Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hello, Self

This is how I begin my day. I bought myself that pen ten years ago, when I first started journaling in earnest. Mostly I wrote about Aaron. I still write about Aaron, but now I write happier things. I used to journal at night, but I'm working on a project right now that involves journaling first thing in the morning. I wouldn't normally choose to write in the morning, but it's been very grounding to spend some time exploring my thoughts at the beginning of the day. It all started innocently enough. Kayleigh is taking a course in NYC aimed at learning how to become a health counselor over the phone. Kayleigh is already a health counselor, but a lot of New Yorkers don't have time to meet face-to-face so someone came up with the idea of doing it over the phone. She asked me if she could practice on me. Of course I said yes. So we made an official phone date and the morning she called I was all ready with my coffee and looking forward to picking up some good health tips. "We're going to start by building your Wellness Vision," she says. "What's that?" I ask. "Your Wellness Vision is how you see your healthiest self; I want you to describe yourself when you have become your healthiest self and tell me what that looks like. What do you do in the morning? How often do you exercise? How does your body feel? How you do feel about your life?" Kayleigh knows me. I can think of maybe two other people who know me as well as she does, and one of them is my husband. More importantly, Kayleigh loves me, so I feel comfortable answering probing questions from her. I start describing my Wellness Vision, and it includes things like waking up early to do yoga or journal, regular exercise, pursuing personal hobbies. Next, we talk about any gaps between my Wellness Vision and where I am right now so we can see what I need to work on to get there. I identify a couple of things I need to do, like get up earlier, recruit more support for childcare, make myself an exercise schedule. Then, the hard part: identifying what the challenges are to implementing those changes. In other words, being really honest about why I haven't done those things already. The answer kind of surprises me. I realize during our conversation that my life is filled with excuses: “I’d like to ______, but I don’t have the time; I want to ______, but I’m intimidated; I’ve always dreamed of being ______, but I don’t think it’s practical.” The thing that is holding me back from achieving my Wellness Vision is the same thing that is holding me back from being a better parent, a better wife, and a better person: I don’t take myself seriously as an adult. This is kind of a painful realization to have at the age of 26, two kids deep. It seems to me this is the sort of thing a person ought to have addressed before getting to this point, but it is something I have successfully ignored for a number of years. I’m a little embarrassed about this revelation, so I immediately try blaming it on someone else: my parents kept me from making mistakes so I never learned how to appropriately handle the consequences of my actions; Aaron got me pregnant before I had the chance to find out who I really was and experience the world; my kids take up so much of my time that there’s none left for me. All of these are lies. There might be some truth to them, but they are no longer relevant. Whatever my parents did or didn’t do for me, I am responsible for myself now, not them. Yes, Aaron was instrumental in the conception of my children, but I was there too. My kids do take up a lot of time, but I could get up earlier or make more productive choices about how to spend my time after they’re in bed. It’s tempting to blame my troubles on other people, but by making my problems someone else’s responsibility I remove any power I have to fix them. No responsibility, no power. Oh. Shit. “I hate parenting,” I tell Kayleigh. I’ve sent the boys downstairs to watch a Veggie Tales so I can vent about how frustrated I am without their hearing me. “They don’t listen to anything I say; they beat the crap out of each other when they fight and Matteas keeps breaking Jack’s glasses; Matteas doesn’t sleep through the night…” I go on like this for a while, and even I don’t want to listen to myself. But Kayleigh listens, and when I finally stop she says “Tirz, you don’t hate parenting; you just hate parenting ALL THE TIME.” She’s right. Between getting so absorbed in going wheat-free and not making time for any alone time, I do feel like I’m in Parent Mode constantly. I feel like a meal-maker mess-cleaner dish-washer bath-giver butt-wiper fight-settler robot. I know all those things are part of the work of parenting, but I need more in my day. I start indulging in little escapes in the form of frequently checking my e-mail and facebook, finding new blogs to read after I’ve already read my favorites, hoping every time the phone rings that it’s an actual adult who will have adult conversation with me. At night after the boys are in bed, I make myself a giant mug of tea and head downstairs to the TV. Even as I am watching it I’m thinking, this isn’t what I really want and it won’t feed me in a real way; it will just distract me for a while. I want to do more than just get through my life with distraction. I decide that I really need to take myself seriously, and register for the marathon. Next I turn my attention to my parenting, and think about what will make my kids take me seriously. I decide that I will not tell them what to do unless I’m standing close enough to touch them. This solves two problems: I never have to raise my voice, and I am poised and ready to enforce a consequence or offer guidance the instant I tell them to do something. I have to stop what I’m doing and go over to them a lot to employ this technique, but it is totally worth it. Most of the time, they do what I ask. If they don’t, I calmly escort them to their room. The situation doesn’t escalate, them ignoring me and my voice growing louder in direct proportion to the powerlessness I feel. It’s productive discipline, and it’s peaceful. With my parenting improved, the days go smoothly and at night when I put the boys to bed I’m satisfied that I’ve done a good job. Having avoided expending a lot of energy on non-productive encounters, I no longer feel drained, exhausted and guilty at the end of the day. I feel empowered, competent, and excited about my life. I don’t watch TV at night. I make myself a big mug of tea and read or sit with Aaron and talk. I choose things that feed me in a real way so that I am refreshed and ready to do it all again the next day. The best part is that I am not merely making it through, I'm growing. One day, I may even make it to full-on adulthood.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I am really, really excited about this picture. Not just because the boys are being so cute(they were being a choo-choo train, and yes they are each wearing half of the same set of pajamas), but because all of Jack's skin is smooth and clear. Look closely at the skin on his ribcage. A month ago he looked like he had leprosy. His skin was rough, cracked, peeling, and bright red. I was on the verge of taking him to a dermatologist, but I'm tired of going to the doctor and leaving with less information than I could find on my own. The last time I went to our local clinic, the practitioner left the room to Google. So I decided to try my own remedy, and since wheat allergies run in our family that was my first choice. As you can see, it worked beautifully. I think the eczema bothered Jack more than he realized. He never really complained about it while it was there, but now that it's gone he avoids wheat very carefully. At Grandpa Caseri's funeral he was offered a piece of cake, and he politely(and a little tearfully) informed the nice ladies that "I can't have wheat." I bought him a special wheat-free cookie later to reward him for making such brave choices. I told him that he may eat wheat if he chooses, but that it will bother his eczema. He has done his own policing to an impressive degree. I'm kind of grateful for the whole ordeal; our family is eating healthier and Jack has really matured. He is learning early on a lesson most Americans never deal with: what he puts in his body has an effect on how he feels. He's so pleased about his skin healing, and I'm so proud of how he's handled everything. I could tell that it was improving, but the degree to which it's healed feels like a miracle. On a side note, it's crazy how strongly the American diet is based on wheat. A friend from church is allergic to wheat and corn; do you have any idea how many foods that rules out? Did you know that the wax on the fruits and vegetables in the produce section is made from corn? Jack has been eagerly awaiting the first day of Spring for some time now. He'd ask about it like he was waiting for Christmas, and he was so excited when I told him that it was finally here. It worked out nicely that it happened to be nearly 70 degrees that day, and we spent all of it outside. On Sunday, Jack and I went to Sky Nursery and bought some plants, seeds, and some kid-sized hoes. They were only $8 so I'm curious how long they'll last, but they've kept the boys busy all day so far.
We put some pansies in containers by the front door to spruce things up a little.
I can't wait to plant this stuff. And yes, two types of radish and three types of cucumber really are necessary. This is just the beginning, actually; I still need to get all kinds of lettuce seeds, and some squash and tomato starts.
The boys can't wait either; they've been cultivating the soil for me to help prepare the garden.
This is what our backyard looks like right now. Last year this patch was only about 5' x 10'. This year I want it about twice that size. It's a great family activity; I turn over shovel-fulls of dirt, and the boys rush in to see what kind of bugs and worms I've unearthed. Today I found a couple of disgusting-looking grubs that were the size of my thumb. They looked like aliens. I'm not very squeamish for a girl, but I was grossed out. There was something oddly menacing about knowing that there were horrible-looking fat grubs just lying there. Their stillness added to the grossness somehow.
I don't know if I will ever get over Matteas and his love affair with "wormies." He can't say his r's, and the way he pronounces the word kills me. He's thrilled when he sees one inching its way through the dirt. He rushed over and very gently picks it up, then whispers sweet nothings to it: "Don't worry Little Wormy, I will keep you safe. Do you want me to help you find you family, Little Wormy?" He collects them all day in that cup, then releases them into the wild before we go inside for the evening. He's able to part with them because I told him they would die if he brought them into the house, and because he finds enormous satisfation in setting them all free together. Wormy togetherness will take the edge off the sting of being separated from their new friend, Matteas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Tirzah Got Her Groove Back

These cupcakes are from the Babycakes cookbook. They are vegan, and also wheat-free. Somehow, they are also delicious.
I made peanut butter frosting to go on top, which was not vegan as it consisted mostly of butter.
The combination was a little too sweet for me, but as you can see, the boys loved it.
Down to the very last crumb.
It's not surprising; the crumbs were moist. The chocolate cake was very chocolaty, and subtly sweet. I'm continually impressed with Erin McKenna's food sensibilities, even if she doesn't use butter. The woman knows how to make tasty treats, even a bacon-loving heavy cream-wielding carnivore like me can agree on that.
My trainer has celiac disease, which means she cannot eat wheat for reasons far more serious than the restrictions facing Jack. She is also allergic to eggs and most dairy, so I made a vegan glaze to go on top of a cupcake for her.
To make up for the lack of butter, I made it beautiful.
Also, the boys were being crazy that day and it felt like an extravagance to spend ten minutes decorating a single cupcake using a toothpick. It was great.
If you're wondering how to safely transport a single cupcake, here's a very clever idea I did not come up with on my own.
Community is a wonderful thing. After weeks of culinary depression and fantasizing about cheese danishes, I am back. It took me a while to rediscover my passion for food, but with a lot of help I did it.
It started with the Babycakes book that Sonia borrowed on my behalf; it occurred to me then how nice it is that Jack has a grandma who is such a wonderful advocate for his well-being. Then, strolling the aisles of PCC the other night(alone!), I came across Gluten-free Girl: How I found the food that loves me back, and how you can too. I'm familiar with the Gluten-free Girl website, but I'd never read her book. I picked it up and scanned a few pages, reading at random. I realized that what I held in my hands was the hard-earned result of months of work after years- decades even- of suffering. The author, Shauna James Ahern, has celiac disease. Celiac disease causes the body to attack gluten, destroying the intestines in the process. All kinds of digestive pains and problems ensue, as the body is unable to pull nutrients from any food eaten. Shauna was not diagnosed until the age of 38. She is now healthy and happy, thanks to living gluten-free, and she shares recipes and encouragement on her website and through her book. The book is part cookbook, part memoir, and wholly fantastic. Shauna is not only a celiac survivor and talented cook, she is also a gifted writer who will make you laugh out loud and shed a tear or two for the years she spent suffering while still undiagnosed. Although Jack doesn't have celiac disease(that we know of, apparently it runs in the family and testing may be in order), he could still benefit from all the wheat-free recipes. I bought the book hoping to find some tasty meals, but this book is so much more. Even if you don't have any food allergies it is still a totally fascinating read, chronicling the story of a woman whose body tortured her for nearly forty years before she triumphantly learned to heal herself.
It's also been really comforting that my best friend Anna's kids are also wheat-free; when we take our kids out to dinner and order cheeseburgers without the bun, Jack doesn't feel like a freak because his friend Talia is eating the same thing. It is so, so important to have a community. It keeps us from feeling isolated and provides a way for the people who can help each other to connect and trade helpful information. I've had numerous gluten-free restaurant and recipe recommendations from friends at church, and am consistently comforted and inspired by the openness and warmth of the wheat-free community. There is something transformational about taking a painful experience and turning it into something that can improve the life of someone else. To that end, my intention is to take all the resources and support I've been given and pay it forward, donating my culinary prowess to the wheat-free community as I march on into a wheat-free kitchen future, whisk and wooden spoon in hand. We may be giving up wheat, but we have gained a lot in the process: a real way to help my son's body heal, a community I was not previously a part of which has been instrumental in helping me not feel lost and overwhelmed, and a new springboard for cooking inspiration. I'm learning to use new ingredients and I'm certain I will encounter multiple failures in the future, but any failure or success that comes my way will be shared and the failures will be less painful, the successes sweeter.

My Muse

For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me Jamie Oliver's jamie at home. I have yet to cook a single thing out it, but I would highly recommend it for several reasons. One is that Jamie's food writing is incredibly readable; he writes the same way he talks, as if the person he's addressing is sitting right next to him. He is one of a group of emerging chefs who has a truly integrated approach to food- from soil to table, and everything in between. He grows a lot of is own produce, does a lot of his own hunting, and even raises is own chickens.
I want to be at this party.
The cookbook is organized according to season, with a list of what produce is available, how to grow it, and recipes for how to prepare it.
The book is equal parts gradening book and cookbook, with Jamie's charming and thoughtful narratives throughout. Whenever I'm feeling low on culinary inspiration, I curl up on the couch with this book and it always makes me want to go dig in the dirt. That may seem like a strange thing to say about a cookbook, but it's also the beauty of it; Jamie has a way of talking about food that makes you want to be as involved as possible with what ends up on your plate. It makes sense; if you want high-quality food, you're going to treat animals with respect and the soil with care, all if which will produce better, healthier, tastier food.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Sixth Stage: Rediscovering Joy

When I first suspected that Jack had a wheat allergy, I thought "What better mother than me to deal with something like this; I like medical stuff, I enjoy applying a scientific approach to problems, and I love to cook. This will be easy." I was so wrong. While it became clear very quickly that Jack does in fact have a wheat allergy, I could not possibly have anticipated the impact it would have on me personally. The first week was alright, and I was very encouraged by how rapidly Jack's eczema began healing; it seemed totally worth it. Give up wheat and my kid's suffering diminishes. Good deal. Brown rice pasta isn't so bad, tacos are tasty and naturally wheat-free, bread isn't the best food for you anyway. And then I got grumpy. I don't know if there's such a thing as actual wheat withdrawal or if I just got burnt out from trying to convert our lifestyle to wheatless, but my goodness I was a grouch. I didn't even want to be in the same room with me. My parenting skills began to slide, I lost my temper with the boys more frequently, the thought of making dinner was overwhelming and depressing. If I had to look at another corn chip I was going to hurl, and even the initially innocuous brown rice pasta now loomed offensive and bland on my culinary horizon. I no longer loved cooking. This was bad. That's when I hit the first stage of grief: denial. Maybe Jack isn't really allergic to wheat, maybe there's nothing I can do to help his skin. Next I got angry: cooking without wheat sucks, all I want is a big, white, chewy(oh how I miss the texture of chewiness) bagel. Next, I tried bargaining: maybe he can have spelt. Spelt flour is pretty easy to work with, and the spelt bread from Trader Joe's is quite tasty. After two days of spelt, Jack's eczema looked as angry as if he'd been eating wheat. And that's when the depression hit. I dreaded meal times, often skipped meals just to avoid eating another corn tortilla(I still fed the kids). I don't know if I ever really embraced the acceptance phase of grief, I think I was too depressed to feel accepting. And then. And THEN. My mother-in-law borrowed a cookbook from a gluten-intolerant coworker, which included a collection of gluten-free flours and little baggies of evaporated cane sugar and xantham gum, ingredients which had previously never been in my arsenal. I started reading the cookbook right away, and haven't been able to put it down since. The most heartening bit was that Tom Colicchio, who has no dietary difficulty associated with wheat, wrote the introduction. That was enough to get me past my skepticism, even though I thought all wheat-free flours smelled and tasted terrible. Most contain garbanzo bean flour, and tasted like it. I really doubted anything sweet and delicious could come from something that tasted like it should be made into hummus. With a hopeful heart I carefully measured, measured some more, sifted, measured and stirred. Gluten-free baking requires a lot of ingredients to mimick the effects of wheat flour, and putting this bread together felt more scientific than I generally like cooking to feel. My bread is not as dark as the one in the picture, but no matter; it was freaking delicious. With the first bite I discovered what is on the other side of the Five Stages of Grief: Pleasure. Dotted with lumps of moist, caramelly apple and rich with cinnamon, this apple bread tastes like a cross between Amish Friendship Bread and an apple fritter. The crumb is unbelievably moist and tender, the sweetness not overpowering, the cinnamon swirl emerging around the crust so crunchy and satisfying I had to put the rest of the loaf away to keep myself from eating the entire thing in one sitting. It has a depth of flavor to it that's hard to put your finger on; it's a little darker, a little earthier than bread made with white flour but not in a whole wheat kind of way. It's earthy but clean, rich but not heavy. And here's the most shocking part: not only is it wheat-free, it's vegan. No eggs, no butter. I know. I KNOW. If you gave me this bread- no, let's be honest, it's really cake- if you gave me this cake, I would never in a million years be able to guess its true nature. It doesn't taste like something masquerading as something made with white flour, eggs and butter, it tastes like something that was in fact made with white flour, eggs and butter. You cannot hide a lack of butter from me, I will taste it, I will criticize it, and I will spit it out. Or bring my own cube of butter. While I did depart from the recipe slightly in that I brushed the top with melted butter instead of oil, I did not, contrary to my usual habit, feel the need to put any butter on the finished product while eating it. The only necessary accompaniment is a tall glass of cold milk. Jack was so overjoyed to have some kind of bread-like food to eat that actually tasted delicious that he started giggling at his first bite. Even if you can have wheat and eggs and all manner of other foods, abandon all your inhibitions about this particular recipe and make it at all costs. It is one of the best baked goods I've ever tasted, including my previous wheat-egg-butter love affairs. I don't know the actual nutritional information, but I'm guessing that garbanzo and fava bean flour is a lot better for you than traditional white baking flour. Also, coconut oil, while certainly not low-fat, contains no trans or hydrogenated fats and is very high in Omega-3's(good, happy fat). I've only tried two recipes from the Babycakes cookbook, but I'd highly recommend it for several reasons. One is the pictures. This book is pure food porn, and every single recipe is accompanied by a picture. I hate cooking something without knowing what it's supposed to look like. The other reason is that in the beginning, Erin takes you through a definition and explanation of every single one of the ingredients. She tells what each ingredient does and how it combines with other ingredients, largely demystifying the intimidating world of gluten-free baking. She is a genius, a fantastic cook, and a serious cutie-pie besides. She writes an introduction to every recipe explaining how the finished product tastes, often including interesting back-stories on how that particular recipe came to be. If you have friends who must avoid wheat, this cookbook would make a fabulous gift. A few recipes do include spelt flour, but most do not. Apple Toastie Adapted from Erin McKenna's Babycakes

1 cup garbanzo-fava bean flour(I used Bob's Red Mill)

1 1/4 cups evaporated cane juice, divided

1/2 cup potato starch(again, Bob's Red Mill)

3 TB corn starch(the original recipe calls for 1/4 cup arrowroot, which I didn't have)

2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. xantham gum

1 tsp. salt

2 TB ground cinnamon

1/2 coconut oil

1/3 cup applesauce

2 TB pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups very hot water, divided

1 cup roasted apples

First, peel, slice, core and cut into small chunks one large apple(I used a Fuji). Sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon and spread out on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat, and bake at 325 for about fifteen minutes. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients, reserving 1 TB of the cinnamon and 1/4 cup of the evaporated cane juice and being careful to use EXACT measurements. Carefully whisk everything together until you have a homogenous mixture. In a separate bowl, place the 1/2 cup of coconut oil in the bottom of the bowl and carefully pour 1 cup of very hot water over the oil, stirring gently until all the oil melts(most coconut oil is sold in tubs and is the consistency of shortening at room temperature, so it must be melted before use in baking). Add the oil/water mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients, then add the applesauce and vanilla. Stir until smooth, then gently fold in the roasted apples. Remove 1/4 cup of the batter to a separate bowl and add the reserved 1TB cinnamon, 1/4 cup of evaporated cane juice and remaining 1/4 cup of water. Stir until smooth.

Pour the batter from the larger mixing bowl into a greased loaf pan, then carefully pour the cinnamon batter in a line down the center. Use a spoon to swirl the cinnamon mixture into the loaf, being careful not to stir too much; you want a visible ribbon of cinnamon in the finished loaf.

Sprinkle the top of the loaf with a few pinches of evaporated cane juice or plain granulated sugar(what I used), and bake at 325 for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the loaf out of the oven and brush the top with either melted butter(what I used) or melted coconut oil(original recipe). Sprinkle with a little more sugar, rotate the pan and put back in the oven for another 20 minutes. The loaf will be golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean. Let the loaf rest in the pan for 20 minutes before running a knife around the sides and inverting onto a cutting board. Slice and serve warm. Be happy.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I ♥ Policemen

Before the haircut
The haircut pictures don't really have anything to do with the police, they're just the most recent shots I have of Matteas. I loved his hair long and shaggy, but it was getting a little bit out of control. He saw me giving Aaron a haircut the other night, and asked for one of his own. With Aaron's help I managed to do a pretty decent job, although it was touch and go for a while; Matteas is so darn wiggly, and then he thought the comb was tickly so there was a lot of moving around and near-chopping of fingers(mine, not his). After a lot of patient head-holding from Aaron, we got it done. My only regret is that all the bright blond highlights are gone, but I'm sure Summer will come along and take care of that. And now, where the police come in... I have never really been a terribly "together" person; while I excel in certain areas, there is usually a trade-off. I choose to focus on a few things that are my top priorities and pretty much don't worry about the rest. I'd like to be more on top of things, but a lot of the time I feel like it isn't worth the struggle. At least not as long as the struggle involves wrestling whiny kids. Last week Jack was invited to a birthday party, which we missed due to Matteas being in a state of serious snottiness; every few minutes there would be a fresh smear of boogers across his face, so I thought it was best not to take our slimy selves to the birthday party. We hung onto the present for the birthday boy, and yesterday at school pick-up I actually remembered to give it to him. I was having a semi-together day; I'd done my hair, was wearing an actual outfit as opposed to sweatpants and a coat, managed to fill the car with gas and pull off a trip to Trader Joe's with Matteas in tow, and now I was thoughtfully remembering birthday presents for a kid whose party we didn't even attend. Someone give me a gold star. I get Jack from school, collect his papers from his cubby, remember to grab his water bottle. I see the birthday boy and tell him that we have a present for him in the trunk of my car. I hit the trunk button on my car remote, simultaneously hitting the "lock" button(you know where this is going, right?). Matteas is already buckled into his seat. I pull out the present, toss my armful of school stuff into the trunk, and shut it. With the keys inside. I knew I shouldn't have put on a bra today; it probably cost me my last few "togetherness" points. Jack's teacher immediately calls 911(Aaron was more than an hour away) and the mom of the birthday boy kindly waits with me, and she and the teacher take turns regaling me with stories of all the times they locked themselves out of the house while their newborn was napping, it's happened to all of us, etc. I stand by the window next to Matteas and tell him that Mama locked the keys in the trunk, but a nice policeman is coming to get them out and everything will be okay. He was well for a few minutes, but the windows in the car are up and it's starting to get a little warm in the car. I try instructing him to slide the top harness of his carseat buckle down and pull his arms out so he can reach forward and unlock the door, and he does actually get the buckle to slide down but then he's too upset to listen to further direction. The cop shows up, has me sign the release form and gets to work on the passenger-side door. Matteas is freaking out by now, his little face is flushed and sweaty, and he's crying. I put my hand on the window next to his face and try to talk soothingly to him, but this is difficult because he's crying and can't really hear me through the glass anyway so I have to shout which isn't really very soothing. In spite of the stressful circumstances I feel a quick moment of embarrassment that my car is so messy, the floor of the backseat littered with buckets from the beach, extra clothes and coats and about 16 half-used packages of diaper wipes. The cop tries valiantly to unlock the door, but apparently my car is extra difficult to burglarize. This is not comforting news under the circumstances. At this point, Matteas is so upset that he's screaming and rubbing snot all over his face. The snot irritates him and he tries to brush it off his face, but he succeeds only in gashing his own cheek. Between the snot and the screaming he's getting pretty worked up, and in short order he barfs all over himself. Good thing he drank a lot of milk with lunch. "This kind of thing doesn't usually happen, I'm a very attentive mother!" I want to blurt out. "I control Jack's eczema by giving up wheat as a family! I read to them everyday! I feed them only organic fruits and vegetables! I'm training for a $%#@ing marathon!!!" But none of this matters right now, so I don't say any of it. I meekly accept that it is my turn to feel sheepish, that no one gets everything right all of the time and it doesn't make me a bad mother, it just makes me human. Another cop shows up to help, and Jack's teacher gets me a damp cloth to wipe Matteas with when I eventually get him out of my car. Twenty minutes after the 911 call was made, Cop #1 succeeds in getting the door open which of course sets off the alarm, so now that sound is added to the screaming. I lunge into the now-open passenger door and hit the unlock button, run back around to Matteas and pull him out, sweaty and covered from head to toe in various bodily fluids. His whole little body is trembling and his hair is matted with sweat. "I'm sorry baby, Mama's so sorry," I whisper over and over again as I rock him in my arms. "Mama was right here all the time, I knew the policeman would save you, it's okay now baby, it's okay," and in a minute or two he calms down. I thank the cops, who are very friendly and understanding and they don't even tell me I'm a bad mother or that I should have cleaned my car that morning instead of having coffee with Anna while the kids watched cartoons. We get home and I run a warm bath for Matteas, change my clothes and get Matteas a bottle of grape juice to get the taste of curdled milk out of his mouth, and in short order everything is just fine. I give myself permission to make macaroni and cheese for dinner(with brown rice pasta). My friend Anna's words come back to me: "It's the mothers who think they have it all figured out that you need to watch out for; they're not open to the fact that they might be getting something wrong. The good mothers are the ones who know they need help; they know they can't always do it alone." Anna's like that; she can make you feel like a good person precisely because you made a mistake. As I'm making dinner, the phone rings. It's Aaron's brother Tristan, calling to say that Grandpa Caseri has passed away quietly in his sleep. I light a candle and say a prayer for Grandma Caseri, who will probably never quite understand where her husband went. I resolve to be extra-nice to Aaron when he comes home, and start tidying up the house as a welcome. As the noodles for dinner are cooking, I load the dishwasher to the brim which is a good thing because after dinner we will be totally out of clean silverware. I put in the soap, close the door and push the start button. Nothing happens. I fiddle with it for a while, then realize that something must have shorted when Matteas flooded the counter earlier in the day while "doing the dishes," a process which bought me fifteen minutes of peace to eat my lunch unmolested but which apparently cost me a working dishwasher. Aaron gets home and I open wine, kiss him hello, ask if he's alright. He says yes and then asks me if today's events have motivated me to get the spare key(which isn't spare anymore because the real spare broke off in the lock a few months ago) back in its hiding place, which I wrongly interpret as criticism. I bite my tongue, and all I say in reply is "yes." The phone rings. It's a young kid named Will, trying to earn money for college by selling me knives. I hate solicitors. Especially the kind who call during the dinner hour because they know you're home. Poor Will. He doesn't deserve what's about to happen, but unfortunately for him he's the last straw and I let fly. "Will, I'm sure you're a very nice kid and that your knives are of the finest quality, but I accidentally locked my kid in the car today and the police had to be called to get him out but not before he got so upset that he barfed all over, my husband's grandfather passed away less than an hour ago and my dishwasher is broken. I really hope you get to college but I'm just not interested in any knives right now." "Oh, uh, I'm really sorry about all that; I completely understand. Have a good evening," stammers Will, beating a hasty retreat. As I pray with Matteas that night, we thank God for cozy beds, warm baths, and policemen. Later, in my own bed, I say a prayer of gratitude for emergency help that comes when you need it, and for moms who are willing to have the "I'm not perfect either" conversation. Then I promise myself that tomorrow while Jack's at school, I will buy myself a cheese danish to eat after I wash all the dishes by hand. And I will wear sweats to school pick-up.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Marathon...

So I've noticed an interesting phenomenon about telling people you're training for a marathon: the instant the words leave your mouth, the person you're talking to will involuntarily look you over. I've probably done the same thing, automatically trying to weigh the facts against ambitions. Since noticing this trend, I've been careful not to mention my marathon aspirations unless I'm wearing pants that flatter my bum. I went running for the first time in a while on Sunday. We had a horrendous time in church with the boys that morning; the sweet lady who sat behind us actually hugged me when we left. I think she sensed my exasperation. We got home and had some breakfast, then watched the US/Canada hockey game while the food settled. Later Aaron took both boys to Costco by himself(something we usually do together or with fewer kids) so I could go running while the shopping was being done. It was a lovely spring evening, warm enough to run in a light long-sleeved top. The route I chose took me past at least a dozen cherry trees and the air was soft and sweet. I haven't run long distances for a while; when I say "a while" I mean somewhere around ten years. I ran as a teenager to work out my angst, and I'm simply a lot less angsty these days. I ran 3-5 times a week, between 3-5 miles per run. I liked the way my mind and my body unwound as I ran, untangling the knots in my brain as well as my muscles. Running gave me my own little world, one set apart from my family and friends and all the cares of school and my job. It was something that was mine and mine alone, a world I created for myself from nothing but the strength of my own body. It was a way to get away, literally but perhaps more important, figuratively, from everything that troubled me. I ran a lot after meeting Aaron. In fact, the day after I met him I improved my personal best for distance by pounding out eight miles, not willing to admit to myself where this new-found source of energy and ambition was coming from. On days when I started to feel tired and my energy lagged, I relied on two tricks to get me to the end of my run. One trick, and I have no idea why I did this, was to count my strides in sets of twelve. It was a high enough number to move me a significant distance but low enough that I could always bring myself to run just twelve more steps; every time I got to twelve, I'd start over. Sometimes I'd be counting to twelve for a whole mile, my brain switching to an automatic track that wasn't allowed to think about the discomfort in my lungs or the heaviness in my legs, only to count to twelve and to force my feet to move with each number. The other trick was to think about Aaron. For a good amount of the time I knew him, he was dating someone else. Consequently, I did a lot of running. I had a sense from the very beginning that Aaron and I were meant to be together, so the effect of seeing him with another girl was twofold: it created in me a sense that all was not right with the world, but also a sense of waiting. It was a strange mix of feelings to have at once a sense of dread but also hope, that if I just stuck it out long enough the Forces of the Universe would eventually get with the program and everything would work out. This outcome seemed a lot less likely during the three-year period that Aaron and I didn't speak to each other. I wasn't speaking to him because I felt he'd behaved like an ass, and he wasn't speaking to me because he felt sheepish about having behaved like an ass. Later, the roles would be reversed but eventually it did all work out. In the meantime, I ran. And whenever I felt like counting to twelve wasn't going to get me through the last mile, I'd pretend that Aaron was waiting for me. The end of my run was always the hardest part, two fairly long, fairly steep hills coming between me and my parents' front door. I'd usually walk up them, but on days when I felt particularly angsty or that the universe was so badly out of order I couldn't see how it would ever right itself, I'd channel all my discontent into self-improvement and make myself run up both hills to finish. Often, the only way to get myself to do this was to envision Aaron at the top. He was never there, but the hope of someday propelled me though many a final ascent. During my run on Sunday, my thoughts wandered back to all those fraught runs of my youth and where they'd gotten me. Muscle memory is a well-documented thing, but what I find even more compelling are the mental memories woven into the process. I ran about five miles that evening, and it was just difficult enough to be really satisfying. During the last half-mile, I started counting to twelve. After a few rounds of that, I realized that my other endurance trick would probably serve me better since Aaron would, in fact, actually be waiting for me at the top of the hill.