Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Three Things No One Told Me

In honor of E turning three today, I am writing about three things no one ever told me about having a three year old. I've only "officially" had a three year old for about two hours, so I'm taking some liberties here, but I couldn't resist the symmetry of this exercise. I'm envisioning a post someday entitled "21 Things No One Told Me..."

1. Chocolate milk is the only acceptable milk to serve at a three year old's birthday party, if one must be so uncouth as to serve milk at all. (Juice, of course, being the most highly valued beverage among the pre-school set.) I learned this lesson during E's party on Saturday when I set out a cooler full of milk boxes - white, chocolate, and vanilla - and juice boxes. After the party, I discovered the chocolate milk boxes completely gone and only two of the juice boxes remaining, but the white and vanilla boxes completely untouched. I have made a note of this, and will offer only chocolate milk at any future gatherings where more than five children are present, as past experiences have shown me that children will drink white milk in groups smaller than five.

2. Three year olds are indiscriminate when it comes to eating food that does not belong to them, and one must go to parks, playgrounds, etc. prepared not just to feed one's own child, but all of the other children as well. I learned this lesson when E and I showed up for a picnic lunch playdate with a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few mini carrots. Enough for E's lunch, but not enough to share. I watched in growing dismay as the well-prepared mothers set out an admirable spread including, but not limited to, hummus, pita, cheese, apple slices, as well as the obligatory peanut butter and jelly. The other mothers carried their meals in soft sided coolers, whereas E and I had packed his lunch in a miniature lunch box that once held a puzzle. Everyone very graciously shared their food with E, while I could only offer one mini carrot per child. I have since acquired my own soft-sided cooler, and fill it with at least quadruple the quantity of food I think E will consume.

3. In my sleeping three year old, I can see at once the baby he was and the man he will become. This was not case a year ago, when I could see the last of the baby begin to melt away as the little boy emerged. The man, however, remained an enigma. Now, the shape of E's face has changed, even in sleep, and I can see more clearly who he will become. But the baby is not so far in the distance that he doesn't emerge in sleep, and while I expect I will always be able to see him, the chubby cheeks and flawless skin will soon disappear, further obscuring his view from anyone except the woman who gave him birth.

Happy Birthday E...thanks for the adventures.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Search for Sidewalks Continues

It's been a while, hasn't it?

The past two weeks have been full of practical, everyday busyness. E is turning 3 tomorrow, and we had his birthday party on Saturday. We had ceiling fans installed and I'm currently fighting it out with Sears, which for some reason is having quite a difficult time figuring out how to get my new dishwasher to my house. In other words, normal life is happening here.

But other things have been happening too, and while they are not mine to write about, they have filled my head and heart in ways that have made it difficult to think of anything else. For the past two weeks, I have been afraid to write, afraid to read and comment on blogs, because writing and reading and commenting would make me think, and the last thing I wanted was to open the floodgates of my thoughts. I've turned my attention to other writing projects that I could approach without emotion, that don't require the reflectiveness of blogging.

I named my blog Searching for Sidewalks because when we moved to our current town, I was quite literally searching for sidewalks. I wanted to live in a neighborhood where there were sidewalks, and I expected those sidewalks would lead somewhere - parks, coffee shops, restaurants. Instead, I found isolated, self-contained "developments", located off of busy main roads that were unsafe to walk along due to the lack of sidewalks. The stray stretches of sidewalk that you find here and there tend to lead nowhere. To me, sidewalks have become emblematic of a life I left behind when we moved here, and a life that I hope to live again. But right now, more than anything, the sidewalklessness of this town seems emblematic as well. A stray stretch of sidewalk here and there, giving you a glimmer of hope, but ultimately leading nowhere.

As much as I feel I can't breathe in my sidewalkless subdivision, while driving my car yet again to the grocery store, the breaths I take are real, and I am grateful for them. There is progress happening here, in fits and starts perhaps, but progress. I finally finished Oscar Wilde's biography. I submitted another article for publication (most likely fruitless, but I'm trying to embrace the failure). I have another writing project underway, and while the idea of making a real attempt at developing a writing career fills me with fear, it is the fear of standing on the edge of a cliff, knowing that when I fling myself off the edge, I will not sink into empty air, but instead fly into the forceful winds of possibility.

And so after yet another reminder that life can change in an instant, and there are no guarantees beyond today, I now resume my search for sidewalks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A New Spin on Saying No

Today a friend complimented me on the fact that I set limits when it comes to outside obligations. The event in question was a backyard camping party hosted by friends who live in the country. Sounded like fun, E was game, and I think all who have been invited will attend. Except us.

Tonight, we will be camped out on our couch, for family movie night, complete with wine (for J and me), apple juice (for E), and popcorn for all. Over the past two weeks, both J and I have gone out of town, separately. It's been hectic and exhausting, and what our family really needs at this moment is to cuddle up on the couch together and just be.

Would it be fun to sleep under the stars with a bunch of our friends and their kids? Yes. Would it make for some great memories? Most likely. But what won't make for great memories is the inevitable moment when the stress and the exhaustion and the worry and the lack of time together catch up with us. Maybe family movie night isn't as exciting as backyard camping, but if the price of those memories is a tense, angry day because we've all pushed too hard, for too long, then not only are those memories not worth it, but they won't even be the happy memories I'd like them to be, because we'll all remember what came after.

I say yes to these kinds of events far more often than I say no, but just as I need time alone to recharge and reconnect with who I am apart from E's mom and J's wife, just as J and I need time alone together to just be a couple, instead of E's parents, our family needs time together to recharge and reconnect, as a family. I've realized that turning down an invitation doesn't have to be about saying no. I'm not saying no to backyard camping, I'm not saying no the hosts, I'm not saying no to our other friends who will be there. Instead, I'm saying yes to my family.

Over the past few months in particular, we've been making much more of an effort to get out and do things that we enjoy, such as museum visits. I feel compelled to make the most of our time, to really live life, but I've also realized that part of living life, and making memories, are those quiet moments when you are all together, cuddled under a blanket, sharing a bowl of popcorn. Those moments when you say yes to your family, leaving the rest of the world to its own devices, while you retreat, safe and secure, into yours.

Do you struggle with the ability to set limits on outside obligations? What are your criteria for turning down an invitation to a social event that your family would otherwise enjoy? Any good recommendations for movie night with a 3 year old boy?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Less Meat Meal Plan

I've written before about my efforts to eat only sustainably raised, pastured meat. I've acknowledged that it is, in fact, very expensive to purchase such meat, and that in order to offset the cost, my family now eats less meat. It occurred to me that while this solution sounds easy, it's not actually easy in practice, so I thought I would start sharing a weekly menu, both to keep myself motivated and to give anyone who's interested ideas on reducing meat consumption. The idea is not to go "meatless", but to go "less-meat". I don't try to have X number of vegetarian meals per week; instead I try to have a good balance of protein from both meat and non-meat sources spread out over the course of the week.

Some practical points - I make no claims that I am saving any money here. I probably spend the same amount on meat as I did before I started buying sustainable/organic meat, and I've always spent absurd amounts on things like fancy cheese and artisan breads. Also, I am feeding two adults and one 3 year old, who will either eat nothing or eat an adult sized portion. I plan on cooking 5 nights a week, and we generally eat leftovers one night and do take-out another. Most meals also make enough to provide at least one lunch the following day. I will post recipes that I've developed myself, and cite or provide links to recipes that I've found elsewhere. Friday is my grocery shopping day, so I'll post the meal plan on Thursdays. Anyone who has ideas or recipes, please share!!

This week's meat was 1 pound grass fed ground beef, and 1 pound organic chicken breast.

Monday - blue cheese burgers made with grass fed beef and (frozen) sweet potato fries

Tuesday - pasta salad with cilantro pesto, tomatoes, avocado, corn, and 1/2 pound of grilled chicken, cubed (cilantro pesto recipe below)

- strawberry spinach salad with blue cheese crumbles, sliced almonds, and 1/2 pound grilled chicken, cubed, with balsamic vinaigrette and rosemary olive oil bread

Thursday - black bean tacos

Friday - homemade pizza

Cilantro Pesto

about 2 cups (loosely packed) cilantro, stems removed
2 cloves garlic
zest of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (use more if you want, or eliminate it altogether)
about 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the cilantro, garlic, lime zest, jalapeno, salt, and pepper in the food processor. Add about 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and pulse briefly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cheese. Pulse while drizzling in remaining olive oil until you've achieved the desired consistency. Stop to check your progress frequently - the more olive oil, the thinner the pesto.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Don't Know How He Does It

This past weekend, I left E and J alone overnight for the first time. I've left E overnight before, to get away for a night or two with J, but I've never had a reason to go away overnight on my own. In turn, J has never had occasion to be on his own with E for more than eight hours or so at a time.

After three nights away, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I came home. Would I find J sacked out on the couch, surrounded by beer bottles and puzzle pieces, exhaustedly proclaiming, "I don't know how you do it!"? Would there be a sink full of dishes? Would there be a mountain of dirty laundry waiting for my attention, or kitchen counters strewn with the accumulated crumbs of the past four days? Walking in the door after a five hour drive, I was filled with both relief at being home, and dread at the inevitable mess that would take me the next few days to clean up.

Except...except, there was no mess. NONE. My husband, who under normal circumstances displays confusion regarding the location of his clothes hamper (it lives in his closet, but he believes it lives on the floor next to his side of the bed), had cleaned all three of our bathrooms, vacuumed the entire house, done all the laundry, and even picked up the playroom. He also had dinner for that evening and the next planned and prepped, and a bottle of wine waiting. On top of all that, he had done the Costco run, taken E to swimming lessons, the library, and to a pottery painting place. Clean house, meals, errands, enriching activities for the kid, and he even seemed reasonably well-rested. I felt strangely deflated, almost shown up. Could it be he was doing my job better than I did it?

I realized that I wanted my hard work to be validated by his inability to do it. Coming home to a mess would have given me that validation, but just because he can do that work as well as I can (when he so chooses) doesn't invalidate the work I do. This past weekend, I had no choice but to let go and put all the control in J's hands, and the true validation to come from that is the knowledge that I married a man who doesn't need me there to take care of everything. I can leave to take care of others who need me, knowing that E and J are just fine on their own. At the end of the day, that is all the validation I need.

Have you had an experience of realizing that the kind of validation you wanted for your work as a wife and mother was not actually the kind of validation you needed? Any funny/interesting stories of your first solo trip without little ones?