I am spending my Saturday evening working on my first response for my first assignment for my first class in my masters degree program. As I was working through my outline, I suddenly realized a piece I had printed out two years ago and saved because it might be useful had suddenly become useful. I laughed, not because a well thought out plan had come to fruition but because I have finally become my mother. It’s a good thing.
My mom is a history nerd. She will happily stay up until two in the morning researching the most arcane facts about the former Soviet Union or the Gilded Age. When we were kids we used to giggle about her DIY library of notes xeroxed from various Library‘s and her wall of timelines (I would steal that timeline for my classroom now if I could). What sticks with me as an adult, however, is how Curiosity made her so creative. It made her a great teacher, and it’s still putting life into her life.
So as I was going through one of my binders of notes that once had me worried that I would be on an episode of “Hoarders – Teachers Edition”, I had to giggle a little. My curiosity tonight prompted a discovery and even a little creativity, and I realized I have my mom to thank for it.
We were all reasonably crabby by the time we got the car packed and rolled up our icy driveway, hoping to get to my sister’s house in time for the Christmas Eve service. Thing2’s laundry hadn’t magically loaded, washed and folded itself over the weekend. The remaining presents on the Hoosier chest still needed to be wrapped, and we all had needed showers badly even before the packing chaos began.
Somehow, we managed to get out of the house only 30 minutes late (a road trip record for us) and (at the time of this telling) having forgotten only a few minor items. Thing1 was driving and, even though he’s skillful, his right foot, heavy with youth, makes me and the Big Guy happier to sit in the back seat.
We drove mostly in silence for the first 30 minutes. I did my makeup. Thing2 slept, and the Big Guy fidgeted with his wedding ring which he still wears on his right hand, as we both did when we lived in Europe.
“I’m thinking about switching it back,” he said innocently. In the front row, the kids had started chatting about something inappropriate. “I can’t get it off, though.”
The boys paused their conversation and then erupted.
Better parents would have reprimanded them for the quick trip to the gutter, but we both started laughing too. The humor on our ‘Group W’ bench got even more middle school for a little bit, and I didn’t even cringe inwardly.
We’re heading to see grandparents where the boys will need to be on their best behavior for several days, so I knew they needed to get it out of their system. But, after a hectic, crabby morning, the Big Guy and I also needed to get things out of our system and get in the mood to celebrate with family.
It takes more than a perfect menu to make a great holiday. It takes at least one good tradition, and sometimes those come from the craziest sources.
Thing1 had graciously offered to spend his first afternoon home from college helping me with the big shopping trip for the big meal that was coming up on Thursday. The sentimental part of his brain (coincidentally attached directly to his stomach) had apparently suggested that any Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without now just one or two of his favorite recipes, but all of them, and he had ideas about the shopping list.
The final list included ingredients for his favorite green beans, the boys’ favorite cranberry relish, enough stuffing ingredients to feed an entire village, and, finally, burnt bottoms.
Yep, you read that right. With Thing1’s help, I finally realized that our family’s signature recipe for every holiday meal includes a big basket of buttery, flaky, burnt bottoms. Here’s how I make them:
I start with only the best ingredients:
Enough tubes of Crescent rolls to meet the real and imagined capacity of two average teenaged boys (I just get what’s left in the freezer case).
A functioning timer
One too many irons in the fire (or pots in the oven as the situation permits)
Optional ingredients (one, maybe two, glasses of wine or a good conversation)
I roll out the crescent roll dough from the tube and then re-roll the pre-cut dough from the fat end of the triangle to the skinny end (The boys and/or their cousins often volunteer).
We then put rolls on a cookie sheet after a good debate over whether eating rolls baked on a non-stick coating or a greased metal sheet will be worse for us 20 years from now. We set the oven to recommended temperature, put the sheet in and set the timer. I used to be tempted to set the timer a little early to keep the bottoms nice and golden, but this strategy somehow always backfire.
Someone usually pours a glass of wine, and I go back to preparing the rest of the meal, often talking with a family member or other guest about food or some other non-distracting topic like politics.
When the timer goes off, I check the oven to confirm that rolls are almost but not quite done. I set the timer for another minute or two – or, actually, I don’t – I know I’ll remember to check them again before they get too well-done just like I’ve never done for the last 23 years.
This year I deviated from the routine, setting the old-fashioned timer with the bell along with the timer on my phone. It was Thing1’s first Thanksgiving as a college man, and I wanted the dinner to be perfect. But the bell rang, and the bottoms weren’t even done.
I set out the cranberry relish and the stuffing and completely missed the buzzer on the phone. It was only as I pulled out the green bean recipe that a distinctly smoky smell made it clear that I’d done it again.
“Oh man,” I moaned and then laughed as I pulled out the first cookie sheet. To be clear, I am not the only hostess in my family cursed with the inability to serve anything but burnt bottoms in the bread basket, but, I was sure this Thanksgiving would break the curse.
I hollered the bad, but expected, news to my oldest son who blurted out what he had asserted in the grocery store when I presented the option for an alternative starchy side dish just a few days earlier:
“It wouldn’t be the holidays without a burnt bottom, Mom! Now Thanksgiving can officially begin!”
And when I thought about it each time, it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least one good inside joke.
What’s your signature dish?
P.S. The burnt bottoms get eaten every single year – every single one.
One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.
All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.
I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.
I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.
This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.
When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“
and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.
I’m taking a step back from oil painting in October to participate in Inktober. It’s a good time to do some drawing, and, anyway, my studio is about to be torn apart as I claim a larger space.
Today’s prompt is “ring.”
I’m sitting in one part of a ring — on the couch with the Big Guy as I draw. I’m trying to get Thing2 to do Inktober with me, but he’s over at the piano teaching himself the Beatles song book and making our eyes sweat.
It’s almost Thing2’s 13th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about the first few minutes after his birth. I’ve been remembering that perfect round baby head and those early days when nothing seems as pure as the love that we felt for them.
Now all these years later, we know his triumphs and follies, and the love is anything but pure. It’s stronger and better because we know that each day will reveal some facet that makes it stronger still.
We are shy one kid. He’s away at college, and it’s been an adjustment. As broken bars of “Imagine” drift over from the piano, however, I keep thinking about how full our little family circle, with its faultlines and reinforcements, still is.
I sat with a student today who is trying to navigate from adolescence to adulthood with only support from the state. She has little help from the adults who brought her into the world, but her courage and determination to help people she still loves is nothing short of heroic. I know she should have enjoyed — that they all should enjoy — that same kind of parental love we take for granted, and I know the only thing I can do is support her and show her that I expect great things from her during our last few months together.
But, now, sitting on the couch as the first bars of “Let It Be” begin to echo, I think about the other things I can do, and I make a point to never take our small circle for granted.