Saturday, January 29, 2011

A new perspective

This week I had something really terrible happen.  My youngest son stopped breathing to the point of turning blue and almost losing conciousness.  In one horrifying moment I was reaching for my phone as I felt his rigid body start to go limp, and I thought, "I'm going to lose him."  My shaking hand had dialed 9 when he gave a little sputter and a cough and took one beautiful hitched breath.  I sunk to the floor clutching my baby, looked up to the ceiling and whispered the most sincere "Thank you" I have ever uttered in my life.

Most of us have difficulty facing our own mortality, but the mortality of our children is unthinkable.  The thought that the bundle of cuteness and budding personality before you could slip through your fingers in a matter of minutes is unimaginable.  And that's all it takes, just minutes.  In the aftermath I found myself counting minutes.  It takes at least 3 minutes to get everyone in the car.  It takes about 10 minutes to get to the hospital.  It takes ADT anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes to call after the panic button has been pushed.  And the last time that happened, it took the police 15 minutes to get to my house.  It took me more than half a minute to realize he was really in trouble.  Minutes.  No matter how I added it up, I didn't have enough minutes of my sons life to get help.

Unlike many things in life, when it comes to life itself, there are no do-overs.  It's easy to get bogged down with the details that keep our lives moving forward from day to day.  Bills to pay, shopping to do, houses to clean, meals to prepare, homework, baths, laundry.....the list goes on and on.  It's easy to forget that those details have no weight when balanced against the things that are truly important in our lives.  Hugs to dole out, boo-boos to kiss, I love you's to be said, patience to have, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness....this list also goes on and on.  A house is just a house without the people that live in it.  A family cannot prosper and grow without honest and open love for each other.  A community is just a group of people without caring and concern for one's neighbors.  The value of the lives that we live will not be measured by the things that we have, but rather by the things that we give.

This week I received a scare that left me shaken to the core, but I also received the gift of perspective.  I got the chance to stand back and look at my life and see what was important and what was just stuff.  As I sat on the floor listening to the sweet wailing of my child, I looked into the frightened eyes of the other two and found the strength to put my own needs and fears aside so that I could draw them into my arms and tell them,"everything is going to be ok."  After all, that's what raising kids is all about.  Putting our needs aside so we can tend to theirs.  And by doing that, we can show them what has importance and what is just stuff.

The writing of this post took 3 days.  Hours of thought and actual writing went into what might take the average writer about 45 minutes.  But I'm a mother of 3 precious children, and my writing process endures hundreds of interruptions so I can put their needs before mine.  Some might find such a process incredibly frustrating, and in the past, I have too.  To finally complete a thought and find the right words only to have a small voice ask for a drink of water, or to have to referee an argument, or answer a cry for help, can be frustrating beyond belief.  But this week I'm able to calmly see to whatever my children's needs may be, and not worry about the dishes in the sink, or the unmade beds upstairs, or the unwritten words still in my head.  This week we all survived what could have been too tragic for words, and I was awarded with a little perspective.  

My perspective has not erased any of those day to day resposibilities.  If we don't pay our bills we'll have to live on the street.  If I don't do the shopping there will be no food for my family.  My kids still need to be bathed and clothed and fed.  They still need to do well in school and learn that proper preparation will help them be successful.  But, my perspective has taught me to be more generous with my hugs and kisses, to say "I love you" more often, and be more patient and tolerant when it comes to little demands.  While I haven't been given a do-over, I have been given a chance to be more appreciative of the things that are really important in my life.  You know them as my 6 year old, 3 year old, and the baby, but my husband and I call them Abigail, Elijah and Jonah.  There will be more cooking next week, but not before I renew my First Aid and CPR training.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All things apple!

We have one of the coolest tools ever made in our kitchen.  It is an apple peeler, slicer and corer all wrapped up into one, not very little, mechanism, that really can't be used for anything else.  I love it, my kids love it, and it makes all things apple fun!  If you've never seen one of these, you basically impale the butt end of an apple onto 3 prongs that are at the end of an old-fashioned crank.  As you turn the crank, the apple spins and passes through the peeler, slicer and corer.  It comes out the other side looking a bit like an apple slinky.  One can get through a dozen apples in about 3 minutes.  In the nearly 15 years that I've had it, no one in my family has ever tired of using it, including my husband!

When I announce that we're going to make apple crisp, my daughter immediately goes into her victory dance.  Honestly, the day she stops doing this will be a very sad one.  She doesn't really dance, but jumps up and down while pumping both arms in the air shouting, "Wahoo!" with the biggest smile and brightest blue eyes you have ever seen.  I can actually see her hair tangling as it swings around her face.  My 3 year old son chimes in with his own, "Wahoo!" and little victory dance which looks a lot like something Ed Grimly would do.  (Yep, that would be Martin Short's Ed Grimly from Saturday Night Live so many years ago.)  The baby just grins from one ear to the other.  He figures if the other two are that excited, then it must be something good!

It has been at least a year since I last made apple crisp, so I'm pretty sure it was just the word "apple" that produced the excited response I got from my kids.  This particular recipe makes me happy because it can be made entirely with your hands.  Since we have the cool apple tool, we don't need to cut anything.  For the time being, I can leave the sharp knives in the drawer.

Determined to impart some real wisdom onto my children, I begin by explaining that you should always get out everything you will need before you get started.  The baby actually fell asleep right then and there, the 3 year old gave me a look I'm sure I'll see more of when he's a teen-ager, and my daughter may have given me her first eye-roll.  Okay, the baby went down for his nap just before we got started, but the rest of it is true.  Unfortunately, I lost the 3 year old with that first sentence; he ran off to play his game.  Just me and the little girl left.  I don't want to lose her too, so I put her in charge of getting the flour, oats, cinnamon, mace, allspice and cardamom.  She's just starting to read, so the oats and mace were easy to find, but the cinnamon and cardamom had to be spelled at least 10 times before she finally found them.  Hopefully this experience will help her with her upcoming spelling bee.  I get the bowls, baking dish, brown sugar, butter, and, of course, the apples and apple tool. 

The cool apple tool has a little suction cup that secures it to the counter.  I get it all set up and impale the first of five apples.  I never get sick of watching my kids crank that thing as fast as they can.  My daughter furiously zips through all five apples with gusto and then gingerly breaks each apple slinky into more manageable pieces.  I have her measure out the spices into a little ramekin first and then sprinkle them over the apples.  We also add a little sugar and flour.  When I instruct her to mix the apples and spices with her hands, she crinkles up her nose and says, "Ummmm, no."  I can see that she's already dug in her heels on this one, so I do a little eye-roll of my own and show her how easy, and not gross, it really is.

Now it's time to mix the topping.  I take a deep breath and explain that she's going to have to get her hands a little dirty.  We need to squish the oats, flour, brown sugar and butter together.  Apparently squishing butter is a lot more appealing that gently folding apples and spices.  Whatever!  She really does have a spelling bee coming up, and because I'm a mom through and through, I can't resist the opportunity to teach a new word.  I tell her to keep squishing until everything is "incorporated".  When all of the powdery stuff is "incorporated" with the butter, sprinkle it evenly over the apples.  She perfomed this task beautifully and hardly sprinkled any of the topping on the table.  Because my kids are as young as they are, they will not be handling anything going into or coming out of the oven.  I want to give them skills not scars!

There is nothing quite like the smell of baking apples.  It goes perfectly with the crisp, cool air of an impending snow storm.  And this time the smell is even more divine because it's source was made almost entirely by one 6 year old little girl.  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Safety First?

Originally, I had thought to address the simple logistics of keeping kids safe in a place that has hazards in every nook and cranny.  But it snowed this week, and that presented the perfect opportunity to teach my kids to make hot cocoa from scratch.  So, I'll do safety later.

Certain foods and flavors bring back vivid memories from my childhood, and cocoa is one of them.  There was always a steaming mug waiting for me after a day of playing in the snow.  I'm always hoping to give my own kids some of these lifelong comfort memories, so I spend the next 20 minutes donning snow pants, boots, mittens, coats and hats, and head out to shovel the driveway.  We have a north facing driveway, and if snow is not removed regularly a sheet of ice will form that will last until May.  Shoveling is a "must do" chore at our house.

When I am about halfway done, I notice my daughter is joyfully kicking snow back onto the driveway.  She's having fun and I don't want to ruin the mood, so I give her a gentle reminder that I'm trying to complete a task and please don't undo the work I've just done.  Two angels later, she's back to kicking snow onto my freshly shoveled driveway.  "Honey, I'm trying to get the snow OFF the driveway.  Please don't make my job harder than it already is."  She looks up at me with a big toothy smile and says, "I don't like working, I only like playing."  I have to laugh, "Most people feel that way, but you need to get your work done so you can play."  Her retort: "Yeah, but I'm a kid so I don't have to."  Perhaps we should have some Mexican hot cocoa to celebrate her spiciness!  When the shoveling is complete and the yard is full of snow angels, 3 shivering children head into the kitchen for their first lesson.

I discovered Mexican hot cocoa as an adult, and it was love at first sip.  As I drag out a pan, pour in some milk and set it on the stove my children look at me with heads cocked in curiosity.  The only cocoa they have ever seen comes out of a packet and is made in the microwave.  This is something entirely new and they are riveted.  Now that I have their attention, I have to keep it.  Here we go!  Turn on the burner to start heating the milk, grab the chocolate chips, cinnamon, vanilla and the cayenne pepper!  Keep the momentum, but keep control.  One violent shake of the cayenne and the concoction will be ruined and my children will never look at cocoa the same again.  I've got the 6 year old stirring, "keep stirring gently so the chocolate doesn't sink to the bottom and burn.  Careful not to splash."  The 3 year old  pours in the chocolate chips and then a BIG shake of the cinnamon.  A little more of each than I would have put in, but it's hard for kids this young to pour or shake with precision.  (If precision is needed, better do it for them or pre-measure and let them dump that into the mix.)  All 3 kids are standing tippy-toe in their stools, craning their necks to see as the milk, chocolate and cinnamon start to incorporate.  Steam rises, and the smell engulfs us all.  Stir in a little vanilla and just a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper and it's ready to be served.  I see them sitting in their chairs, eyes round with anticipation as I add the final touch of  5-6 small marshmallows in each cup.  They eagerly dig in and I take a moment to savor that first taste.  I am instantly transported back to my mother's kitchen.  The snow melting off my boots and out of my hair, enjoying each smooth and chocolaty sip.  For just a moment I really feel what it is like to be a kid again; to exist in a time where there is only play.  As I watch my kids intensely focusing on their mugs, I can only hope that they are forming some of the same memories that I now treasure.  Will they notice the spice?  It's there.  Just a subtle, lingering warmth.  Nope, they drink every last drop.  Satisfied, they run off to play.  I survey the damage to my kitchen content in the knowledge that my efforts will pay off, and my children will remember these days fondly.  In short, the work is worth it!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A home starts in the kitchen, and families and friends are brought together by food.  Appetizers can awaken the senses, a good entree can soothe even the hottest of tempers, and love can be rekindled over a single bite of a decadent dessert.  I love standing in my kitchen, working in my kitchen, and even crying in my kitchen.  It is the beginning and the end of my day.  It is where many of our bonds are formed.

Switching from one kid to two and then three made having kids in my kitchen extremely chaotic and a little dangerous.  Eventually, I forbade children from being in my kitchen while I was cooking, which was at least 3 times a day.  I removed them from the center of my home, and instantly felt our bonds begin to fray.  My kids are the center of my world, and my heart just could not take this separation.

A few months ago at one of my MOPS meetings, I attended a presentation on cooking with your kids.  I sat in the front row with a mixture of cynicism and hope.  I thought to myself "she probably only has one kid, what does she know?"  As it turned out, she has four kids.  She had some solid suggestions, a few good tips, and at the end I'm certain she looked right at me and threw down an invisible gauntlet.  What choice did I have but to take the information and the double dog dare and vow to rescind my "no kids in the kitchen" policy for good!

So now, as the new year begins and my thoughts turn to resolutions, I have decided to renew and mend some of those fraying bonds with my children.  I resolve to not only invite them back into my kitchen, but to make it our kitchen!  For 2011, I am challenging myself to teach my daughter, who is 6, to plan, shop for, and prepare a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.  I will teach my 3 year old son to prepare a breakfast, lunch and dessert, and I will teach my 1 year old to prepare scrambled eggs. 

The coming months are sure to test my patience beyond its limits.  There will be many failures as well as many successes.  The kitchen will be destroyed and I'll permanently lose a bit of my sanity, but the rewards will also be many.  We will draw closer as a family.  We will create memories that will keep us laughing for a lifetime.  And, my children will gain skills that will give them confidence, impress their grandparents, and keep their tummies full.  Until January 1st 2012 I will write a new post every Saturday to share our experiences.  Wish me luck, I'm going to need it!