Archive for the ‘Parenting’ category

alphabet cookies, with red sprinkles, of course

June 20th, 2010

letter_cookies From letters to sounds to words, Carter is making the literacy journey. He aced letters and sounds, started reading words well over a year ago, and can sound out new words. But he’s a bit spooked about reading. No fear of baking, though, so our culinary take: alphabet cookies. We used Alton Brown’s trusty sugar cookie recipe, teamed up with Carter’s neighbor friend Sonia, and got rolling. As you can see, I kid not about Carter’s love of red sprinkles.

One note: If you buy alphabet cookie cutters, be sure to check the size. Miniature letters will spell “frustration” with kids. The letter cookie cutters we used are 2 inches high. They came as part of  The Alphabake: A Cookbook and Cookie Cutter Set. The set comes with 26 ABC cookie cutters, a square baking sheet, and a wipe-off, 32-page cookbook. Author Debra Pearson has some fun ideas, such as making a “negative” cookie with the letters of your name or a word cut out; edible Cocoa Cookie Kisses, with Xs and Os; and not-for-consumption salt play dough. You can also just buy ABC cookie cutters, which often come with numbers, too; for example, Wilton has a 50-piece ABC and 123 cookie cutter set with cookie cutters that are about 3.5 inches in size.

my mother’s day: trauma! drama! and lack thereof, so do you care?

May 15th, 2010

cardsagainOutside of school assignments decades ago, I rarely wrote about my own life until I took a personal essay class from Adair Lara back in 2001. The biggest “aha!”—realizing that readers get bored if everything is going well. Conflict keeps their attention. You also have to show how your experience illustrates some universal truth without it being a cliché. It’s way harder to do than I imagined. I didn’t even attempt it again for years.

Now, I’m writing a blog, where the whole point is to share something personal that I hope will be of value and interest to other people. While I’ve been microblogging on Twitter (bakingwithc) lately, this is the longest I’ve gone without updating the blog. Part of it is I’m a perfectionist when it comes to writing. I just can’t dash out a blog and hit “publish.” To me, blogs are personal essays, so I hesitate to write unless I can deliver a fully-formed essay. (I’ve also been trading writing time for sleeping, but that’s a different day’s topic.)

Which is a very long way to get around to talking about Mothers’ Day, because mine was so nice.

Carter, who was supposedly going to let me sleep in, woke me up around 6 am, because he couldn’t wait to give me my cards. The only problem was he wanted to know where they were. I realize I’m his early-morning go-to guy, but this was one question I could not answer. Jeff got a rare wake-up call, followed by whispering.

The card that Carter made for me at daycare had his handprint on one side and flowers he drew on the other side. He also got me a baby pink Hallmark card pink decorated with chiffon ribbons and a gold seal. “Mommy, I know the bad guys took your jewelry and made you sad, so I got you this card that has jewelry on it to help you feel better.” Put that together with hand-drawn hearts and a signature with both his first and last name on the inside and who wouldn’t melt? (See it’s just not tension-filled essay material.)

Then miracle of miracles, Carter let me sleep some until Jeff brought me breakfast in bed: Mickey Mouse pancakes, grapefruit, cheesy scrambled eggs, and Whitman’s dark chocolate sampler. No complaints there.

And that’s not all! I went to yoga, and my shoulder didn’t hurt! (Thank you, thank you, Dr. George Thabit for ending my year and a half of pain with one shot.)

That’s still not all. I went to hear Anna Quindlen speak. I’m so in love, that’s whole other blog topic.

And to top it off, Carter insisted we go to Dave and Busters because that’s where we went last year. Not my scene, but after dinner, we stopped by Forever 21, a new store to me. Carter picked out an adorable, albeit short, blue polka-dot dress for me. I wore it with skinny jeans to work on Monday and got an unusual number of compliments. (This reminded me of Anna’s comment about how this is the first generation of mothers to dress so much like their daughters.)

So no drama, just a really nice day.

If stuck with me this far, despite the lack of conflict, thank you. I owe you a pithy wrap-up that ties my Mother’s Day to a universally understood experience. But I’m not coming up with it. So, instead, I’ll simply sign off by sending my best wishes to all mothers out there. I hope you, too, had a wonderful day.

baking with friends: lemon baby Bundts

April 12th, 2010
Hands washed, aprons on: it's baking time

Hands washed, aprons on: it's time to bake

Sonia mixing the wet ingredients for mini lemon Bundt cakes

Sonia mixing the wet ingredients for lemon Bundt cakes

On rainy days when I was a kid, all the neighborhood kids would gather around our kitchen table (big enough to seat my parents and us six kids) for my mom’s project du jour. It could be anything from copper enameling to baking chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, making candles to pouring plaster of Paris in red rubber molds.

When Carter’s friend and neighbor Sonia came over to bake with us on a rainy afternoon, I felt a bit nostalgic for those days. Sonia wore her new apron, and we made mini lemon Bundt cakes. I explained to Carter and Sonia how they could each put in a quarter cup to equal a half, and figured that pinches from two 5-year-olds equalled the called-for pinch of salt. (Baking is such a great way to teach math, without it seeming like you’re teaching math.)

We also did some experimenting. Since we were out of yogurt, we substituted sour cream and added 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. If I were Alton Brown, that could have been a science lesson.

Better than the mini lemon Bundt cakes being delicious (thanks to Nigella and four helping hands): Sonia wanting to come back and bake with us again.

is that a banana an octopus, or do you like me?

March 15th, 2010
Tear a banana peel into eight strips for an instant octopus that kids will love.

Tear a banana peel into eight strips for an instant banana octopus that kids will love—and eat!

Ok, this banana looks more phallic than oceanic, but does transforming a banana into an octopus compensate for allowing my son to eat Fruit Loops? He had a glass of milk, too, and we are on vacation. (Since becoming a mom, I’ve become a big fan of hotels, like the Hampton Inn and the Residence Inn, that include buffet breakfast with the room.)

Of course, just last week, I got a direct mail piece from Consumer Reports telling me all the wonderfully helpful things I’d learn—if I subscribed. Like the fact that Cheerios is one of the best cereals for you—and Fruit Loops is one of the worst.

I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.

sewing project: a bear ballerina costume

December 9th, 2009

c swings PBballerinaballet 3 square

Carter wanted me to make Pink Bear a tutu. Actually, he was quite specific about it being pink, and sparkly, and how it would stick out. To Carter, a simple request. After all, I made his favorite teddy bear red pants.

I told him: Wait until Grandma gets here. My mom sewed costumes for all my dance concerts, from grade school through high school. I’ve sewn PJ pants. My mom sewed my sister’s wedding dress (and all the bridesmaids’ dresses and my dad’s tuxedo). Thank goodness, I knew she was coming for Thanksgiving when Carter started dreaming up Pink Bear’s ballerina outfit.

My mom and I spent hours at Joann Fabrics, finally finding pink netting in the bridal department, and chiffon ribbon with sparkly hearts to piece together for a bodice overlay. (We also each got a purse handle and purse pattern; now we just have to get the fabric and make the purses to match.)

My mom designed, cut, and directed. I pinned and sewed. And sewed. And ripped seams. And sewed. Took my sewing machine apart, and sewed and ripped some more. Small does not mean fast with sewing.

Carter says Pink Bear looks beautiful in her ballerina outfit.

Sewing with my mom is like baking with Carter. We get to do something we like to do together. There’s teaching; there’s learning. We’re proud of each other and what we make together. Bonus: we get to enjoy the end result—eat it, share it, or just admire Pink Bear wearing it and see how happy that makes Carter.

licensed characters crowd the bookstore

December 2nd, 2009

My dad loves to take grandkids to bookstores, and going to Borders with Carter was one of three things he wanted to do when he and my mom came to visit for Thanksgiving. (The Creamery for a root beer float and The Counter for a burger were the others.)

Usually, Carter heads straight for the airplane books, but this time (for the first time) he never got past the toys, games, and sticker books in front of the children’s book section. And I have to admit that I was embarrassed that it was licensed characters—Dora, the Super Why team, Up movie characters—that attracted his attention. (At least, Charlie Brown and Olivia debuted on the printed page.)

It’s not that I don’t like these characters. Dora is a positive Hispanic female role model, and the Super Why TV show is getting Carter excited about learning to reading skills. But I feel guilty that my child can so easily recognize so many TV and movie characters. It feels like a mark of poor parenting, which I compound by buying licensed products. I don’t like how so much stuff is marketed successfully to kids, yet I’d rather my child read licensed books than no books. And he likes them.

In the end, Carter had Grandpa get him a Super Why ABC Letter game and an Up sticker book—and, thankfully, to redeem me: an airplane sticker book. Before bed tonight, Carter, Jeff, and I played the game. The first question posed to Carter: What rhymes with “hill” and “drill”? The moment when he answered “daffodil” somehow made it ok that I had succumbed to the PBS marketing muscle.

even if you don’t have kids, read hungry monkey, a funny book from a foodie dad

November 9th, 2009

I read Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater after my friend Amy raved about it in person. On her blog, Cooking with Amy, she calls Hungry Monkey “the funniest book I’ve read all year….I literally couldn’t put it down.” And she doesn’t even have kids. She does know cooking, though, and she likes the recipes: “I’ve recommended [Hungry Monkey] to just about everyone I know who has little ones,” she says. “I don’t dare lend anyone my copy because there are too many recipes I have bookmarked to try.”

Reading the acknowledgments (what can I say—I’m a book editor) further affirmed that it’s a small world. My friends Anita and Cameron are friends with the author, Matthew Amster-Burton, and tested some of the recipes. Check out what they have to say on their blog Married with Dinner. Amster-Burton writes a blog called Roots and Grubs.

The stories about the author and his daughter are funny and touching. Most of the book’s recipes, though, are beyond my cooking (vs. baking) skill level. Some of the simpler recipes that I’d like to try are Crunchy Cheese Wafers (I can handle baking cheese, nuts, and herbs for 5 minutes at 400˚F) and Mini Fritattas made in nonstick muffin pans. The author’s favorite veggie is Brussels sprouts, so I’m tempted to follow his surprising recommendations to brown and braise frozen (!) ones.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll enjoy Amster-Burton’s insider view of the world of food. If you’re a new parent, Hungry Monkey will give you a realistic view of what to expect, including your lack of control over what your child chooses to eat. I also recommend this book to anyone, though, who just wants a laugh. And who couldn’t use that these days?

“guilty mommy” gets attention

September 19th, 2009

Yesterday’s blog about mommy guilt received the swiftest and most responses (on the blog and on my Facebook page) to anything that I’ve written so far. (I know, I know; baking brownies just doesn’t stir emotions in the same way.)

If you haven’t read the book I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, I recommend that you do. It’s a super fast read, with lots of insight, humor, and advice packed in. The authors, Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, start by fessing up to how they feel. See if any of these ring true:

-“As mothers, we put way too much pressure on ourselves.” [agree]
-“We have an unrealistic image of what a ‘good’ mom is.” [agree]
-“We secretly compare ourselves to other moms, who seem to have it all together.” [not so much—I admire and depend on lots of moms]
-We think we need to be perfect all the time. [agree]
-We feel alone. [sometimes]
-Our lives feel out of balance.” [sometimes]

Then the authors interviewed a lot of moms who (surprise!) feel the same way.

Spoiler alert! To summarize, for those who don’t read the book, the authors’ advice boils down to: realign your expectations of yourself as a parent. Consider if your expectations make sense and whether they make you and your family happy. Just doing this, they say, is the key to letting go of guilt and judgment—and to loving being a mom as much as you love your kids.

I think an equally important takeaway is their advice for moms to talk honestly to each other and to support each other.

I wouldn’t have survived motherhood thus far if it weren’t for other moms. It was thanks to my friends and sisters that I was eventually able to breastfeed Carter, after doctors and lactation consultants had long given up on me. (Carter was 9 weeks old the first day I was able to exclusively breastfeed him. He then nursed until he weaned himself at 2 1/2 years old.) When Carter was an infant, I would email my weekly new mommies’ group, which still gets together, in the middle of the night and get a response. Carter broke his leg when he was 3, and a mom I’d never met from the Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents’ Club, which has thousands of members, lent me her copy of Jessica’s X-Ray. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I am filled with gratitude for all that other moms have done for me.

In the end, I don’t think “realigning expectations” will ever assuage all my guilt. But support from other moms? Now, that gets results.

Yet another guilty mommy

September 18th, 2009

I just read I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood for book club. Authors Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile interviewed a lot of moms who feel a lot of guilt about a lot of things. It got me to thinking: What do I feel guilty about—aside from never putting together any scrapbooks for Carter?

I don’t feel guilty about working, even though I’m gone from 8 am to 6 pm every weekday. (I don’t know how stay-at-home moms do it—how they have the patience and physical stamina. The most exhausting time of my life was my 20-week maternity leave.) I think it’s good for Carter to see me do what I love. It doesn’t hurt, in his eyes, that my job means I can make a book about airplanes.

I don’t feel guilty about Carter going to daycare. He learns more at Lucy’s than I could ever teach him staying at home. (Did I mention he understands Russian?)

However, I do feel tremendously guilty if I do something, even take a class, when Carter is not in daycare and is awake: weekday mornings, weeknights between coming home and bedtime at 8 pm, and weekends, outside of naptime, until bedtime.

Last fall, I went on two business trips, four days to New York and three days to Florida—the first time and only times I’ve ever left Carter for more than a day.

I also feel guilty when I want to sleep in the morning, but Carter is awake—especially when he bounces in at 6 am, or even 7 am, and says, “Get up, Mommy! I want you to play with me.”

I should be grateful. For years, Carter got up between 5 and 5:30 am—every morning. And that was it. We were both awake. I’d read stacks and stacks of books. I’d take him for walks in our PJs. Sometimes, I got lucky: he’d nurse and then we’d both snooze.

However, I feel like if I were a truly Good Mother, I would spend and savor every possible hour—even when I’d rather be sleeping—with Carter.

Truth is: Carter doesn’t care that much if I’m gone, as long as it’s not an extensive absence and Jeff is around. Carter actually wants me to go to yoga class on Saturday morning because he likes to go to childcare at the Y (they have fun toys). He’s starting to decline to go on errands with me, even to Trader Joe’s (!), to stay home and play. Sometimes, he’d rather watch TV than bake with me (double ouch). If I leave to go somewhere, I get a “ba-bye” for the most part.

Yet. I feel guilty. Welcome to modern motherhood. According to the book, I’m in good company.

sick day

August 21st, 2009

Carter nearly never gets sick. His daycare is the furthest thing from the stereotype of a daycare that’s a petri dish of shared germs. Lucy and her helpers clean twice a day, and I really would feel comfortable eating off her floor.

So why is it that the rare day Carter needs to stay home (a tummy bug visited him in the night), is also the rare day Jeff and I both really need to be at work? Unlike most days, when neither of us typically has meetings that require our presence and we can do much of our jobs from home. (In the same vein, we really don’t do that much socially, either, but inevitably, if we’re invited to do something, like go to a party, we will get at least two other invitations for the same time.)

We split the difference: I stayed home in the morning and drove to San Francisco for my afternoon meeting, missing the first half hour, and Jeff came home for the afternoon, not having finished what we needed to get done. So go the lives of working parents. 

Fortunately, Carter felt completely fine all day. In fact, he had a better day than usual because as he put it he got “special time with Mommy and then special time with Daddy!” And that’s never a bad thing.