I Am Inconsequential

Roughday

When my daughter was little, my husband and I foolishly believed that what we did mattered. We “sleep trained” her. We “taught” her to eat vegetables, clean up and have some modicum of manners. We were so very proud of ourselves.

Then, our son was born. We did all the same things with him, but the output values just weren’t the same. We “sleep trained” him only to have him just blithely continue not to sleep. There has been no need to teach him to eat his vegetables, only a constant anguish that he is also eating everything else—crayons, dirt and his sister’s toes. And manners? I’ll let you know what happens when we get there. I still have to tackle this biting thing first.

Nothing illustrates the divide between my two children more than the problem of our stairs. We live in a 90-year-old home, with a lovely oak staircase. However, once we had children, the polished wood seemed less of a feature of the home and more like a stairway to hell. And of course, the curved nature of the railing and the wooden spindles mean that putting a gate on the stairs is nearly impossible. With our daughter, we successfully blocked her access to the stairs by putting an ottoman in front of them until we could teach her how to descend the stairs without risk of brain injury. In fact, she shared our fear of the stairs and refused to walk down them until she was almost two and a half.

But our son? The first day we put the ottoman in front of the stairs, he crawled over, laughed and pushed it away. Since then, we’ve added additional blockades, plastic crates, boxes of diapers and a basket. He either climbs right over or worms his way up by screaming and shoving his little body through the cracks until he can climb up.

Yesterday, I went to grab a cup of coffee and came back to the thudding sounds of my son crawling happily up the stairs, while my daughter, three years old, stood in front of the blockade, bewildered. “How do I get up to my room?” She wailed.

Right then, I realized that nothing I did mattered, they were who they were. Parenting isn’t shaping and molding my children like clay. They came to me in this shape, from this mold, already in their unalterable forms. All I can do is just make them a happy comfortable place, until they are ready to make a place of their own. And also, teach the baby to stop biting.

The Pie That Loved Me

Disclaimer. I am not a food blogger. I am much too lazy and food blogging is hard. You have to cook things and then take pictures and edit pictures. And then write things. Good god, I have crime shows to watch! (But if you need some good food blogger recommendations my two favorite food bloggers are Iowa Girl Eats (Midwest represent!) and Biscuits and Such. I have never had a bad recipe from either of them. And that says a lot, because some of you out there…)

Pie 1

I love cooking. But I only have a few things that I make really well. Pizza dough is one. I’ve been making pizza almost every Friday night since Dave and I got married. This is because when we got married we were poor, but I wanted pizza. But I was also having a hard time finding a job. So, I started making pizza. I finally got good at it around year 5. I blame yeast, that saucy bitch.

Anyway, I do this. I fixate on a food I want to make well and just spend a long time making it over and over. A few summers ago, I spent the whole summer experimenting with the perfect key lime pie. I made it so much that Dave literally looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve had enough pie.”

And that is saying something, because Dave loves pie. He comes from a family of pie eaters. When he was four, he told his grandma he would only marry someone who could make pie. We had pie instead of wedding cake. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TELLING YOU?

When I admitted that I like cake on family vacation, Dave’s nephew looked at me and said, “You can’t be a Lenz if you don’t like pie.” He is five.

Dave’s dad used to joke that I was so different from the rest of the family (I hate baseball, I think sports movies are mind-numbing and terrible, I don’t even know who Kirby Puckett is), but it was my pie that brought us together.

Pie 2

This year, because I like being judged by old women, I decided to put that pie to the test and enter it into the state fair. Spoiler alert: I did not win anything.

Entering the State Fair is a lot more complicated than I first realized. There are approximately 377,694,457,889,898,783,752,853 categories for pie. Approximately.  And trying to figure out the right categories and the tags (staple or rubber band, no tape, must be affixed to the plate itself, not the packaging)  made my mind melt. Just reading the rules challenged more of my analytical thinking skills than that one six-page run on sentence in The Sound and The Fury.

I also made this pie so much this summer that Dave, at one point, raised his hands in defeat and said, “You need to give some pie away. I can’t eat all of this!”

I love how food is so complicated. Food is so much more than nourishment. Food is love. It’s connection. Food is a means of communication. It’s an expression of identity. And apple pie even more so. Because that dessert has become synonymous with our national identity. Which is funny. Because apples are just scrubby little immigrants themselves. Imported from Europe and cultivated and curated by the colonist. Apples have almost as many varieties as there are personalities in this country. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is remarkable how closely the history of the Apple-tree is connected with that of man.”  During my summer-long pie adventure, I discovered the horror that is store-bought Granny Smiths. Long reputed to be the best baking apple, the Granny Smiths I’ve found in the stores have a spongy, bland texture when baked.  Their skin is so bright and promising. But their meat lacks the sharp, apple tang. I hate the the taste has been bred out of them. They are now just pretty with no substance. 

Braeburns are what I love. Pink Ladies too. Both of them aren’t quite glamorous. More like freckled-face beauties. But even more than that,I love the ugly tart apple that we pick from Dave’s grandparents farm. It doesn’t have a name. It just came to be. Grandma Betty tells me, “Oh it just popped up and it’s okay for cooking. Don’t eat it though, you won’t like it.” The skin is a dirty red, smeared with brown, speckled with black spots. The meat is mealy when you cut it. But when baked, well, you hardly need sugar. 

The sour cream apple pie that I make is also, something that just popped up out of somewhere, perfect. It’s a recipe from my mom’s friend. I’ve tweaked it a little over the years. Filled in some gaps (what kind of sugar? A little less flour.) It doesn’t look like much. Brown, smeary, I like to gussy it up with caramel. But it’s delicious hot and even better the next day cold, with a melted bit of cheddar cheese over it. So here is my pie. The pie that when I made it for Dave’s dad, he said, “Who cares if you know Kirby Puckett’s number, if you love to make food like this, we’ll have you!”

Part of me cringes when I think about that because, for a woman, it makes me feel like food is supposed to be my currency for being valued. But I know what he meant. He meant, if we have nothing else, we have pie and we have love. Welcome to the family.

(I really miss him sometimes.)

Here is the recipe for the pie. Just so you know, my crust recipe is wonderful and it is almost directly from the Joy of Cooking.

Pie 4

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All The Things I’m Going To Do With My Free Time When School Starts

Free Time

School starts in two weeks and both kids will be going two days a week. That’s right, the baby and the three-year-old will be out of the house and with others two days a week for four hours each day. That means I will have eight hours a week all to myself. And I know, right? Eight hours. Eight whole hours. That’s like almost a full work day, but divided into two days.

I bumped into someone at the park last week, who was all, “Wow, all that time, what will you do?”

At first I thought she was kidding, so I blinked, but no, that wide-eyed expectant stare stayed on her face. Bless her heart, she thought I was going to answer. I just smiled, “I’ll think of something.”

She laughed. “Maybe you could nap.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Too bad Oprah’s off the air. Now what will I watch while I eat my bonbons?”

“Maybe The View?”

That’s when I was sure she was trolling me, but in real life.

Since then, a lot of people have been asking me what I am going to do with this glut of free time. You know, those eight hours. Which are actually more like six because of pick up and drop off time, but six. I mean, that’s a lot. So, I thought I would just answer right here, right now, here are 18 things that stay-at-home moms do with all their free time when school starts. But this is by no means a comprehensive list.

1. Sit down and eat a meal where no one is screaming at me or asking me how many bites until ice cream.

2. Cure cancer.

3. Read the news.

4.  I don’t know, maybe do the work that I normally do late in the night, so I can go to sleep before 11.

5. Get a job that somehow lets me work only eight hours a week and make a ton of money, because you know, the economy is super great and very accommodating to working women with children. Yay, America!

6. Start an online petition to bring back Oprah.

7.  Take a shower.

8. Single-handedly stop the Ebola outbreak and then go grocery shopping.

9. Take the Iron Throne.

10. Find Sasquatch.

11.  Cry.

12. LOL. I don’t know. Maybe I should have another baby because I have a lot of free time now.

13. Clean the house, I guess that’s my job because I have a vagina and so much free time.

14. Finally get that perfect Instagram of my feet. It’s like the holy grail of social media, amirite?

15. Solve crime while sipping tea and fulfill my dream of becoming the Agatha Christie of Iowa.

16.  Take boxing lessons.

17. Build a time machine.

18. Go back in time and punch you in the face for asking that question to any mother getting her kids ready for back to school.

How To Be A Perfect Mother

SOblessed

In order to be the perfect mother,* you must do absolutely everything you can for your child. But not everything because if you do, then you are setting them up for failure in life and ruining the future of America. Of course, if you don’t do everything for them, you are completely selfish. You must also cherish your children completely and always, but don’t be smug about it, okay. You must never complain about your child, but if you only say good things, you are not being honest and you are fake. So be honest, but why are you complaining? At least  you have kids! You chose to have them, so stop your bitching. But moms these days are so fake on social media, never being honest about how hard it is to be a parent, so don’t do that.

The perfect mother always looks nice and isn’t a slob. She takes care of herself. But it’s important for mothers to know that they need to stop being so vain and only thinking about themselves. You must dedicate your life to your children, but also have your own sense of self, because what are you? Co-dependent? Work out and be healthy, but don’t workout too hard because why would you prioritize that over your own children? So, be careful that you don’t get too fat, because you are making America obese and your kids will be fat like you and then, probably, Armageddon.  On that note, don’t wear a bikini, because only slutty moms do that. But also, model healthy body image to your children, or you are the reason they will fail at life.

You should breastfeed, but only if you can do it in a room quietly and away from everyone. Breast is best, but seriously, no one wants to see your boobs. Only selfish moms use formula, but you should probably just go ahead and use it and stop complaining about breastfeeding. No one wants to talk about your boobs.

Working mothers are wonderful examples of modern womanhood, but they are also incredibly selfish to be putting a career before their children. A good mother never puts her career before her children, she also doesn’t ever slack at work. Stay-at-home moms are wonderful and sacrificial, but honestly, get a job lady, because what do you do all day? So, definitely get a job, but honestly, why aren’t you watching your own children? Using childcare is wonderful, after all, it takes a village, but why are you outsourcing your motherhood? Why did you even have children in the first place?

A good mother always puts her partner first, except when she values her children above everything.  A good mother also advocates for her child, and is never sanctimonious and pushy. Trust your mom instincts, except that you are completely hormonal and irrational and you need medicine.

So, mothers watch over your children and constantly shield them from the big bad world. Also, never be enabling helicopter parents, who do everything for their children and shield them from the world. Never let your kid quit anything, they must learn perseverance, but you should empower them to make their own choices. Children ought to be allowed to choose what to wear, but if your kids aren’t wearing perfectly matching Tea Collection outfits, you are a terrible parent. The Tea Collection is ridiculously overpriced. But cheap clothing with characters on it makes your kids a walking  billboard for consumerism. Good mothers discipline their children. Spanking is barbaric, time out is ineffective and I’m calling CPS. Good mothers never yell or get mad. Good mother’s show their children that it’s okay to yell and get mad sometimes.

Perfect mothers understand how privileged they are to be parenting in America. But the French are doing everything better. So, mothers, be confident in your choices, because you are probably doing everything wrong.

 

*I would just like to say from the start, that I understand many of these things hold true for fathers as well. I’m not trying to say moms have it worse than fathers, or anyone at all.  Also, yes this is similar to something I wrote before. Feel free to sue me for plagiarism.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Halfway through our vacation, my husband and I lay awake in our hotel room, listening to the sounds of the rowdy 10 year old boys down the hall. It was 10 and we had been on the cusp of sleep for the past 40 minutes, always yanked back to consciousness by a loud crash or the muffled voice of a tired parent telling everyone to just “Be still for godsakes!” I sighed and Dave said, “You can’t say anything.”

“I know, I know.”

“Because our kid will just be up at five.”

“And he will be screaming. I know. I’m not mad at them. I’m just so tired.”

“No doubt they are too,” said Dave.  Somehow we fell asleep, only to wake up a few hours later to our own screaming son.

This is the mutually assured destruction of parenthood. Should we throw the bomb of complaining about someone else’s kids, they could just throw it right back at us. And we’d all be annihilated. The nuclear bomb of shared guilt. And in the world of parenting, every nation is a nuclear one.

At the water park, the very next day a little girl came up to Jude and gave him a shove. The mom, mortified, said, “I’m so sorry, we are working on it!”

“It’s okay,” I said. “The moment you fix it, you’ll be onto the next. Plus, this guy bites me, so he has it coming.”

The poor woman looked exhausted. Her baby must have been barely two and she was pregnant with her second. She shook her head. “They just don’t do what you want them to.”

I wanted to take her aside and pour her some whiskey. I wouldn’t tell her it gets worse, I wouldn’t tell her it gets better. I would just pour her some whiskey and say, “I know, right? Who knew this would be 18 years of obsessing over someone else’s fecal matter and explaining why we don’t poke our friends with forks?”

Sometimes I feel like I’m united to every parent every where by the pain our children inflict on others.  Even if my kids have a good day and we go out to eat and the three-year-old eats all her food and colors patiently while the check comes and the baby only throws a few things on the ground and uses his hands to wave adorably at old people instead of pounding knives on the table, I know it’s just a fleeting vision. The next time we go out, the three-year-old will throw her dress over her head and scream that the grilled cheese she asked for IS SO BERRY YUCKY! And the baby will try to plunge head first out of his high chair while screaming. And Dave and I will frantically shove food down our throats, while exchanging the universal parent look for, “THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY?”

It’s in those moments when I want to just hit an eject button and parachute the hell out of there. Once, at a McDonald’s, when my nephew was little, he threw a fit about his Happy Meal. His mom took him aside for a talk and his screams from the bathroom reverberated throughout the restaurant. “WHO’S KID IS THAT?” My brother-in-law said loudly. “THEY SHOULD CONTROL HIM!”

I thought about that moment on vacation, when I kindly asked my daughter to put down her skirt and eat one bite of grilled cheese and she hauled off and smacked my arm. “No way!” She said. “Princesses just don’t like yucky grilled cheese.” The restaurant was small and filled with old people. I felt the room wait with baited breath. I mean, most likely no one actually cared about the drama at the table in the corner, but when it’s you facing down fancy pants the mom hitter, you feel all eyes on you. You think everyone is wondering: What will this mom do in the face of such panty-showing impertinence? I leaned in close to my daughter’s ear so no one could hear. “Princesses who hit their queens become normal girls with no fancy things.”

Commence wailing. Wailing that lasted the next three hours as we hauled her back to the hotel and unceremoniously stripped her of her princess regalia and made her wear shorts and a coordinating t-shirt. The horror.

I used to think that you could just “control your children.” Now, I know otherwise. When the three-year-old turned two, or as I liked to call it, signed a pact with Satan to dedicate a year of her life destroying me, I scrambled through a pile of parenting books looking for advice on how to fightback against the raging, pink, princess-clad menace that screamed and kicked the walls every night. Most books, which had been so helpful in providing sleeping tips for infants and breastfeeding advice, suddenly got vague. “Shoot for 60% compliance” one book suggested. “And may God have mercy on your soul,” I read between the lines.

My mom likes to tell a story, about how she raised all eight of us children to be good little Evangelicals and court instead of date. When we grew up we did nothing of the sort. One of my mom’s friends who was also raising a quiverfull of Evangelicals, noted with surprise that one of us was dating. “You let your children date?” She said to my mom.

“No,” my mom said, “they just do.”

So, back at the hotel. Dave and I get the sleep we can until the morning comes all too soon and we take alternate mornings hauling our baby out to the beach to yell and eat sand at 5am, while the rest of the hotel sleeps. Out there we find a community of parents with similarly evil children and old people walking by and nodding, “I remember those days.”

On the beach

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