Yiayia’s Cooking Secrets (with Bonus Spinach Pie Recipe)

The first time my (now) husband took me to his parent’s house I didn’t get to meet them because they were out of the country, visiting their native Greece, but his yiayia (grandma) was there. She wore an ankle-length, dark navy dress, her usual attire as I would come to find, and her long gray hair was twisted into a bun that rested on the nape of her neck.  Her hands were thick and wide, strong from a lifetime of manual labor, the skin covering them was stretched out and creased and it would hold the shape of an object long after she pressed her hands down upon it; the elastin was long gone. They were also very soft. Maybe it was the muscle underneath, or maybe it was due to the fact she had been in the States for enough years for the calluses to wear away.

She walked slowly, but steadily, as she led me to the backyard and introduced me to her garden.  She spoke to me in Greek, which I couldn’t understand, but that didn’t deter her from chatting away and her not understanding English didn’t stop me from chatting right back.   She loved me from the get go, she smiled at me and held my hand and looked at my husband and winked as she rubbed my back.  We visited for a couple of hours and then prepared to leave to head back to campus.

“Meinete kai na fate (stay for lunch), she insisted.

Mr. Grouch tried to say no, but his weak protest didn’t do any good.  I was confused why he would say no.  We were college students and what college kid doesn’t want a free meal?  He relented, as it was clear he would, and she nodded and took my hand and led me to her garden again where she started picking the fresh onions, parsley, and spinach from the bed.  She washed and chopped the greens and then started mixing dough and began rolling it out into thin sheets with a narrow wooden dowel.  She was making homemade filo dough. For her, a “quick lunch” was making spanakopita (spinach pie) from scratch.  It was a solid six hours later before we were out of there.

But damn, that food was good.

I’ve learned that for a Greek mom (or yiayia), feeding her family is the ultimate expression of love. Feeding her family often.  Bottom line: The more food they offer you, the more they like you.  For my in-laws, it all stems from living as goat herders in the xorio (the village).  If they didn’t eat enough, they could literally die. They dealt with illness without doctors.  Exposure to the elements without shelter. Feasting because there could be famine.  Eating more food really could have meant the difference between survival and death. From this perspective, food is love never made more sense.

Once I met my now my mother-in-law I learned that she also created magic in the kitchen.  She makes simple dishes, yet they are so full of flavor that I usually want to eat half the pan. Okay, one time, I DID eat half the pan. I think I shocked her.  It was melizantes (eggplant and onions). I usually have some self-control, but that time I just couldn’t stop. She is such a great cook, and hostess, that we don’t ever alternate which side of the family we visit for Thanksgiving, we just always go to her house. Her food is the best.  And while she has much to be proud of, the downside is that she is a total food pusher.  It used to give me anxiety, to think of her basically force-feeding my children.  I’ve gotten over it, since we go over there and get free meals several times a month.  I have completely traded any worries about my children learning to eat when they aren’t hungry for homemade dolmades (grape leaves) and horta (cooked greens) and loukanika (sausage). I’ve even gotten to the point where I sometimes brag to her about how much I got my kids to eat so she’ll be proud of me. Which doesn’t usually work.

“She at two eggs today!”

“Hmmm, well that’s good she ate.  But so many eggs!  Too many.  All that cholesterol!”

Nevermind that after offering my daughter homemade spinach pie and french fries and koulourakia (cookies) and spaghetti and pancakes and sausage she will also offer McDonald’s and Cheeze-its and microwave popcorn and those ice cream sandwiches that don’t even melt in the Sun.  She will feed them anything to get those grandkids of hers to eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat. And eat.  She can’t help herself.  Her grandchildren MUST SURVIVE.

I absolutely hate cooking, but her recipes truly are the kind of recipes that are worth taking the time to learn and make.  They are worth dirtying up a million dishes or having to chop for hours.  They are made from scratch and filled with love, and typically a lot of garlic and butter. They are heavenly.

If I am at home and I want to ask her about a recipe, it’s a gamble to try to call her on the phone and ask how to do something.  She can’t remember.  Or she can’t articulate it.  Or she assumes I know…anything about cooking.  When she cooks she relies on muscle memory.  It’s like her brain might not really know what she’s doing but her hands do.  And her eyes do.  They remember, even if her mouth doesn’t. This is a woman who consistently calls potholes, “potholders”, after all. If I want to know how to make a dish, I have to see her make something to ensure I’m getting accurate information.

When I do watch her make something, and jot down the directions as I observe, there is still much room for error.  You see, she doesn’t measure.  She doesn’t necessarily make things the same way every time, depending on what ingredients she has on hand, and, what is partly due to her naturally flippant speech, and partly due to English not being her native language, she sometimes (often…always…) says one thing and then contradicts herself and says the exact opposite thing.

I am 100% positive that at one point she told me you could bake baklava and freeze it, but you had to do this before adding the syrup.  Once the baklava was thawed, she told me, you could make the syrup and add it.  When I finally get around to making some baklava, and thinking maybe I could make extra to freeze for later, I asked her about this, but she told me she has no clue, and she has never done that.  Then, she tells me I could bake the baklava, add the syrup and then freeze it.   I know this is completely different information than I heard before, and it can’t be trusted.

I think maybe we’re having communication difficulties about this because when I asked her we were talking on the phone.  I wait until I see her next in person and ask her, “If I’m going to make baklava and freeze it, do I add the syrup before or after I put it in the freezer?.

Her response?  “Yes”.

I asked my husband’s sisters.  His cousins.  NO ONE KNOWS. Which I call total bullshit on.  But, unless you watch them do it, you’ll never learn how to cook like they do.  And, let’s be honest, even when I watch them, mine still tastes like MINE and theirs still tastes like THEIRS.  I’ll take it though, the MINE version is better than anything I would ever come up with on my own.  So, I periodically meet with my mother-in-law and watch her make a recipe I love so I can try to recreate it at home.

Here are a few classic scenarios that occur every time I am furiously scribbling one of her recipes down.

ONE:

“How much flour do I add?”

“A handful”

I look at her little elfish hands.  I look at my gigantic man hands.  *blink blink*

 

TWO:

“How many walnuts do you put in for one batch?”

“About four handfuls”

The old handful conversation again.

 

 

THREE:

“How much salt should I add?”

“Just a little” (said with a tone that implies I should understand what she means).

“A pinch?”

“Yeah, a pinch.  Not too much”.  She pours out how much she needs into her hands, and then transfers it into a measuring spoon so I can record the amount.

I nod my head in acknowledgment. A teaspoon.  I totally understand what a teaspoon is.

“But you need enough. Not too little either”.  She takes the salt shaker and pours an ungodly amount, unmeasured, into the mixing bowl.

I bang my head against the wall.

 

 

FOUR:

“See?”  She dips a spoon into the pot and lifts it up, letting the liquid pour back out. She’s trying to make me see the level of viscosity of the syrup.

I see pouring liquid.  I don’t see what I’m supposed to see.

“Um. How many minutes until it’s done?”

“Until it looks thick enough”.

I will my eyes to be smarter.  I stare harder.  I might as well have a blindfold on.  I’m cooking blind.

 

 

FIVE:

“So, I need three scoops?”

“Three scoops.  Full ones”.

“Got it”.  I put three scoops in and smile.  I did it!

She looks at it with a critical eye and says, “Maybe a little extra”.

 

 

BONUS:  YIAYIA’S SPINACH PIE RECIPE:

You will need:

Yiayia sized mixing bowl: She can curl up and fit in it. Yes, she’s only 4′ 10″, but still. You don’t have one this size, trust me.

Yiayia sized pan: Yiayia uses a dented pan made from an unknown metal that has been passed down from the women in her family since the late 1800’s.  Good luck finding one like that.  You could use a sheet cake pan. Or two large pans.  I can’t tell you what size because it depends how thick you  make your spinach pie.

Salt: Way more than you would ever guess. But definitely not too much.

Dill: Copious amounts. Full disclosure, Yiayia doesn’t put this in hers. Except for the times that she does.

Feta: A huge hunk. But not so much you ruin it by making it taste like there is too much feta.

Cottage Cheese: A one pound container.  The only thing you will know for sure.

Corn Meal: A large handful (a cup or so).

Green onions: Three bunches. Unless you forget to buy it, or don’t have it in your garden, in which case, zero bunches.

Yellow onions: If you want.

Parsley: Two bunches. If you’re chopping like Yiayia, take each leaf and carefully cut the stem off. If you’re cooking like me, hack away, and eat a million partial stems.

Spinach: A shitload. Rinse it in a sink full of water and keep draining and refilling the sink until there is no more dirt settling to the bottom.  Repeat stem-cutting steps as mentioned previously.

Butter: Melt a stick or two. The amount you need depends how dry the filo is.  If you’re like Yiayia, clarify the butter by scraping off the gunk from the top.  If you’re like me, don’t waste any time, or butter.

Filo: Bought. Because some family recipes are so much work you know you’ll never make them yourself.

Oregano: From a plant transplanted from a tiny Greek village high in the mountainside, picked fresh from the garden, dried in Yiayia’s guest bedroom and stored in a glass jar with a broken handle and ill-fitting lid that your husband won’t get rid of, no matter how many times you cut your hand on it.

Garlic powder: Never enough. Garlic can stream from your pores for days after eating and it still wouldn’t be enough.

You will do:

1. Chop the greens and onions until your hands are sore and you have newfound respect for the strength Yiayia possesses. Be nicer to her, because you realize she probably could kill someone by crushing their windpipe with her bare hands, based on this hand-strength metric.

2.  Add the corn meal and squeeze to soak up some of the water.

3. Combine the rest of the ingredients.

4. Butter the bottom of your pan(s) and place 8-10 layers of filo.

5. Alternate layers of spinach mixture, then three layers of filo, then layers of spinach mixture, etc…until all spinach mixture is used up.

6. Top with another 8-10 layers of filo.  Brush butter on top layers, and by brush I mean SOAK. Then add more. Pro tip: add a bit of olive oil on top of all that butter.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees until done.

Yiayia's authentic spinach pie recipe and secret cooking tips and tricks.

Yiayia’s authentic spinach pie recipe and secret cooking tips and tricks.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Grouch.

Happy birthday to you, and to many years more!
You say it’s just a day, no need for decor,
but I say let’s eat some cake (and then let’s eat some more!),
because why not celebrate the man I adore?

While we should never take for granted those we would die for,
we know those fairy tale scenarios are nothing but lore.
So when given then chance to do something more,
I say take it. Go crazy. Buy presents galore.

Today I celebrate you, a man kind in his core,
a man bearded and brawny, one I only have eyes for.
Cheers to a man who always opens my door,
who shows it’s our family that he looks out for.

Hip! Hip! to the man who works, and then works some more,
hammer, shovel, mow, plumb, wage dandelion war.
Bang, sand, lift, hold, surf the internet shore,
for another rental house you’re in the market for.

So just in case you’re not sure, I must really implore
you to notice there’s so much I give you credit for,
and when push comes to shove, it’s you I go to bat for.
It’s with you, and just you, this Earth I want to explore.

So today I celebrate. I shout, “You’re top drawer!”
Do you hear me? You listening? Hello? Ten four?
You’re stuck with me forever, until we’re at death’s door,
And each year on this day HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’ll roar.

The amount you get on my nerves, I love you that much, times four,
You complement me, do things well, that I deplore.
You turn off lights, double-check that I locked the front door.
You calculate, and invest, to make sure we won’t end up too poor.

Even when you constantly tell me to shut the pantry drawer,
or make other such comments you know I abhor,
know that loving you still is never a chore,
and always remember, I love you more.

Three Dirty Wash Cloths Can Put A Parent With Anxiety and Depression Over The Edge

Laundry is not a chore I mind doing. It’s something I can do while I’m doing other things around the house.  It doesn’t require me to get my hands dirty.  It’s not too physically demanding, except when I lug the basket up and down the stairs, but then I can pretend I’m getting some cardio in.  I like the way our detergent smells. I like taking the mess of dirty clothes and ending up with the neatly folded piles.  I like the way it feels when it is all done. Every hamper emptied. Every drawer stuffed full of folded clothes. When I’m done with the laundry, I know I’ve done it right and I really like that feeling.

Most things I do don’t give me that absolute feeling of successful completion, of knowing the job was well done.

Parenting is certainly not a job that leaves me feeling that way.  Especially being a parent that deals with anxiety and depression.

I try to do a lot of things for me, to ward of the depressive slumps, because doing so helps make me a better mama. One of them is running.  Nothing on this planet feels as good as a long run. Running makes every molecule in my body vibrate.  Right now a pretty significant hip injury has left me unable to run for several weeks. WEEKS.  And my body is not responding kindly. Other than the shooting, stabbing, searing pain in my hip joint, for the past four weeks it has felt like my legs are numb.  I’ve been wading through thigh-deep water instead of just walking like a normal person on land.  The other day I stood in place in the middle of my kitchen and had to think, much longer than should ever make sense, about walking to the garage to grab my shoes and then carrying them to the front door, or just walking outside barefoot because I wasn’t sure I could manage the extra trip across my house.  Lately I am moving very slowly. I am dropping things.  I am worried I will not be able to run the marathon I signed up for. I am not happy.

Maybe it’s my mind that isn’t responding kindly.

This month there have been so many days that I’ve felt like I didn’t have the energy to be the best parent I could be.  When I get like this, I worry I’m not doing enough arts and crafts, or taking the kids outside enough, or reading enough books.  I worry about my toddler watching too much t.v.  I worry I’m not giving enough attention to my youngest.

Lately I keep hearing a lot about how if you’re worried you’re a good parent, then you shouldn’t worry because that means you are one.  Which is sort of confusing.  Does that mean to stop worrying?  Because I’m worried now.  Is that good? Now I’m worried that I don’t even know the right way to worry.

Today I was finishing the final fold and had the, “Ahhhh” feeling of a task fully completed.  I exhaled for a minute.

Until I went into the girls bathroom and saw this:

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

This is enough to put a parent with anxiety issues into a tailspin.

I shit you not my heart jumped a beat. How did I miss this?  Damn it, I thought I had done all the laundry, but here are three wash cloths in the sink!  It’s like even though I did five loads of laundry today and everything is folded and put away, it all the sudden doesn’t count because of three dirty wash cloths.  For some reason it made all the more insulting that they were still wet.

And I know it doesn’t matter. I know that by tomorrow we’ll have dirty onesies and socks and bibs and whatnot, so what’s the big deal?   I know it shouldn’t bother me.

But it does.

So even though I’ve come a long way, I realize I am always on edge. My anxieties are raging.  I’m always worried that something won’t be good enough. The kicker? Something always won’t be.  And usually the more I worry about it, the more I screw shit up.  Or at least the more I notice.  Either way – that’s not a good situation to set oneself up for.

I’m working on it.  Usually at the end of the night I do a final load of dishes and clean up the living room and kitchen, making it somewhat presentable before I pour my glass of wine and relax on the couch.  I pat myself on the back on the nights I’m able to step over the baby toys on the floor and just leave them.  I’m happy to report that there have been days that I have been able to do this and let it go.

Today just wasn’t one of them.

The Six Week Check-Up

She started walking two days after,
running within a week.
Each day she ran those miles faster!
Physically, she would quickly peak.

She ran to combat it,
her becoming a disaster.
She was afraid to bring it up,
she was scared they would ask her.

But even more afraid of that,
she feared that they wouldn’t.
They had to bring it up,
she knew that she couldn’t.

It was hidden inside her,
like a wire wrapping her psyche,
cutting into her brain,
she felt the pressure, tightly.

It just might kill her,
if that wire tightened more.
It would shred her to pieces,
it would sever her core.

You look great! They said.
Her appearance fooled them.
She looked healthy. Strong.
She smiled and wooed them.

But she was not okay.
She was sick, deep inside.
She felt weak. Embarrassed.
The disease was easy to hide.

She was wearing herself to the bone,
running from fear, running for health.
She could not be trusted to be alone,
not with the baby, or her own self.

She wore a mask, to appear in control,
as the docs droned on and on.
They didn’t notice the void behind either eye hole,
or their patient, so withdrawn.

Everything looked good, or so they said.
Amazing! Bravo! Congratulations!
Smiling, the doctor shook her head.
But there were serious internal complications.

They never asked about it,
which she thought was bizarre.
She smiled and left.
And cried in the car.

Don't wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression.  Bring it up yourself.

Don’t wait for the doctor to ask you about postpartum depression. Bring it up yourself.

In Which Parenting is Like Cutting Off a Limb

Have you seen the movie 127 Hours? It’s based on the real life situation in which Aron Ralston went hiking by himself through some canyons in the desert and managed to get his arm trapped underneath a boulder too heavy for him to lift. He was stranded without hope for rescue and got to the point where me made the decision to cut his own arm off in order to survive. (SPOILER ALERT: he does cut off his arm and he does survive). The movie producers did a fantastic job of depicting his self-mutilation. He sawed through the muscles and tendons with his multi-tool, which was grisly, but the cinematographic artistry peaked when he hit the nerves.  As he stroked the nerve, the screen vibrated and, like guitar strings, the wires screamed out grisly chords.  It made me cringe and grab my arm in response. He eventually realized he couldn’t saw through the bone and he had to break it in the end, but as disturbing as that part was, the nerve scene was by far the most powerful. It was disgustingly well done.

For some reason Aron’s story sticks with me. It pops into my mind with surprising regularity and makes me think. It makes me wonder if I would cut off my own arm in a similar circumstance. I wonder if I would cut off my spouse’s or if he would cut off mine. I wonder what other things I would do to survive. To live. It makes me wonder if what I do on a daily basis is enough. It’s a powerful story.

Sometimes his story pops into my mind just from parenting.

It’s the nerve pain.  It’s the vibrato zing. It’s the razor-sharp adrenaline rushes that slice open my insides and cause chemicals to seep into my blood stream faster than they normally would.

Parenting is gasping and inhaling and sweating and heart RACING RACING RACING. Parenting is survival mode and I’ve been in it for 20,040 hours. The difference between Aron and I is that instead of for actual life or death circumstances, I’m on overdrive for stupid things like these:

ONE:

“Mama!!!!”

THUMP THUMP THUMP.

“I have water in my eye!”

She spilled her sippy cup on her face.

TWO:

It’s a middle of the night moan.

“Ermmmhh!”

ZING!!!!  My head vibrates. My eyes vibrate. My fingers vibrate.

I hear her roll over. She’s still asleep.

or

THREE:

“Mama!” A shriek this time.

Flup!  I can hear my eyelids unstick from one another.  I try to listen over the thumping.  Nothing. I doze off.

“Mama!”

THUMP THUMP THUMP.  Silence. I doze off.

“Mama!”

Silence again.  What the hell?

And then I realize it is Mr. Grouch’s nose doing a whistling sort of snore. My arms are pinging and pulsing and I’m ready to pounce, but my kid was never even awake (Sidebar: This is why we hate you, sleeping spouses. And anyone who asks if the kids sleep through the night yet, because that doesn’t really matter, if we’re still not).

Parenting is constant nervous system misfiring. It is hypervigilance.

Sometimes my spouse gets caught in the misfire, saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. It’s like he’s bumping the hand that is severing the other limb off, triggering sudden and unexpected searing pain, but, since he doesn’t realize I’m cutting my arm off, he has no idea how he possibly could have struck a nerve.

He usually doesn’t even know he did until I snap at him.  Which pisses him off, and makes me appear too sensitive, and then we’re both in a foul mood because I am snippy and how the hell doesn’t he notice my bloody bleeding stump?

Okay, okay, I’m not really comparing myself to this bad ass who cut off his own limb but sometimes hormones and anxiety make me feel this way.

Maybe I drink too much coffee.

Our loved ones certainly tug at our heart-strings, but I think they tug on our nerve-strings too.  So, if you’re the one who gets treated like you’re always on your spouse’s nerves….maybe this is why.

Parenting is exhausting and can be as hard as cutting off your own arm.  Maybe.

Parenting is exhausting and can be as hard as cutting off your own arm. Maybe.

Maybe This is How it Begins

I’m beat.

The lack of sleep and the germs from daycare and all of the running around is catching up with me. The seasons are changing and, unlike most of the population, when the Sun starts shining and the birds start chirping I don’t skip along joyfully smiling and sniffing the peonies. I sweat and sneeze and whine and wheeze. I do not feel rejuvenated and refreshed, I feel worn and ragged. It’s like my fragile inner self is exposed when I shed the protective outer shell of my winter wardrobe. I look as strong as a rock, but I am just pumice. Full of holes. Easily eroded.

Infant Grouch was already in bed for the evening and Mr. Grouch, recognizing my weariness (read: crankiness), took Toddler Grouch out for a car ride to give me a half hour window of quiet time so I could nap.  Just as I shut my eyes, the baby started crying.

She cries so loudly.

Infant Grouch made enough of a fuss that I felt I needed to go into her room, reach into her crib and pick her screamy little self up. When she was in my arms her cries subsided immediately but her hiccupy catching of the breath lasted for a long time after. I wiped the salty streaks from her cheeks.  Eventually she softened.

sleeping

I sat in her room and held her. I am typically not a proponent of rocking my kids to sleep even though I know myself well enough to admit that personally I can’t handle implementing the cry-it-out system. Each baby scream is like the epicenter of an earthquake and shock waves radiate directly from their little bodies directly into my nervous system. I can feel the shrieks vibrating my bones.  I am unable to tune it out, I can’t focus on anything else with the screams echoing in my ears.  Even though I was exhausted, I knew I couldn’t leave her to cry herself to sleep.  Maybe I just think that because she doesn’t do this every night.

At least she hasn’t so far.

I probably have prided myself far too much about the fact that my babies generally fall asleep in their cribs awake and I have mentally poo-pooed those who say they are forced to hold their kids until they are sleep on a nightly basis. But this evening, my body melded with the cushions while her body melted into mine. And I kept rocking.

It was easier.

Maybe this is how it begins.

She grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard enough to stop the blood from flowing to my fingertip, and it must have caused an unnatural backflow of blood surging back towards my chest because even when I wanted to be mad at her for not letting me rest somehow she managed to lift me up out of my horrific mood.

She unearthed a rare gem out of the rough.

I can't let my baby cry it out.

I can’t let my baby cry it out.

Moms Aren’t The Only Ones Out There Mothering

I dropped my girls off at daycare the other day and watched two-year-old Toddler Grouch take of her boots and put them in the basket at the bottom of the closet. She unzipped her coat and laid it on the floor before grabbing a hanger off of the bar purposely positioned at half the usual height.  She folded her coat’s arms around the ends of the hanger, hung up her coat and shut the closet door while I chatted away with Ms. J.

Ms. J. and I talked about how the kids were doing lately, not superficial talk, but talk about how they were actually doing, the minute-by-minute of every nap and night, the what and how often and by what method, nutrition was being obtained, the color and shape and frequency of each bowel movement, the how well are they listening, the where are they at with each motor skill, the she did that! and the oh-no-she-didn’t! We smiled and nodded while we expounded upon how silly and exuberant and fun Infant Grouch was lately, whether it be her side-to-side head-shakey dance or her fearless rampaging through the crinkling polyester tunnels, or the yelling at the top of her lungs when the other kids cheered, always wanting to be part of the group. I laughed at something Ms. J. said and called Infant Grouch a little goofball.

Ms. J. hugged Infant Grouch to her chest and cupped her hand gently around the back of my baby’s head while leaning her own forehead in and looked into my daughter’s eyes as she said to her, “You’re my little goofball”.  For a split-second my heart stuttered.

She called MY little goofball HER little goofball.

And I realized, she is hers, too.  Ms. J spends almost every weekday of every week teaching her, holding her, caring for her.  Loving her.  She and Ms. L. are mothering my children, and on many days, for more hours than I am.

We can call it daycare, or childcare, or preschool, but if they’re doing a good job, they’re mothering, right? Wiping noses, bandaging skinned knees, diapering, cleaning up after. Teaching skills and character: ABC’s and 123’s, no thanks and yes please.   Hugging, touching, smiling.  Watching, reinforcing, encouraging, enlightening, guiding, reprimanding, uplifting, forgiving. Loving.

Us mamas aren’t the only ones mothering our kids.

Got a good childcare provider? Thank them, today.

Got a good childcare provider? Thank them, today.

When my kid leaves daycare she’ll have teachers that will see them for a fraction of the time that their daycare providers do, and I can only hope will love them a fraction of the amount. Because those relationships are important.  I have no interest in a teacher or a coach or a mentor who isn’t mothering my child, at least part of the time.

Note that I did not say coddle, because that isn’t the same. Mothering is not friendship, and mothering means love with limits and setting the bar high, and helping achieve goals.  Mothering means doing what can be done to mold a person into someone who is as self-sufficient as possible, as kind as possible, as well-rounded as possible. Mothering means doing these things with a gentle tone, or at least a gentle heart, with you-can-do-its and try-agains and safety nets, not forceful sneers, dismissive shrugs, or there’s-nothing-more-I-can-dos.

We mamas take a lot of pride in our roles, and a mother’s work could very well be one of the most important jobs in the world, but we can not forget to acknowledge, appreciate, and respect those other lovelies out there who are also mothering our little ones. Most of us don’t do it alone.  I sure as hell didn’t teach Toddler Grouch how to put that coat away.

So with Mother’s Day near, I say thank you, fellow mamas. Thank you to the Ms. J’s and Ms. L’s, and the other childcare providers, the teachers, coaches, mentors, grandmas, aunts, cousins and friends. A very extra special heart-huggy thank you to those mamas who aren’t mamas by birth, but are mamas by heart. Thank you for helping mother my babies.

Got a great childcare provider?  Tell them thank you, today.

Got a great childcare provider? Tell them thank you, today.

The Purposeful Marathoner (The Purposeful Person)

This time around I set out with the intention of running a marathon again.  For awhile there, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it. I felt too weak.  Too tired.  Too busy.  But, I decided that I wanted it, so I found a way to make it work.   I’m not the skinniest.  I’m not the strongest. I’m not the fastest.  But, I do not care.  I want it anyway.

I want to do certain things.  So I do them.

The older I get, the more I am on a mission to make sure what I do has a purpose.  That I do things with intention.  I don’t know how many minutes, days, months, or years I have left, but I sure as hell don’t want to waste them.  There are things I want to do. Important things. Nice things.  Silly things.  Frivolous things.   Things I am good at. Things I am bad at. All kinds of things.  I don’t care what other people think about the things I do, because they are mine.  They make me me and they make me happy.

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An acquaintance of mine asked me what I thought my time would be for this race and when I told her my time for my first marathon she said, “Oh, that’s a long time”, probably thinking I was going to run this one a whole lot faster, and then she told me what time she thought I should be able to run it in, which is nowhere near what my time will actually be and I do not care.  I will run it anyway, and it will take a loooong time and it will be glorious.  Because the past few months while one of my intentions was to train for this marathon another was to eat popcorn and drink homemade wine while I sit on the couch snuggling my husband, watching House of Cards, analyzing all of the relationships between the fictional characters on the show.  Long gone are the days that I let embarrassment, or fear, or even ability, stop me from being ridiculously, outrageously, happy with the things I choose to do.  This marathon is just one of the many things that are important to me right now, it is not the only thing.

I want to do things I can feel with my hands and my fingertips.  I want to do things I can feel with my brain and my heart and that weird spot in my chest that may or may not be a real physical space but that certainly swells every time I feel all the feelings.

Before you get all let’s-stop-the-glorification-of-busy on me, know that sometimes I want to do nothing, so I do. On purpose.

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I will purposely fuel my body with fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. I will intentionally indulge in wine and nachos. I will purposefully smother those around me with hugs and kisses.  I will intentionally leave them all at home when I go for a long jog by myself. I will purposefully write.  I will intentionally not spend too much time wondering if it is any good. I will purposefully push myself into downward dog.  I will intentionally breathe.

I think it might be possible to suffocate oneself with all the crap and the sadness and the mundane.  I am working to collect every free minute I have, to gather them one by one and pack them together and carry them around with me, like a deep-sea diver carries a tank full of oxygen and nitrogen molecules strapped to his back.  I know I can only hold on to so many at once, so I will not be too stingy with my minutes and I will take deep, luxurious inhales of them. How could I not?  They keep me alive. Even though I know I will be able to refuel, I will certainly try not to let any escape because what if one of those wasted minutes ends up being the one that could save me later?

We all have the same hours in the day, and we all make our choices about what it is we want to accomplish.  I am done saying that I wish I had the time to do x,y or z that my pal is doing because if I really wanted to do it, I could.  It just might be in the place of something else.

What do you do with purpose? With intention?  What do you make sure to do with your minutes?

So Lucky To Have Known Him

There were so many people at my high school graduation party that June.  I remember feeling surprised by how many there were, family members, friends, neighbors.  I had the same feeling at my sixteenth birthday party. I didn’t understand why all those people were there to celebrate something I found so insignificant.  I understand, now, as a parent, that the people weren’t just celebrating ME, they were celebrating for my parents.  She made it this far.  She’s doing okay.

That’s a pretty big deal.

I get that, now.

Everyone came, even my grandfather, who was ill, dying of prostate cancer at the time, but he was still doing okay, a little tired, a little weak, but he still had his same good-natured self, his dry, slightly strange, sense of humor.  He was always a good looking man, and even then as an old grandpa, I admired (and patted) his buzzed-cut hair and his square jaw, that always held a smirk. He was a strong man, a sports-watching, billiard playing, beer drinking man.  He was sarcastic, silly, and usually quiet, though it might be because he just couldn’t get in a word edgewise, being married to my Grandma.  He was caring. He loved us all so much, and he was never afraid to show it.

That party was the last time he made it to our house.

By Thanksgiving, at his house, he was so thin that at one point when he stood up at the dinner table, his pants fell off, and his Depends undies, with his thin little thighs poking out, were exposed. Oh, how we LAUGHED, because that is what we do, and that is how he was. And it was so funny, even while it was so sad.

When he knew it was the end, he wanted all of his children around him. He could not speak, with his mouth, even though he could still speak with his eyes.  I love you, they said.  You crazy suckers, they added, with a wink, that could no longer physically occur, but that was still there, in a twinkling sort of sense.  And he waited, an extra day even, for one of his children to fly in from out of the country, and once we were all there, we circled him, hands held together, in prayer, and said goodbye together.  And then he was gone.  If a death can be beautiful, then this was that death.

And even though I didn’t totally get it at the time, a comment my aunt made at my graduation party always stuck with me.  “You’re lucky”, she said, “to have known him”. Teenage me slightly scoffed at the remark.  Of course I was lucky to know him.  Did she think I didn’t know that? Because teenagers know everything and everything is about them.

I wasn’t fully able to process the fact that my aunt’s daughter, my cousin, was only a few months old at the time, so she wouldn’t remember her grandpa at all, who was so witty and so loving and so kind.  And that she was really missing a lot.  She is still missing a lot, from not ever knowing him.

Now that I’m a Mama, I get it.  I see my daughters with my parents, my in-laws, my grandparents, their aunts and uncles, everyone, that they are so lucky to know, now.

None of us are promised tomorrow, and every day that my kids get to spend with a family member that loves them is a gift.

It’s sort of everything to know where you come from and know how you became you. We don’t emerge from isolation, we are products of our genetics and our familial environment and the interactions between the two.

I’m trying to wrap my brain around how important it is, or why it is, but I know that it JUST IS.  Maybe it’s that it is a good reminder that many of our traits aren’t solely ours, but are mostly a modified collection of characteristics and quirks and beliefs passed down from our relatives, most of whom we didn’t ever know but who have influenced us nonetheless. I think about my grandpa often, and how right my aunt was.

family

Not a Whole Heart

I am the luckiest lady in the world.  I am healthy and happy and my biggest concerns are 100% of the first world variety.  My problems are of the luxurious sort; my grief is the easy kind of grief.

But no matter how much I believe that my grief is silly or my grief is selfish or my grief is self-indulgent, my grief doesn’t care.  I can squash it down for a while, or tuck it away in a corner, or rub it raw with my joys, or scrub it clean and sparkly, or run far away from it, but for some reason I can never seem to rid myself of it, not completely.

For even though I’m pretty sure we are done having children, and are more than content as a family of four, there is always a lingering tug.  At the mention of a loss.  During discussions of multiples.  It makes me grieve for those other ones.  The other three. Even though we did not hold them, did not see them, did not name them, it doesn’t mean they were not there.  They were still there.  I wondered what they would look like and who they would act like and I still do.  I just know better than to dwell on it.

Maybe it’s because we have it so good.  Two amazing little beings that we marvel at on a daily basis.  Two perfect specimen, exactly the same in terms of being healthy, strong, smart, kind, brave, cautious, silly, lovable, beautiful – but so not the same in terms of how they present those strengths.

Maybe it’s because we have a visual reminder.  Infant Grouch was going to be one of a triplet.  She’s the fighter who showed her strength not only by bruising me internally with her repeated kicks in utero, but simply by making it when the other two didn’t.  When she was born I gasped a bit when I saw the birthmark on her back.  Two-thirds of a heart.  Blood red.  It’s like she carries the fraction of the old whole around as a commemorative patch.

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I am not the same as I used to be, for a million, trillion reasons.  One of which is that I am a mama of two.  Another of which is that I am not a mama of five.

One of my all time favorite quotes from Regina Brett is, “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back”.  I believe that to be even more true than we can possibly imagine.

When I give both of my girls a bath, Toddler Grouch usually asks to see her sister’s heart.  Sometimes she says, “Ooohhhh” because she isn’t sure what to make of it.  I assure her, it’s okay.

That there is nothing wrong with having a heart out there for everyone to see.