By Wendy Rhein
Mom? Will you make that grape cake for me? The one with the orange zest glaze?
I swear, I almost welled up with tears at the very sound of these words coming from my 7-year-old. The very fact that he knows what zest is, or that a grape cake does not mean a bright purple Kool-Aid inspired out of the box cardboard flop topped with a tub of lard concoction, well, it was enough to send me sprinting into my tiny kitchen to start the baking.
In these modern times it is hard to get kids to eat real food. The temptations of fast food, sugared cereals, instant everything, is all around them. Encouraging them to seek out real foods for snacks and for meals is an ongoing project of mine and after several years I see the kinds of results that remind me that I’m winning the battle with McDonalds after all.
And never mind the temptations for kids, how about the temptations for us as working parents? Easy. Fast. Made by someone else. Cheap. Did I mention fast? How many nights have we all rushed in the door at 6:02 to nearly frantic hungry kids who have to be at a choir rehearsal at 7? Or have a soccer game at 7:30 and need to have enough power food to get through the third quarter? We’re already exhausted, but now we have to cook too? The McDonald brothers made it possible for us to have an out, a solution that will fill up their bellies and no one even has to get out of the car!
I have this mental image of Ronald McDonald, Colonial Sanders, that scary anthropomorphic Burger King guy and a Jack in the Box all sitting in a doomsday like bomb shelter, controlling the health and industrial food complex from some far off land. They sit around a dark, dank room, chain smoke hanging in the air like special sauce, planning the next 1000 calorie sandwich that we are all certain to eat. These are my bad guys, the ones I’m really scared of. With diabetes sweeping through middle schools, hypertension and heart disease tackling more and more of us every day, making smarter food choices for my family is one of the best, most core ways to say I love you, I cherish you, I want you to live the best life you can. Yes, it takes a lot more planning than organizing the take out menus in alphabetical order in a drawer (ahem, don’t mock). Yes, it takes prepping foods the night before in some cases, and power cooking on weekends to have go-to items ready for those crazy long days. But when I see my kids race to a bowl of tangerines instead of asking for cookies, or they chomp through a pound of sesame oil sautéed green beans at dinner, I sit back and know that all the effort is worth it.
And that grape cake?
It is really tasty. Try it with a glass of sweeter white wine and you’ll think you’ve done something decadent, instead of just making a cake your kid asked for.
Grape Cake and Orange Zest Glaze
(adapted from Epicurious)
2/3 cup sugar
4T butter, melted and at room temperature
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup reduced fat milk
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4t baking powder
zest of one orange
1 1/4 cup purple grapes
juice of the zested orange
2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour a springform pan. Set it aside. In a mixing bowl set with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and lemon-colored, 2-3 minutes. Add the butter, oil, milk, and vanilla and mix until blended together. Sift the flour, pinch of salt, and the baking powder in a bowl and add the zest. Toss to coat the zest. Spoon the flour into the wet ingredients and stir with the spoon until all the flour is blended in, make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl down. Now leave it alone for about 10 minutes.
Slice the grapes in half lengthwise. Stir in about ¾ of them into the cake batter and then pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, open the door, and add the rest of the grapes on top of the cake. Continue to bake the cake until the top is deep gold and firm to the touch. The total baking time will be 50 – 55 minutes.
Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. After that, run a knife along the sides of the pan and release the springform. Top with the glaze (with a fork mix the juice of the zested orange with the enough powdered sugar to make a milky looking glaze.) and serve at room temperature.
So I went on a date last week. Just a drink. This was my dip-a-toe-in-the-frigid-and-murky-pond-of-dating-in-your-40s. Hold your applause and keep the Bride’s magazine in hiding.
He seemed like a nice enough man, also in his 40s, divorced, employed, no (obvious) criminal record and when speaking and writing, he communicated in complete sentences where the subject matched the verb. We “met” via a dating website and graduated to speaking on the phone before meeting in person. This is good. This is progress. I actually looked forward to meeting him and gave careful thought to what I would wear, beyond the normal prayer to just get out of the house without food, dryer lint, or a Tow Mater sticker on my shirt.
Let’s call him Tom for the simple sake of having something to attach an expletive to later.
Tom arrived on time (a plus) and came in with a smile (bigger plus). I was happy to see that our phone repartee and rapport could continue in person. This has promise, I said to myself. I’m not making a grocery list in my head or wishing I was home sorting socks. This is good!
And, near the end of what I thought might be the first hour of real, adult, flirtatious, and interesting conversation I’ve had in much too long, he asked about my children.
I do not hide the fact that I have two children when I meet someone, nor do I launch into the full background of my family arrangements. That’s at least a second or third date, right? The idea is not to send him running for the hills before he’s had a chance to experience my witty humor and radiant smile. That’s the goal anyway. So, Tom asked about the father of my children. Basically he was drilling for any baby daddy drama. I very simply responded with the truth – my elder son’s father is not involved in our lives and my younger son is adopted and we’re not in touch with his biological family. It’s just us, our happy little family.
Tom took a deep breath and started to speak. Speak is a gentle term for what happened next. Tom launched into a soliloquy about adoption. He did not think he could ever raise an adopted child. He knew he wouldn’t feel ‘attached’ to that child, and how do you adequately love a child you can’t form a bond with? And he loves kids. He wants kids. Just not adopted ones. Being a step parent, he believes, is somehow different, at least those children were related to the other parent, and if you love that other adult then of course you would love the children they brought into the world.
My turn for silence. I’m trying to decide if this almost-stranger is being sarcastic. Is this an attempt at humor? Not looking like it. The good angel and devil angel from Tom and Jerry appear on my shoulders. I could get up and walk out. Or, do I bother to impress upon this previously imagined sensible person that I am in fact attached and bonded to my younger son? That just because I didn’t push him out that I am lovingly ushering him through the world? This is a teachable moment! I could change someone’s mindset right this minute! On the other hand, this is a first date and do I want to have to convince someone of something so basic, so core, to my family as welcoming and cherishing adoption? Those unmatched socks are looking pretty good to me right now. I wonder how quickly I can get my car out of valet.
He notes my silence and immediately says it was so great to finally meet and he hopes we can do it again soon.
Excuse me? I say. I’m sorry; I really don’t think that’s necessary. I wish you well but this isn’t going to happen. (He looks genuinely surprised and, I’d like to think, a little disappointed.) I don’t think our long term views are compatible and I value my time and yours and wouldn’t want to waste it. Goodbye, I said.
Yes, I missed my teachable moment. Yes, the activist in me could have leapt out of my hanging open mouth and delivered a litany of reasons why his position is narrow-minded, inexperienced, and just plain wrong. But my dating-weary 43-year-old self wasn’t in the mood. She just wanted to check this off the list and move on. Besides, I had huge hugs from two happy little ones waiting for me at home.
Where’s that valet ticket?
By: Wendy Rhein
This week marks the second anniversary of Sam’s adoption. I had started the story of how he came into my life several months ago, ending it with my leaving the hospital with him, uncertain about how long he would be a part of my family after a potential birth father vowed to challenge the adoption. I revisit that awful, sleepless, cherished time this time of year, and am so grateful and humbled for the experience.
The facts: Sam’s birth mother lied about a potential birth father because she knew he was against the adoption plan. As I was preparing to leave the hospital with Sam, only two days old, her mother burst in, having called the potential birth father’s family, and told the attorney and birth mother that the adoption would be challenged. I sat in the nursery, Sam in his going home clothes, joyfully waiting to put him in his car seat and take him home to meet his big brother, when my attorney came in and advised me to leave Sam at the hospital until all of this could be sorted out. She said the adoption was likely to fail and I needed to move on. I made two frantic phone calls, prayed, and made the best decision I could and would ever make. I put Sam in the car and drove home in the February sleet.
The reality: For the next four months I cried every day. Sometimes the wailing, uncontrollable, choking cries of desperation. Sometimes the silent, constant tears of overwhelming sadness. In the middle of all of this, I found myself suddenly unemployed, the soul financial support of two small children, wondering every day if that was the day I became the mother of one, not two. Each time my attorney called my soul froze. She kept me informed: she spoke with the potential birth father and he said he wanted Sam. He said he was lied to; having thought the birth mother had had an abortion. He gave an address at which we could mail all the documents. He was served by mail and had 30 days to respond. I waited. I hired a private investigator. He was served in person by a sheriff and had another 30 days. I waited.
As I waited and waited, Sam grew. I was now home with him all day as I looked for work. We bonded. I held him and cried. I held him and tried to memorize every detail of his scrunched up face and silky black hair. I talked to Nathan, a pre-schooler who loved his little brother and would tell anyone who asked (and often those who never asked) about his little brother that we were going to love him forever but his birth mom might need him back. I think it helped him to say it out loud. I know it helped me to hear it. We settled into a rhythm of feedings, sleeping, taking walks, and crying. Both of us. I talked to him all day every day. I was sleep deprived and holding on to my sanity by a thin thread. In retrospect I know that Nathan saved my life during that time. I stayed grounded because of him. His joy, his every day-ness, kept me present and focused.
We got a court date for the end of May. Still no answer from the potential birth father, I was cautiously hopeful. I continued to interview for jobs all over the eastern seaboard. I needed a change. If we lost Sam, I needed a change. If Sam stayed, I needed a change. There was so much change going on and the only thing I felt I could control was where we were going to live. I had no control over what happened to my sons. But however it turned out, I could make my family safe, whether it was a family of three or a family of two. So I focused on that. I could provide a safe home where strangers don’t try and take my children away.
During all of this, Sam’s birth mother disappeared. I had tried to contact her in the first few weeks, wanting her to talk to the potential birth father and beg him to let Sam stay. Tell him I’m a good person, that Sam is safe and well cared for. That we all love him. I cannot imagine what she was going through in her own recovery and grief and anger. She was also a parent to a small child. She had to be present for her daughter. I hoped she was. And I was so angry at her. So very angry.
The court date arrived and we all went. Three dear friends joined me, my mother, Nathan, Sam, and my lawyer at the court house. One of the first things my attorney told me upon arrival was that the birth father could still show up. He had the court date. We were not done yet. I recall very little from the morning. I remember Nathan in his first suit. I remember the small talk we made in the hallway as the documents were reviewed. I remember sitting across from the elevator bank, watching for the birth father’s arrival. I remember that Sam fell asleep on my shoulder just before the judge invited us into chambers. I remember that the judge gave Nathan his gavel to keep him occupied and he took a strong whack on the glass top conference table. I remember answering some brief questions with Sam’s drool soaking my dress, his warm little body sleeping through the most important moment of our family’s life. And I remember the judge congratulating me and Nathan suddenly grabbing me and Sam and saying “so we get to keep him forever now?” Yes my love, we get to keep him.
The last week of May is family week for me. It marks my brother’s birthday, Nathan’s birthday, and Sam’s adoption day. The whole week reminds me of our connections through love and commitment, a family that will literally go to the ends of sanity for each other and reel in the ones who are at the edge. The last week of May is the week that made my life.
By Wendy Rhein
I didn’t blog last week. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say, that rarely is the case. I always have something to say. It was something else. Trust me, I had a very good reason.
Last Monday I went to pick up my 2-year-old from daycare and he wasn’t there.
Every parent’s worst nightmare. Somehow, my baby and three of his two-year-old classmates had gotten out of a (supposedly) locked playground, up a hill, halfway down the block, across a street, down another block, across ANOTHER street, and most of the way back. All without the two teachers noticing. A Good Samaritan found them and walked them back to the school, saying he probably would not have noticed them had they not been walking “so orderly” down the street. Four little kittens, all in a row.
I arrived at the daycare and had exited my car when I heard the man yelling at the teacher far on the playground, saying that they had lost kids. It didn’t register to me, lost kids? What does that mean? Is he some crazy person? I steeled myself, thinking that I would confront him and keep him from the children who were on the playground. Protect them from this dog-walking fiend! Except the dog-walking fiend was the one who was protecting the children, MY child in particular.
He brought them back. If he hadn’t? If he hadn’t been outside at that moment? The sick, horrifying, vomit-inducing possibilities rise up in my mind frequently and unabated. The possibility that my youngest could have met unspeakable harm enrages me. Poor Sam knew something was wrong. When he saw me he bolted across the street and leapt at me saying “trouble, trouble, trouble, Mama.” Still clutching a dirty blue shovel from the playground, my baby said “lost mama, cross street.”
How anyone, let alone two trained professionals, can lose four children at one time is unfathomable to me, even a week later. I have spent hours obsessing over how it is even possible. Even using one’s most basic senses, one would notice T-4 children. Sight? Yes, you’d see them, or not. Hearing? Four fewer kids make a lot less noise. One of my primary rules of parenting – if there is too much noise, I need to intervene, too little noise, the same. Touch? When was the last time someone counted these toddlers, laid a hand on a head and counted off to ensure they were all there?
It has been an unsettling week for all of us. Not getting the answers I needed, I pulled Sam from that daycare center. I did not feel he could be safe there. Sam has lost his community of friends and his routine, not to mention the increased anxiety that affects his sleep. He knows he was lost. He knows something happened. Trouble, trouble, trouble Mama. None of us are unaffected. Nathan was with me when we “found” Sam and he’s been asking many, many questions about what could have happened to his baby brother. He insisted on going with me to look at a new daycare option late last week, through tears telling me that he had to be sure that th the fences were high enough and the doors had locks. He had to make sure that Sam would be safe. We all have lost sleep, we all have felt anger and resentment.
I’m the mom, the only parent my sons know. It is up to me to keep them safe. First and foremost, we keep our children safe. As a working parent, like most parents of kids in care, I researched, I talked to people, I sought out recommendations and I checked state licenses and complaints. I thought I had found a place that would cherish my child and care for him when I couldn’t. And in the end, I had to walk my child and three other little ones across a street and back INTO the daycare center that was supposed to be watching over them.
Being a working parent is hard enough, guilt-provoking enough, that we should not have to worry about whether or not our babies are going to be there at the end of the day. Ever.
By Wendy Rhein
I guess he’s been mulling it over for a couple of months. Or maybe it is the start of a new school year with new classmates getting to know one another through family pictures created with the Crayola 24 pack. Or the fact that today was a school open house with moms and dads invited to stop by and participate in the lessons on noise pollution and water cycles. Moms AND dads. Whatever the reason, Nate chose tonight to write his first letter to his father.
I sat in his room, putting long sleeved shirts in the dresser, pulling out short sleeved ones, finally surrendering to the onset of Fall, while he took a shower. He’s a talker, my elder son, and he likes to talk through his day while in the shower. I could hear him creating a narrative and a smile crept across my face, my little creative writer coming up with a new story in the shower. How sweet. And then he yelled to me.
“Hey Mom, I’m gonna write a letter to my dad.”
Not missing a beat, I replied, “That sounds great. When do you want to do that?”
He sat at the kitchen table, the site of many a tearful quarrel over spelling words and punctuation, and he began to compose a letter to the father he does not know. I sat with him and stayed quiet unless asked to help spell a word. I fought the urge to make suggestions, to read over his shoulder. No, this has to be his and all his. His words, his relationship, if there will be one. I sat, and I watched my 7-year-old, with his still damp hair askew and his football flannel pajamas, bent over his letter, carefully writing each line that may bring this mystery man into his world. Maybe.
Nate’s letter ended up covering the front and back of a standard white piece of paper. He introduced himself. He shared a secret with his dad, that he has a crush on a girl in his class. He ended it with a PS – please respond Dad. Together we put the letter and his second grade class picture in an envelope and addressed it. I don’t even know if his father is still at the address that I have, and I told Nate that this is the only address I have so we’ll give it a try.
“Because the door is always open, right Mom?”
“Yes love, because that door is always open. If you want to contact him, I will do my best to help.”
I owe him that much. I owe both of my sons the connection of fathers and family. I look at my boys, both of whom have or will have questions about where they come from. For Sam, he will surely want to know more about his biological mother – does he look like her? Is his father tall like he is? Where did his smile come from? For Nate, he knows half of his heritage. He knows that he looks like me when he smiles but that his hair is more like his dad’s. He asks where his long legs come from (me) and where his love of building and creating comes from. Today he asked why we never married. My two sons and their divergent yet similar paths – both with questions about their nature and those people who are ever-present shadows in their minds and mine. I owe them all the explanations and truths that I can muster. And today, it starts with a letter.
By Wendy Rhein
The crisp days of fall are my favorite ones of the year. More than any other season I channel my youth in the fall months. Friday night high school football games, sitting on surprisingly cold metal bleachers behind the marching band. Raking leaves. The feeling of breaking the rules by being out after dark when in reality we were coming home earlier than we had in the long days of summer. The waning days of the year before the insanity and chaos of the holidays is a time for reflection and memory for me, almost a time of preparation. Some folks look to Lent for that. I have college football season.
Every fall now, we go apple picking. Last Sunday we left the house early, hoping to beat the crowds of urbanites like ourselves bonding with their inner fantasy farmer. The drive was beautiful, a blissfully short highway drive followed by hilly but fast two lane roads, and then several miles of dirt roads and horse barns. My boys were singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” at the top of their little lungs for the last 5 miles, which made me proud to pass on the quirky family love of John Denver. (Oh don’t tell me you don’t remember the words.) It was a perfect start to the day – clear weather, just inching into warm but still cool enough t o justify long sleeved shirts and hot cider in a Styrofoam cup. Perfect.
The boys bounded out of the car. We’ve now visited this same farm for three Septembers. The memories were so clear for me. Remember the first year when Sam was so little that I could put him in the picking bucket while I pushed the wheelbarrow up the hills into the orchard? He fell asleep in the sun surrounded by apple trees.
And last year, when Nathan was so frustrated that he couldn’t get the wheelbarrow up the hill by himself, his twiggy arms hoisting the wooden handles up to neck height, just to lift it off the ground. This year he went right to the stack of them, picked one out and pushed it up the long hill on his own, only looking back to smile at me.
We picked 28 pounds of apples in about45 minutes. Nathan believes in speed picking. I was more casual about it, taking the time to look at each apple on the tree, finding the ones I thought would be the most succulent, trying to imagine the sweet tang that comes with a tree-ripened apple. We filled our bucket and headed back to the hay and old tire playground for a few minutes of real kid time before caramel apples and cider were added to the treasure trove and we headed back to the car. Both kids fell asleep in about 7 minutes and I was left to spend a full 30 minutes of quiet time. Thirty minutes to reflect on how much they’ve grown. How much we’ve changed as a family in the last 3 seasons. To dream about what we could be like in another turning of the calendar. My Fall Lent has begun, my Ash Wednesday is apple picking. The season is here.
By Wendy Rhein
In my household there are very few “bad” words. The normal ones that some folks and the FCC would include don’t even make my list. Most of those are collectively known as “Mom’s driving words” and are relegated to the car. I however take my list from the ones my parents used when we were coming up.
I’ve added a couple, like “gay” for anything derogatory or the ever present – though I cannot understand its trans-generational appeal – “retarded.” My sons hear me talk about why these words are truly hurtful, soul-dulling words. At seven, Nate understands. When he hears others say one of them he gasps and points with such drama you would think a coup d’état was afoot. He reacts the same way when someone has eaten the last brownie but painstakingly covered the empty pan with foil and left it on the counter. Ahem…
This week, I’ve decided I am adding a word to the lexicon of evil. FAIR. Fair is hitting my list.
There is no such thing as fair. Nothing is fair, nothing ever will be fair. Things are or they are not, but absolute, unchallenged, all-inclusive equity simply does not exist. And I am sick to death of trying to correct the practical ‘not fairs’ like “it isn’t fair that this boy in my class has a summer house AND a winter cabin!” or “it is only fair if both Sam and me get the exact same vitamin shape every single day.” Not to mention the absurd not fairs like “it isn’t fair that Spiderman can shoot webs and I can’t” and “hey no fair that you got up before me.” Really? To whom is that not fair?
My real issue with fair is not the annoying statements or my inane need to address each of them with comments about what you DO have and CAN do, or my core need to instill a radical level of gratitude in a 2- and 7-year-old whose brains may simply not be ready. My real issue is that I think that labeling things, people, actions, as fair or not is a way to separate oneself from others. It is a way to keep some folks out of the circle and some in. It is a way for kids especially to point out difference and for adults to perpetuate a sense of not having or not being something that they put outside of their own control. Basically it puts a word to self pity or self aggrandizing or the inability to create change. All of which I refuse to buy into. And more importantly, I refuse, flat out refuse, to let my sons buy into. Something you want? Is it really that important and if so, what are you willing and able to do to have it? Want to be something? Figure out a way to make it happen. See an inequity? What can you do to fix it? Don’t just slap a word on it and throw up your hands to the universe and pout.
When I respond with these comments and questions to statements like the one for multiple homes or for web-spinning skills, we create conversations about the real or lack of importance of these things. Most of the time our discussion ends with a sense that that thing or process is really not that important in the scheme of our lives as a family or Nate’s place in the world. I want him to find another way to articulate what he envies or fantasizes about without labeling it with the judgment-heavy “fair.” That doesn’t get us anywhere. There is nowhere to go from that label except to the awfully lonely land of “us and them.”
So I’m taking a stand. FAIR is a word that hurts and damages. It is going on the list. Express your desires and need for inclusion in other words because that one doesn’t help any of us be better. And we can be so much better.
By Wendy Rhein
Sometimes I catch myself with my mouth hanging open. I remind myself to close my jaw, take a breath. I seem to think that if I get quiet then the shocking, absurd, or insane thing I’ve just said will evaporate in a comic book quote bubble and we can all, especially me, pretend that I really didn’t just say that.
The things I find myself saying before 8am on any given day. These are the words that stun even me. Here is a recent sampling of things I’ve said to my kids, and meant them all.
“Put the lizard down. Now. Wait – NOT ON MY BED!”
“Yes I put the baked brie with pears and crackers in your Star Wars lunchbox. Right next to the juicebox.”
“Stop pulling on each other’s nipples!”
“For God’s sake, you have to wear pants to school. Your penis can enjoy the cool breeze later!”
“Your brother’s head is not suitable for ‘show and tell’ even if your teacher said you can bring in anything that fits in your backpack.”
“You can’t eat oatmeal in the shower.”
“Why is there a muffin in MY shower?”
“Why is your backpack oozing something green? Never mind, just don’t get it on the car.”
“No you can’t have a playdate with Melia and Sasha Obama this week. The Secret Service hasn’t bomb-checked our apartment yet.”
What is astonishing to me is that I meant every single word I said at the time. It is only after these perfectly logical statements left my mouth did “what the hell?” follow. I wonder if my son has started keeping a list of his own of all the crazy stuff his mother says. We could compare notes someday.
By Wendy Rhein
I’m not sure what happened, or really, when it happened. In June I had two little boys -7 and 2 -and now, I have one little boy and one Big Boy. It all started innocently enough. He wanted to make his own breakfast. He wanted to help me chop vegetables for dinner with the serious chef’s knife. And then it grew. He asked for his own music in the car instead of the ‘kid’ music his brother likes to sing; his own MP3 player would be the best option for everyone, he claimed. And then he asked to pick out his own school clothes since I may not get what he wanted. Including a sports coat because that’s what older boys wear if they need to be dressed up. He wanted to run into the drug store by himself to get a gallon of milk. He stopped wearing a shirt to bed.
All of this was fine with me – cute even. Until last week.
School started last week for us and we were all atwitter for the first day of second grade. I drove Nate to school because we had missed the orientation day and didn’t have a classroom number. He insisted that I needed to walk him all the way to class to be sure he was settled. My baby, my eldest, still needed me.
As we walked up the sidewalk teeming with happy parents and shiny-backpacked little ones, Nate suddenly stopped walking, turned and grabbed me around the waist, enveloping me in a tight hug that seemed to surprise us both. It brought an immediate and intimate smile to my face, thinking he needed the reassurance and the closeness that a hug from Mama can bring.
And then he let go.
I walked him into the melee of the entry hall of school with the vice principal loudly and unsuccessfully encouraging parents to drop off their little ones and let them make their own way to classes on the first day. I tried to hold Nate’s hand in the crowd so we could make our way through the now familiar halls. He wouldn’t hold mine. I resigned myself to putting a hand on his shoulder as we nudged our way passed crying mothers looking at the backs of their new kindergarteners for the first time. Out of the crowd, Nate walked in front of me, not next to me, pointing out the music room, the art room, stopping to say a fast hi to friends as they drifted off into different rooms. First day anxiety running high – will he have friends in this new class? Would he (we) like the teacher? Did she (me) pack a snack for the bus?
And finally we land in his classroom at the end of a long hallway. He walked in, one of a handful of kids in the room, and walked right up to the teacher and stuck out his hand. I swelled with pride. That’s my boy! Shaking his teacher’s hand and introducing himself! She welcomed him and told him he could find his desk and put his supplies away. And he was gone. Not a look, not a lean, not a glance back at me. He put his things away, said hi to a couple of kids, put his new pencil box and Star Wars composition book away, and started to work on the welcome form on his desk. I stood there, feeling like the awkward one, waiting for him to run over, give me a hug and ask if I’ll be at the bus stop that afternoon (a request he makes daily that I daily have to refuse) but he never did. After a couple of painful minutes, I walked over and leaned down and quietly said “Ok honey, I’m going to go now. Have a great day.” He would hug me now, I thought. He always hugs me when I take him to school.
“Bye Mom. See ya later.”
That’s it. That’s all I got. I’m not even sure he made eye contact. I walked out of the room with stinging eyes, feeling both proud and sad. My baby was gone. This big kid, who didn’t want to be seen hugging his mother, had surpassed the bear-clutching, sweet-faced boy who had so care-freely leaned into me with the full confidence that I’d be there to hold him up, because I always was. I knew this day was coming and once I could get beyond my own loss I cheered him for his independence and self confidence. He is growing up the way I wanted him to, the way I had worked so hard for him to, despite my own doubts of raising boys on my own. We really are doing fine, more than fine, we’re doing well. But time marches on. It is time for us both to let go a little more. Another inch here, another step away there.
At bedtime he was once again on my lap, telling me all about his day, snuggling his bristly-haired head under my chin, arms wrapped around my shoulders. I told him how proud I was of him for striding into second grade and he said he was a little scared because he didn’t know the kids in his class. We agreed to develop a secret handshake to say goodbye at school that will translate into I Love You, but just to us. I’d tell you about it but it is our secret, my big boy and me.
By Wendy Rhein
These are the women I knew when I was carefree, though I may not have known it at the time. Pre-mortgages, pre-spouses, pre-children, we lived lives as single, career-minded, and curious young women in New York where almost anything felt possible if we wanted it badly enough. We went to the theater in the middle of the week. We saw concerts at the foot of the World Trade Center and watched the July 4th fireworks from Roosevelt Island. We edged our way to the front of the rope line at Christmas concerts at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, shoulder to shoulder with the nuns, our heads held high. These were the women who called each other at 1am after bad dates and good dates, fights with boyfriends and bosses, the best days and the lonely days.
These are the women.
And now, 15 years later, as many of us that can meet up for a week’s vacation, sharing a 3-bedroom condo in a little village, meals, walks, and many bottles of wine. And ice cream. There is always ice cream. Not everyone can come every year but we try. Spouses may join for a few days but generally, it is the women who come and stay. We women, and our children. This year that meant five kids under the age of 7. They range from 16 months to 7, four boys and one brave girl. We break them down into groups: small for the under 2s, medium for ages 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 and then the large child at age 7. We love to plan and we plan for weeks (months) in advance for meals and nap schedules and respect each other’s need to alter the schedules as children’s needs and our own shift. We balance who wants to do what during the day and gift each other the precious maternal commodity of alone time. This year I did the big grocery run about 320 miles into my 329 mile journey, kids in tow. We insist on treating ourselves to wonderful homemade tapas and farm fresh foods, balanced now with a lot of yogurt cups and honey-nut cheerios. We help each other unload, not always by carrying bags and strollers but by corralling children who have sat for too long to contain their excitement any longer. We laugh. A lot. We sometimes cry. We reveal our fears to one another in a way that honors our trust and friendship because we don’t do that easily.
These are the women.
After more than a decade of moves, marriages, children, crises, career sidesteps and leaps, these are the women who now talk about our aging parents, our parenting challenges, our own health, and our own longing for an elusive balance between fulfilling careers and fulfilled families. Maintaining friendships across miles in difficult. Making friends, new friends, good friends, after a certain age seems almost as difficult. I have found that many of the friendships are compartmentalized – because our kids know each other, because we work together – and they don’t always feel lasting and grounding. But holding on to old friends, and allowing space and acceptance for the changes in our lives and all the new little people that come with us like ducklings in a row, is the real test of friendship in your sandwich years. It takes time and commitment and effort. It takes forgiving unanswered emails and knowing that the painful honesties shared are meant in love. It takes some Herculian efforts to talk on the phone when little people are tugging at your clothes, your hair, your breasts. It takes saying “I’ll call you back” and doing it, even if that call comes at 7am from a taxi on the way to the airport. It takes. But what these friendships give, after years and years, is so much more.