, up from about midnight to 3 am. The anti-nap, we called it. Charles was up and down all night, mostly going to bed super late and waking super late. But Tony and I, as the long-suffering parents in this familial equation, pretty much behaved as usual. We went to bed when the kids went to bed, we got up when they got up. Exactly like at home. We’re always tired and always facing a lack of sleep from the thousand nights of interrupted sleep before, so this was really no different. I always take naps when I can. I’m always up six times every night. I always have bags under my eyes.
I think it also helped that we had a real “screw it” attitude about the whole thing. I know lots of parents who are more uptight than we are – in fact, I would say we are some of the more laid-back parents around (except when it comes to television and junk food) – who would have worked like fiends to get their children to switch schedules around to accommodate the time difference, and then switch back, but not us. We just went with it. Hell, we kept them up at a wedding until 1 am. At home, we eat dinner at 6 pm. In France, usually closer to 7:30 pm. Sleeping in until 9 or 10 am every day? Why the hell not?
In fact, I think the only bit of schedule changing this whole trip has inspired is the one that is happening now: we’ve been planning and saving and waiting so long for our big trip to France that we sort of put off thinking about the summer. Now, I’m feeling energized to make summer plans, to dream of what we’ll barbeque on our new grill, to imagine pitchers of mixed drinks now that I can buy liquor at the grocery store. I promise I’ll post some retrospectives about our trip, but I’m excited to be looking forward to a whole summer of (hopefully) carefree living.