Archive | February, 2013

Seasonal Application of Desserts

14 Feb

It was in college in upstate New York that I first heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, here defined as a fancy name for the sludgy malaise that creeps over me in winter. Every fall I resolve to see the colder months as rife with opportunities for snuggling, reading under a cozy blanket, and indulging in buttery starches and red wine. Every fall I get claustrophobic being inside so much, can’t fit into my jeans, and remember that red wine gives me hangovers.

As she has with my love of Nancy Drew and inability to back down from an argument, my daughter seems to have inherited my winter sads. We were listening to the radio the other day and came upon a DJ reading out a “Top Ten Best Things About Winter” list. She disagreed strenuously with several of the items, such as building snowmen, (“Pffft, we never have enough snow for that”), and getting caught up on TV series you missed, (“Pffft, you’d never let us watch that much TV.”) (We will avoid mention of the Disney movie marathons I’ve been known to sanction on the occasional, er, slow-starting weekend morning. Red wine!!!)

“OK,” I said to her. “Then you make a list of ten things you love about winter.”

“Well,” she said. “Hot chocolate!”

“Good one.”

“And Christmas!”

“Yep, yep.”

“And… Uh… Well… That’s pretty much it.”

Spoken like a true issuance of my emergency c-section parts.

This fall and winter have been particularly rough on her for reasons I’m still seeking to understand, but her increased workload at school has certainly been a contributing factor. Too many afternoons of fretting over worksheet perfection and picking fights to channel her angst culminated in an end-of-semester meltdown that left our family shaken. The well-timed winter break offered a chance to step back and assess, and one thing I noticed was how much more smoothly things operate when we have nowhere to be, nothing to do, endless amounts of time to do it in, and two parents home and engaged. So, uh, none of that can happen with any regularity during the school year, but I salvaged what I could of the insight.

And so we established a Monday afternoon family cooking club. The kids choose a recipe (read: my daughter chooses a recipe and my son agrees to her choice.) It will shock and astonish you, dear reader, that so far they’ve only chosen desserts. I have veto power if what they want to do looks too expensive or fiddly, but after a month I still haven’t had to turn them down. I shop for ingredients on Sunday afternoon, with kid assistance if feasible. After school and homework on Monday, we start cooking. I let the kids do as much as my control-freak nature will allow, as long as it isn’t potentially dangerous (stove-work and chopping are limited.) I usually do most of the dishes, although the 6 year old is into bubbles, so last week he did the whole sinkful all by himself.

And so far, so good. I’ve found myself pleasantly challenged by the recipes they’ve picked. I generally avoid handling dough, as it’s not a strength, but our Blueberry Pinwheels turned out just fine, and I salvaged a bad pie dough by making it into a lattice top for Blueberry Pie.



The first week’s Lemon Bars were a favorite I’ve made many times, but I’ve only ever made one clafoutis, and that was years ago. I loved the recipe they found for this cherry one topped with a syrup made with lemon zest and cinnamon.

The lighting is weird. It didn't taste light blue in the slightest.

The lighting is weird. It didn’t taste light blue in the slightest.

The time together is not always stress-free, as there are the inevitable power struggles and disagreements, (and my kids bicker with each other, too, heh), but both children end up proud and excited to gobble samples of “their” dessert, and take a portion to school Tuesday to show off at lunchtime. Family cooking club has been a success in terms of bringing us together to focus on a child-driven activity. It has been an utter failure at helping me get back into my jeans, but you can’t have it all.

Apparel Peril

6 Feb

Before I was a parent I put a lot more stock in the importance of nurture to forming a person’s identity. And maybe my changing point of view makes it seem like I’m cracking under the pressure of raising little people, but I bet any parent will tell you that strong nature-ful personality traits come standard on babies. People enter the world already people, not just impressionable lumps of clay for their caregivers to mold into whatever shapes they most prefer. Want to make the gods laugh? Tell them your plans for your children.

My kids, from the start such individuals in a myriad of ways, are in elementary school now, and thus ever more conscious of the impressions they make on their peers. I’ve got a front row seat to their struggle to express the people they sense themselves to be. And as someone truly invested in their outcomes, I struggle myself with how much to intrude in this process. I know I have power and influence; it’s less clear to me exactly how much, and what role I should aspire to play in what will be a lifelong journey of becoming. This is on my mind a lot lately because of two separate incidents, one with each child.

In the first case, my 8 year old daughter had been sent upstairs to get dressed for a casual outing with her grandfather. She came back down wearing leggings paired with a teeshirt. I pointed out to her that she wasn’t actually wearing pants, and asked her to either throw on a dress or change into jeans. She grumbled briefly because she was impatient to leave, and changed. In subsequent days she has twice asked, “Are these things I have on pants or leggings?” suggesting that she, like so many others, has a hard time telling the difference. The end.

OR IT WOULD HAVE BEEN, had I not remembered this chart by Amy Sly on the Huffington Post, and been moved to post on Facebook and Twitter, “It’s never too early to teach your daughter the difference between pants and leggings.” I got funny and mostly supportive responses on both platforms, but a few friends pushed back a little along the lines of, “I LIKE leggings as pants,” and, “C’mon, 8 is too young to worry about stuff like that,” and, “Fashion is fun, she should be free to express herself.” (I’m paraphrasing; hope you don’t feel misquoted, friends!) (Friends…?)

Prompted by these comments to consider whether I might be over-reacting, I mulled over why exactly it bothered me to let an outfit that was a little bare out the door. And in so doing I had to confront how much I’m projecting into the future. It doesn’t take much for me to hopscotch mentally from a girl who gets inappropriately sexualized attention from boys and men by inadvertently, (or experimentally), dressing provocatively, to a woman who dresses that way intentionally in order to draw lascivious focus. Is that what my daughter was up to? Of course not, (and I also don’t think leggings alone would be enough to encourage looks or comments.) But I realized that I reacted so protectively because pretty much my worst case scenario is that she grow up to dress like the women who compete on reality TV shows. Hair extensions, stripper heels, hoisted boobs, booty shorts, gel manicure, fake tan… Horrors! I would rather she have an aqua mohawk and tattoo sleeves. Keep it weird, my girl! Keep it creative or nerdy or boring! Resist the forces of bimboification! And go put on some pants!

On the other hand is my sweet 6 year old son, who has exhibited a keen interest in “girl” accoutrements since, well, birth. His favorite color is pink. He borrows costume high heels from his girl buddies. For his 6th birthday he asked for a pedicure. This is how he rolls. Last week he came down accessorized for school in a wide pink plastic headband. I could tell he was determined to wear it, so I reminded him to stash it in his backpack if it gave him a headache, and left it at that. When he got off the bus that afternoon he was the picture of dejection–slumped shoulders, frowny face. “Headband drama,” his sister commented. “I HAD THE WORST DAY EVER!” he cried, and described being teased on the bus and by a pack of girls in his class. I hugged him, told him I loved him, and said I thought he should wear what he likes. And I wondered if that was going to be it for the headband experiment.

But the next day he marched down the stairs wearing a different (coordinating) headband. “Now that I know what the friends will say to me, I’m going to school ready for it,” he declared. In the days since, he has scootered around the block in one of his sister’s dresses, worn a gold necklace and carried a purse to a Super Bowl party, and added some kind of accessory to his school outfit every day. And he gets teased, and he doesn’t like it, but he persists. I overheard the following conversation between him and a friend during a recent playdate:

Friend: “Why are you wearing high heels?”
6yo: “Because I like girl stuff.”
Friend: “Oh. I have a friend who’s a girl who likes boy stuff.”
(They continue playing.)

Shrug. I think he’s on to something, and hope if his interest in pushing the boundaries of gender “appropriate” apparel persists, he will continue to do it with confidence and flair.

So my conclusion is that I would actually prefer it if my son grows up to parade around in highly sexualized femme gear than if my daughter does! But whatever happens, I hope I have the strength to love and support my kids, and keep (most of) my thoughts to myself. (Or commit them to my blog, whichever.)