Saturday, April 30, 2011

Half Baked

My husband doesn’t like it when I sell things on the street. Now I have my daughters doing it, too. Today it’s cookies, last time it was cupcakes and brownies. It’s always for a good cause – political campaign, puppy rescues, or like today’s sale, it’s to raise money for a camp for kids with sickle cell disease.

There is something about a bake sale that is in some ways far more effect in getting people out to support a cause. Unlike a dinner dance, pancake breakfast or wine tasting – all of which I have been involved in organizing – there is something so simple about a bake sale. It is a low cost, easy way to contribute. It doesn’t require any long term commitment on the part of the person making the donation. And besides, who can resist a cookie?

A friend of mine who donated twenty but declined to take the twenty cookies because she said she didn’t need an excuse to eat a plate on her own, told me she liked that my girls and I did cooking fundraisers together. I confessed to the reason behind it – I love to bake. Second only to writing, it is my favorite thing to do. If someone would actually pay me for my baked goods in the retail world, I would jump at the chance to make it a second act profession some day. I also want my girls to know what it feels like to help others, to raise money and turn it over to a charity, to recognize that no matter what we might be going through ourselves, that there is always someone else worse off and in need of our efforts. My mother used to always say to me, “Whenever you’re feeling bad, find someone who’s feeling worse and do something for them. You’ll find that it’s the best way to make yourself feel better.” Lastly, it is an easy ask of friends, neighbors and family – come by, eat a cookie, help someone.

We did a benefit bake a few years ago where the girls raised over $300 in less than two hours. Thanks to the beauty of email and forwarding, people we didn’t know, who were friends of friends, showed up to participate. David refused to be involved, citing his objection to my selling things on the street habit. At one point, we had about twenty or more people milling in front of the house eating baked goods and contributing for the cause. David was finally forced to come out of the house where he’d been hiding for the duration of the sale, hoping that the neighbors didn’t call to complain. Thing was, most of the neighbors were now out in front. When he finally came out, I overheard him chatting with a neighbor, who assumed he’d been part of the fundraising effort. When he didn’t deny it, I had him, and he was forced to help with clean up.

Today we’re adding milk to the occasion. And at $1 a cup, that’s extra money for the camp. Besides, what goes better with cookies than milk?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Missing Part 2

My daughter Nicole came back from her Washington D.C. trip a changed person. The person who came back is much more mature, confident and independent. It’s a little frightening and as much as I marvel at the change, I miss the little girl she was before she went on the trip.

When we went to pick Nicole up at the airport, there were fifty or more other parents waiting for the plane to land. Natalie, Nicole’s younger sister, made a beautiful welcome back sign which read, “Welcome home Nicole! We love you! Don’t Ever Go Away Again!” I felt the same way. I would never say, but part of me yearned to yell at her, don’t ever go away again! I missed her, badly. But Natalie then decided, as eight year olds will do, that she was too embarrassed to hold it up because she had drawn a bunny on it and she didn’t want the fifth graders to think she was babyish.

The parents gathered, excited and eager to see our kids, a little fearful until all of the wheels of the plane touched down on the runway. We waited, making small talk about end of the year festivities – the upcoming fifth grade culmination ceremony which seems to have grown to mythic proportions making it only slightly less important than graduating from Harvard. We talked middle school choices and thoughts about what the next school year would bring. I had brought balloons, but David made me leave them in the car. He said, “She’s not coming back from Iraq, just a week in D.C.” I didn’t care, I was getting balloons anyway, even if she would only enjoy them for the car ride home! Other parents filtered in as their arrival grew closer, balloons clutched in their hands. I gave David a look which he pretended not to see.

When the first kids started filtering into baggage claim, the parents let out a cheer, screaming, clapping. I felt sorry for the other passengers on the plane. Not only did they have to tolerate a 5 hour flight with 44 kids, but now they had to deal with the parents, who were probably missing their children more than their children missed them. We spotted Nicole, but it was difficult to get through the crowd to embrace her. She hugged and kissed us, and Natalie flashed her the welcome sign so quickly that I’m sure Nicole barely got to see it. But instead of being teary or bubbling over with excitement to see us, Nicole said – in a voice that seemed liked she was making an effort to sound grown, “Hi Guys, good to be back. Let me get my bag.” She walked over to the luggage and refusing help from both me and her father, insisted on taking her giant, 45 pound suitcase off of the carrousel. I couldn’t believe it. The girl who used to ask me to carry her lunch box into school for her because it was too much to juggle with her backpack – why she refused to put it in her backpack is still one of those mysteries of the universe which will never be solved – was now handling a suitcase that was almost as big as she was, as well as a backpack. She looked at me and said, “Mom, I’ve been lugging around my own stuff, getting myself washed, dressed and ready every morning for eight days, I got this, I can handle it, I’m Miss Independence now!”

I was shocked, surprised and amused by her comment. We’ll see how long her Miss Independence reign lasts, but I do know that the change in her has been marked since she returned and that in some ways, what my neighbor said was true – a trip away, an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. (or anyway away from their parents for a week and be on their own) will be life changing. It’s a good change for the kids, harder on the parents. I love Nicole’s newfound confidence, but in some ways, I was missing my little girl. The next day, I told David how I was feeling about it and he looked at me like I was crazy, reminding me of all the times I’d tried to get Nicole (and the rest of them) to do a better job of picking up after themselves, keeping track of their own things, basically being more responsible and independent and now that she was doing it, I was complaining? As we were talking, Nicole, who was starting to show signs of jet lag on her first day back, interrupted us and curled up on the sofa next to me, burying her head in my arms. She murmured, “Good night, Mommy,” and allowed herself to drift off before the sun had even set or dinner was served. She was tired from her trip, from all the changes, and when everything was said and done, she still needed me to comfort her and help her get some rest. Okay, independent, but always my little girl.

Note: As we head into spring break, I’m going to do just that and take a break from posting next week. Okay, yeah, I know, I’m not in school anymore, but some habits, like taking spring break, die hard. Also, isn’t half the point of having kids so that you can relive all those things you loved about childhood even though you are an adult? Posting again on 5/6!

Friday, April 8, 2011


I don’t know where my ten year old daughter is at this moment. She is somewhere in Washington D.C. on a class field trip. Four teacher/chaperones, who clearly give Job a run for his money when it comes to patience, are taking forty-four fifth graders on a tour of historic sites – Monticello, Congress (unless it’s closed), the Liberty Bell. They will travel over three states during eight days where the kids will be responsible for packing and unpacking their suitcases, keeping up with their belongings, personal grooming (at least enough that they don’t offend each other), making sure they get proper nutrition, all in addition to doing written assignments and keeping a photo journal. Oh, and the kicker…they can’t call, email, text or contact their parents in any way for the entire trip! I’m not sure I could do all that now, let alone at age ten.

When Nicole was in second grade, she announced that she would never, ever go on the D.C. trip. She repeated her declaration in third and fourth grade. But suddenly, when the teachers started talking about earning points to go on the trip – being allowed to go is merit based – Nicole promptly forgot her vow of several years earlier and became obsessed with not losing points so she could take the trip. I had mixed emotions about letting her go. I had been relieved when she said that she didn’t want to, but when she made an about face, I resigned myself to her going, knowing that I would be nervous and would miss her terribly. However, I also knew it would be, as parents of some older kids from our school have told me, “a life changing experience” for her. And indeed, I know now that it will be. It was amazing watching her in the days leading up to the trip. She has never been to sleep away camp, never traveled without us to visit family or friends. Yet, she was not nervous, and on the ride to the airport she was giddy, not worried or homesick. Even her goodbye as she got into the line to check her bag was more like a “goodbye I’m going to school,” rather than “goodbye, I’ll see you in a week!”

The teachers are tweeting the experience several times a day so we get to see photographs of the kids at various monuments. As a friend of mine said, it’s like playing Where’s Waldo? with the pictures, hunting each one to find your kid, making sure that they are still present and accounted for, checking to see that they have on their coat or combed their hair. It is our only way to know what’s going on during the trip. But the one thing I noticed in each photo is how happy and engaged the kids appear. And I marvel that my baby of ten is three thousand miles away from me, for the first time having experiences on her own. A mom I know with a toddler scolded us for letting Nicole go on the trip and said that she would never let her child travel on a school trip that far away at such a young age. She said that she knew her child would not be ready for it. And that may be true. However, I firmly believe that even if they aren’t exactly ready, most kids will rise to the occasion in order to have a chance to experience such a journey.

When I was 13, my French teacher aunt took me to Paris under the guise of taking several of her students on a study abroad trip. In fact, it was really just a booty call on foreign shores, with her promptly coming to our hotel room a few moments after arriving, teaching us a few survival phrases in French, informing us that we should not come to her hotel room for the next two weeks and instructing us not to tell our parents about it. And then she was gone. I was 13, alone in Paris with a hotel room, return ticket, guide book and a credit card. I was scared for about a nano second and then realized what an amazing opportunity I had. I cut a deal with the two girls I was traveling with, both older, high school juniors, but unable to speak the language as well as I could, that if they would go with me to museums during the day, I would translate for them at night when they went on the prowl hunting cute French guys. It was an arrangement that met the needs of all the travelers and resulted in hilarious results and lifelong memories. It turned out that my aunt had a boyfriend who I suspect was at the embassy and that she’d been following around the world for years and meeting in exotic locales. We had always marveled at her foreign trips and wondered how and why she went on such fascinating journeys – now I knew. But as a woman teacher in her day who’d lose her job to a married man with kids to support, I guess she thought it best not to marry and keep her relationship hidden – maybe her embassy guy was married, or maybe she just wanted to keep her job, either way, in retrospect, it was both terribly sad and horribly romantic! However, the biggest thing I learned on the trip was that I could take care of myself anywhere under any circumstance and it was a lesson that sparked a lifelong interest in travel and one that I carried with me as I traveled extensively, often alone and to unusual places during my pre-kid years. And as my aunt asked, I kept her secret and didn’t tell my father about my abandonment in Paris until I was 36. He shook his head and said, “That sounds like my sister.” I had been left alone in Paris for two weeks and I survived. So I knew that Nicole, who is way more mature than I was at that age, would do fine. I was the one who might not fare so well on this trip. I would miss her.

So Nicole is out of the house and it is very quiet now. There is no one dancing in the kitchen after dinner when she should be sitting and finishing her meal, no constant chatter repeating stories which she’s told us time and again, no bickering between sisters over what to watch on t.v. or who was longer on the Wii. Instead, there is a place at the table which goes unset, a bedroom neat and bed nicely made without clothes strewn about the room and the daily morning angst over what to wear. I thought I wouldn’t miss all those things, but I do. Nicole is missing from our home, and I miss her and the liveliness and love she brings to our life. Even though I know that within hours of her return, I might long for some of that quiet time again, I will be glad that she went on her journey, but happy to have her home.

Friday, April 1, 2011

No Fooling

Because I have a daughter who was born on April Fool's Day, we have ceased to celebrate the prankster's day in lieu of celebrating her birthday. When I was in labor, at about 11:30pm on March 31st, when it seemed as if Natalie was not coming out, my husband tried to get me to push her out before she was ready to avoid her having to be an April Fool's baby. He felt that it was a label that would haunt her for her entire life and that with one determined push, I could eliminate this potential hardship which might damage her psyche. But given that our doctor wasn't even at the hospital - she'd dropped by earlier on her way out to dinner with a friend - there was no way I was pushing that kid out early.

Midnight struck and April commenced. It was then that Natalie, obviously a prankster in training, decided to make her appearance. I spent an incredibly long time pushing - I remember asking the doctor, in a drug induced haze, "At what point do we give up and just take her out?" But before the doctor could answer, one final push and Natalie made her appearance at 12:58 a.m. My April Fool's baby wasn't fooling around - calm, quiet, she barely cried when they cleaned her off and she was as patient and sweet tempered then as she is today.

As a kid, I remember one April Fool's Day, I believe I was 8, when I decided to go all out with the pranks. I put salt in the sugar bowl, dipped my brother's hand in warm water while he was sleeping and seasoned the scrambled eggs with sugar. I don't remember anyone laughing. I do remember getting punished, badly. And I don't think I've played an April Fool's joke since. Which is a good thing, because now on April 1st, we have something wonderful to celebrate instead!