Mom Dating

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Yesterday, I typed up a text message then deleted it. A few minutes later, my baby clinging to my legs, screaming, I tried again. It didn’t seem right. When my husband came home, I asked him to look over the text. “Is this too needy? Too desperate? Should I wait 48 hours to send it?”

He blinked so hard, I could hear his bewilderment. “Um, aren’t you just texting a new friend?”

Not any new friend. A mom friend.

Finding a friend is hard enough, in our increasingly digital and isolated world. I have many friends from college or friends from my old jobs, who I email, call and text on any given day. But staying home with my kids is sometimes a lonely job and really, the baby is terrible at discussing “Game of Thrones” with me. I need to talk to a human, an adult, someone who can pour me coffee and say, “I’m sorry your baby threatened you with a knife.” But, finding the perfect mom friend for impromptu playdates to the park and commiserating over coffee while our kids throw blocks at each other is hard. It requires the perfect confluence of proximity, schedules and childrens’ ages. Also, your kids have to get along.  I once had a perfect mom friend, who enjoyed discussing “Downton Abby” and what’s wrong with the animals at Bever Park (a favorite topic of mine). But my daughter decided her daughter was a horrible witch who was casting mean spells on her. My friend’s daughter responding by shrieking and kicking my kid in the shins. The relationship didn’t last long.

This year, I’ve found myself irrationally angry at mom friends who dared sign their children up for preschool on alternating days than my children. “Why wasn’t Tuesday/Thursday good enough for you?” I found myself yelling at a friend the other day. She patted my arm. “I will miss you too.”

Finding a new mom friend is often like dating. You go to parks and groups, trying to scope out someone who doesn’t look like they’re going to judge the fact that your baby has a face full of dirt and your three-year-old is sobbing because her stick isn’t magical. Someone who might be able to talk about minivans and books and shrug when you say your kid was three when she finally gave up the pacifier. And not newly-minted three. And unfortunately, I was never good at dating. Of the four people I dated before my husband, three of them are married to men now.

But the other day, I bumped into a mom at the mall after my baby tried to push hers. We started talking and discovered that we have all the right elements—she lives in the neighborhood, our schedules match, and our kids seem to like one another. Not to mention, she can talk to me about books and some of the crime procedurals I enjoy. I mean, she hasn’t seen every episode of “Criminal Minds” twice, but no one is perfect. Best of all, she’s new to town, so she’s just desperate enough to need a friend. We exchanged numbers and I immediately made a playdate.

So, it appears I have a new mom friend. Which will last until my daughter decides her daughter is a witch. I lose more friends that way.

Disclaimer: I wrote this originally for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, but it has become really timely, so I republished here. Yes, that makes me lazy.

Me Judging Fictional Moms Part II

Daniel_Tiger's_Neighborhood_character

I have previously knocked down all your sacred cows. Time for some more.

Mrs. Pteranodon from “Dinosaur Train.”

We all know you kidnapped that baby T-Rex, but why? To what purpose? Just to eat your other children in a few years. Look, I can understand wanting someone to off Tiny and Shiny, but Don is delightful. You ma’am, should be in jail.

Mom from “Eloise.”

Congratulations. In your prolonged absence, you’ve managed to create the most obnoxious child that ever graced the pages of fiction. You should probably put that on your CV. Also, I hope you are saving for therapy, because that kid has some serious abandonment issues and she’s taking them out on the poor staff of the Plaza Hotel.

Mrs. Tiger from “Daniel Tiger.”

There is no way you can sing all those stupid songs and not be high on some sort of painkiller. Are you high right now, Mrs. Tiger? ARE YOU? Also, why are you the only one wearing pants in this family? Are you asserting your control over the men? If so, I approve. Or is this some sort of other kind of control. Like the men have the freedom of pantslessness, while you must bind your legs and genitals in those awful capris? If that is the case, can I help you? Do you need help? Is this why you are high? Let me help you, Mrs. Tiger.

Mom from “Calliou.”

Look, unlike Daniel Tiger’s mom, I’m absolutely sure you are high right now. There is no other way any of us could be if we had to face that wailing, bald, narcissistic monster you call a child every day. I mean, I need a stiff drink just to turn your show on. You realize your kid is probably going to grow up into the Canadian version of Patrick Bateman, right? It’s okay. I know you know. I’m sorry. We can’t be friends.

Mom from Pinkalicious.

Did you actually name your child Pinkalicious? But you named your son Peter? Look everyone has the right to name their kids what they will, but lady, you make North West sound like the name of a future supreme court judge. I just can’t with you right now.

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.

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