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.

My Blogging Resume: I Probably Shouldn’t Waste Money on Fancy Paper

My good pal over at Sammiches and Psych Meds signed up to attend her first blogging conference at Blog U this summer and she’s trying to get me to go with her.  Apparently things get way more formal than one might assume and bloggers bring business cards and writing resumes, hoping to make connections and sell themselves. The thing is she’s actually a real blogger and writer and I’m more of the fake kind. So, while her writing resume is actually like … a resume. Mine looks more like this:

Bloggy Resume 1

Lack of credentials aside, I might go anyway. I’m intrigued. And she’s fun to drink with.

Anyone been to a blogging conference and have any info to share with us newbies? Anyone going to Blog U?

The Two Phrases That Keep Me Moving In The Right Direction

Yoga is a place for me to get a little therapy, in a bit of an incognito way.  A good yoga instructor doesn’t just teach the physical postures, the asanas, but also garnishes insights and poses questions that inspire reflection on important principles of healthy being.  It is hard to focus when our brains are abuzz with anxieties, and to-do lists constantly swirl around in our heads.  The asanas exist to wring out the body and clear the mind, so we are able to focus on what is important.  There are two simple ideas that are consistently returned to by the yogis at the studio, that have really stuck with me, off the mat.

Be Compassionate.

How do I apply it? I try to ask myself questions, or think of statements like these, especially when I find myself feeling frustrated or annoyed:

Are they doing okay?
What’s the root of the behavior I’m so annoyed with?
Are they acting that way because they are stressed or tired?
Are they having an off day/week/month/year?
Am I focusing only on the negative?
Do they need some help?
Do they need a smile? A hug?
Do they need me to back off?
What can I do to help?
Nobody is perfect.  Not even me.  And that’s okay.
Everyone has their “thing”.  Even me.  And that’s okay.
Everyone does what they can, at the time.  Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes it’s very little.
Are you recognizing all the good they do?  Am I recognizing all the good I am doing?
Are you beating them up because they aren’t doing everything perfectly?  Are you beating yourself up?
Are you being gentle with them?  With yourself?

There are millions of questions that all boil down to the same thing.  Am I being compassionate with myself and others?  Being compassionate doesn’t mean needing to set yourself on fire to keep others warm, which is why, for me, compassion is balanced with honesty.

Be Honest.

How do I apply it? I ask myself questions like these:

Am I working hard enough?
Am I doing what I can?
Do I need a break?
Do they need a break?
Am I giving him/her a chance?
Am I being too harsh?
Am I being too lenient?
Have I done all I can?
Am I taking things too personally?
Do I have enough information to make any kind of judgment?
Am I reading too much between the lines?
Am I giving enough attention to those around me? Am I giving enough attention to me?
Can I keep jogging another mile or am I too tired?  Do I need to slow down? Can I speed up?
Do I really want to eat that donut?

There are millions of questions that all ask the same thing, Am I being honest?

It’s a funny thing how being truthful helps balance out the never-ending-giving that compassion warrants, however it also usually results in more compassion in the end.

I am by no means empathetic and honest at all times, especially right in the heat of the moment. But I won’t beat myself up about it.  I’ll just keep working to be better and these two little phrases will help get me there.

This post is part of 1000 Voices for Compassion – A thousand (plus!) bloggers have decided to clog the newsfeeds with COMPASSION today to help counter the doom and gloom we so often scroll through.  There’s a lot of good out there, people.  Click on the image below to read the post from Finding Ninee, (one of my fave bloggers and one of the hosts of this blogging event) as well as links to many other uplifting posts.

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Search #1000speak on Twitter for more uplifting posts!

Highly Sensitive: Not A New Year's Resolution Resolution

Today I went to the dentist. I almost didn’t, but I knew I had to.  For several months I could feel impending dental doom.  With my tongue, I traced and retraced the already sensitive space between the top of my tooth and my gum line, feeling a widening gap that felt more zingy and twingy and oh-my-god-don’t-touch-me-y.  Lately my hot coffees and cold beers have been two necessary evils.  Pleasure mixed with pain.  I went in to the appointment worried that at this rate by the time I hit my sixties or seventies my teeth would be like those of a neglected pet guinea pig who has been unable to wear down their dentition, only my teeth would appear to be extending upwards, due to excessive gum erosion, instead of uninterrupted downward growth. As it turns out, I have a bit of recession, but nothing too out of the ordinary, and the real culprit is just that I’m highly sensitive.

Story of my life.

As I sat reclined on the chair, my hands were clenched and my glasses fogged up, and beams of light from the fluorescent bulb created little rainbows as they passed through beads of sweat that had collected on the dentist-appointed specs.  Even though the sensitivity paste had been slathered on and the numbing gel applied carefully on top of that, I still couldn’t help but anticipate the horrific scraping and zinging of impending nerve pain. As she was cleaning the wine and coffee stains from my soon-to-be pearly whites, Corrine, my favorite dental hygienist (and the only person on this planet I will let near my teeth) sensed my  non-verbal cues and asked me,

“Can you feel anything?”

“Nope. I just need to relax”.

Story of my life.

My anxieties are always high and I’m perpetually taking everything more personally than I probably should. The problem is that for many of us sensitive folks it probably looks like we don’t care. We get hurt and try to hide it and then at a certain point we feel we keep get beaten down and then we lash out. Act like an asshole. Leave the ones who inadvertently hurt us feeling a sting of their own.  They are confused and feel we’re being unreasonable and the cycle continues.

I used to be like this with my teeth. I avoided the dentist for a couple of years (horrible idea, I absolutely do not recommend this plan of action to anyone) because of my sensitivity pain and when I finally went back in I immediately demanded Novocaine, probably at a much higher volume, and octave, than was considered appropriate for speaking indoors. Thankfully, Corrine saw my pain through my assholery and as it turned out she came up with some much better alternatives than shots in the gums. But, most people aren’t as perceptive as Corrine.  It would be easy to misunderstand why I avoided going back, some might think I was a lazy schlob who didn’t give a shit about hygiene at all, or they might think I was a hypochondriac who just wants all the medical attention on me, or they might think I’m just an ass who likes to yell at people and make them feel bad. But that’s not the case.  I was just in pain and afraid of more pain and neither of those feelings tend to result in our best behavior.

So, while I’m not one for resolutions, I am one for continuously trying to improve oneself.  I’m resolving to work on my sensitivities.  As in, not avoiding them until the problem compounds, and not acting like an asshole because of them.

Today I got a special varnish application on my teeth to help with the dental sensitivity issue.  Wish me luck in dealing with my heightened reactivity in the other areas of my life.

teeth

Highly Sensitive: Not A New Year’s Resolution Resolution

Today I went to the dentist. I almost didn’t, but I knew I had to.  For several months I could feel impending dental doom.  With my tongue, I traced and retraced the already sensitive space between the top of my tooth and my gum line, feeling a widening gap that felt more zingy and twingy and oh-my-god-don’t-touch-me-y.  Lately my hot coffees and cold beers have been two necessary evils.  Pleasure mixed with pain.  I went in to the appointment worried that at this rate by the time I hit my sixties or seventies my teeth would be like those of a neglected pet guinea pig who has been unable to wear down their dentition, only my teeth would appear to be extending upwards, due to excessive gum erosion, instead of uninterrupted downward growth. As it turns out, I have a bit of recession, but nothing too out of the ordinary, and the real culprit is just that I’m highly sensitive.

Story of my life.

As I sat reclined on the chair, my hands were clenched and my glasses fogged up, and beams of light from the fluorescent bulb created little rainbows as they passed through beads of sweat that had collected on the dentist-appointed specs.  Even though the sensitivity paste had been slathered on and the numbing gel applied carefully on top of that, I still couldn’t help but anticipate the horrific scraping and zinging of impending nerve pain. As she was cleaning the wine and coffee stains from my soon-to-be pearly whites, Corrine, my favorite dental hygienist (and the only person on this planet I will let near my teeth) sensed my  non-verbal cues and asked me,

“Can you feel anything?”

“Nope. I just need to relax”.

Story of my life.

My anxieties are always high and I’m perpetually taking everything more personally than I probably should. The problem is that for many of us sensitive folks it probably looks like we don’t care. We get hurt and try to hide it and then at a certain point we feel we keep get beaten down and then we lash out. Act like an asshole. Leave the ones who inadvertently hurt us feeling a sting of their own.  They are confused and feel we’re being unreasonable and the cycle continues.

I used to be like this with my teeth. I avoided the dentist for a couple of years (horrible idea, I absolutely do not recommend this plan of action to anyone) because of my sensitivity pain and when I finally went back in I immediately demanded Novocaine, probably at a much higher volume, and octave, than was considered appropriate for speaking indoors. Thankfully, Corrine saw my pain through my assholery and as it turned out she came up with some much better alternatives than shots in the gums. But, most people aren’t as perceptive as Corrine.  It would be easy to misunderstand why I avoided going back, some might think I was a lazy schlob who didn’t give a shit about hygiene at all, or they might think I was a hypochondriac who just wants all the medical attention on me, or they might think I’m just an ass who likes to yell at people and make them feel bad. But that’s not the case.  I was just in pain and afraid of more pain and neither of those feelings tend to result in our best behavior.

So, while I’m not one for resolutions, I am one for continuously trying to improve oneself.  I’m resolving to work on my sensitivities.  As in, not avoiding them until the problem compounds, and not acting like an asshole because of them.

Today I got a special varnish application on my teeth to help with the dental sensitivity issue.  Wish me luck in dealing with my heightened reactivity in the other areas of my life.

teeth

Dream #17: Growing and Trafficking Miniscule Humans

DREAM:

A group of us were involved in a human trafficking scheme, but not your typical ABC news report kind – Miniature Human trafficking.  As in, people who were about three inches tall, perfectly sized to be placed on top of a Rubix Cube on a desk, or to be used as live coffee table art.  And, that’s basically what these mini-humans were for – but they weren’t intended as pets or creatures to be cared for and nurtured. They were throwaways.  Used for entertainment, recreating battles where the mini-humans destroyed one another in Gladiator fashion or as slave labor for very teeny-tiny tasks, and then discarded.  Disposable, since they weren’t real people.

New batches were constantly needed and I was one of the people involved in the growing process.  Our Miniature Humans started out as miniscule seeds, and in this respect they were like plants, they needed nourishment, a bit of attention and the right conditions.  The seeds needed to be hidden in “nutrient balls”, which in many cases meant scoops of tuna fish and mayo.  My crew and I would hide the balls of food, stuffed with human seeds, in the produce department of grocery stores, in open-ended bags of romaine, our secret cultures tucked beneath the leaves.

One day I was hiding the stash and I had just placed the last orb behind a lettuce leaf and was getting ready to leave when one of my partners came up and grabbed a pile of papers I had set down in the produce area while I was working.  The papers had my name on them and my partner was very concerned that I might have accidentally left them behind. If our illegal mini-humans were discovered, along with these papers, they might connect the illegal activity to us.

 

ANALYSIS:

 

TUNAFISH: DreamMoods tells me that seeing tuna in my dream symbolizes stamina and agility and that I will build character and become stronger. I have been working to regain my strength and stamina after giving birth to Baby Grouch six months ago. Running is one of the metrics I’m using to gauge my post baby progress. My long run distance is up to 17 miles and I have a personal goal jogging a 20-miler to reach. Should be there in a couple of weeks. Running keeps me sane(ish) and helps always tired me to feel (more) alert, but one of the biggest reasons I run is how delicious my bacon, eggs and coffee (spiked with kahlua) tastes when I’m done. Soooo much better than usual. It’s addictive. Chomp. Sip. Smile.

SEEDS: Dreamforth says that to dream of seeds represents productivity, tradition, and endless possibilities while Dream Moods informs me that seeing seeds symbolizes fertility, heritage, potential, and continuity of life. Now is the time to start a new venture. I feel like my psyche is just telling me to get involved in a human trafficking scheme. I am always wondering where my next career path will lead, perhaps I have subconsciously discovered an exciting new line of work ahead of me? Regular sized humans seem like they would be much more of a pain in the ass.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING:  This was definitely not in the dream dictionary, however DreamForth tells me that being cruel “may be pointing to the necessity of recognizing your dark side such as negative feelings, intentions, and emotions”. Not sure how much more I can recognize and embrace my bad side. I’ve written about my depression and other mental health issues, as well as our infertility struggles. I’ve got a whole blog named after my exhaustion. What else do I need to do for my dark passenger? Do I need to have a party for it? Give it a trophy? Put it on a pedestal and bow to my bitchiness within? Pretty sure Mr. Grouch would not be throwing confetti in the air or sipping a champagne toast to any of that.

As always, dream interpretation and analysis seems pointless. Yet I push on.

The Day We Caught Our Kids Looking At Their Butt Holes – A Guest Post by Clint Edwards

Today we are honored and privileged to have the distinguished Clint Edwards, author of No Idea What I’m Doing:  A Daddy Blog, sharing one of his gems with us.  I hope you enjoy hearing about his struggles dealing with the crazy-ass (pun intended) scenarios, that are an inevitable part of parenting, as much as I did.

clint

THE DAY WE CAUGHT OUR KIDS LOOKING AT THEIR BUTT HOLES

My wife, Mel, approached me in the kitchen and said, “I just caught the kids looking at their butt holes. We should talk to them about that.”

Mel was in jeans, and wearing a pink and white maternity top. In her right arm was our new baby, Aspen. It was Mel’s 32nd birthday, and it was a Friday evening. I’d just placed candles in Mel’s cake and was washing my hands at the sink.

It took me a moment to figure out what the hell she just said. I played a scene out in my head where Tristan (age 7) and Norah (age 4) were naked, bending over, and giggling. In my mind, it seemed innocent enough, but the more I thought about it, the stranger it became.

One of my duties as a father was to get the kids ready for bed, which really was a collection of other duties, one of them being herding the kids into the bath. Moments earlier, I’d started filling up the tub in the kids’ bathroom, and started the shower in the parents’ bathroom, and then stepped into the kitchen while Tristan and Norah got undressed. Somehow in the few moments it took me to walk down the hall to the kitchen, our children had decided to explore their butts.

Shit like this was the main reason they were bathing separately. About six months ago both kids were in the tub. Mel caught Tristan and Norah play fighting. Tristan was wielding his penis like a weapon, while Norah was holding a rubber ducky like a sword. The rest of the details are sketchy, but from what I understand the weapons collided. There were giggles. Then Mel made Tristan move into the other bathroom. When Mel broke up this ducky penis fight, Tristan and Norah acted like she was the strange one. Like she was the one who needed decency education.

It was then that Mel and I decided they were getting too old to bathe together.

I have to assume that actions like this are a natural part of childhood curiosity, but at the same time, I feel an obligation as a parent to help my kids understand social decency. It’s probably nothing to worry about. But then again, it’s down right strange, and I want it to stop. I don’t want to be the parent of that dude in Central Park showing strangers his penis. Nor do I want to get an email down the road from someone telling me that my daughter has been spotted on Girls Gone Wild showing strangers (the world) her butt hole. I’m all for unconditional love, but right now, at this moment, I like the idea of my kids growing up to be responsible adults who dress modestly. Adults with families, carriers, and a complete and well-worn wardrobe. Call me old-fashioned, but the last thing I’m going to do is encourage genital to bath toy play fights, or the examination of family butts.

Mel and I were both standing in the kitchen now.

“Hold on…” I said. “Say that again.”

Mel let out a breath, like what she was saying was an everyday thing, and easy to understand, and the fact that I asked her to repeat it made me the fool.

“I was in Norah’s room getting some PJ’s for Aspen when I overheard Norah say, ‘What’s that hole in your butt?’ Then Tristan said, ‘It’s my butt hole. Want to look at it?’ I heard laughter. Once I came into the bathroom, things had obviously progressed because Tristan was now looking at Norah’s butt hole.”

She paused for a moment. Then she said, “We should have a talk with them.”

Usually when Mel says, “we should talk with them” she means, “You should talk with them.” Normally I fight this assumption, but I did consider that fact that it was Mel’s birthday. I thought about how I’d like to spend my birthday, and I knew that it wasn’t handling some strange moment like the one we were discussing.

“How exactly do you suggest I handle this?” I said.

I honestly didn’t know how to approach this subject. What were the ramifications of it all? What were my kids experimenting with? Was this something that needed to be handled? I never examined any of my siblings’ butts. I thought about asking Mel if she ever examined any of hers’, but then decided I’d rather not know.

If they weren’t brother and sister, that would be one thing. But they were, and that was just strange. I assumed that both were too young for this to be a sexual thing, but at the same time, I didn’t really know. It felt like we were moving into some strange new territory as parents, a land filled with brothers and sisters looking at each other’s butts. A community I’d rather not be a part of.

“Just go tell them that it’s not appropriate, and that they shouldn’t do it anymore.”

Her explanation sounded simple enough, but I knew that it wouldn’t be that easy. I wondered if I should speak to them together, or separately. I knew that I needed to chat with them tonight, or they would forget about the whole thing. I wondered if I should chat with them while they were bathing, if I should wait until we were all at the table eating birthday cake. I imagined it. Mel blowing out her candles after we sang the happy birthday song. Then we’d all sit around the table, and as we munched on cake, I’d bring up an awkward conversation about butt holes.

For the sake of Mel, I decided to talk to them individually as they bathed.

Tristan was in the shower. I thought for a moment before I approached him. I ran a few heart-felt parenting speeches through my head. Ones that I thought would be appropriate to handle such a strange subject. All of them seemed to start with “When a young boy becomes a man…” or “When I was a boy…”, but nothing I could think of really fit the complicated subject matter that I was dealing with.

Once I got to my son, all of those long-winded, Tim Taylor style, life changing dad speeches went out the window.

“Hey,” I said. “Don’t look at your sister’s butt hole.”

“Why not?” Tristan said.  He was naked, in the shower. Water was running down his chest, his mouth in a half frown, hands clenched in fists at his sides. He looked offended, like he was a teenager and I’d told him not to smoke pot, or hang out with a group of troublemakers.

Then he started laughing.

Tristan is a complex little guy. When faced with a situation he doesn’t like, or doesn’t understand, he will get angry at first, and then try to make a joke to lighten the situation. I did the same thing when I was young, so I understand his logic. But what I didn’t understand as a boy was how infuriating it is to try to talk to someone about a serious subject, and have the person laugh in your face, or make jokes the whole time.

“It’s weird,” I said. “Do you ever see me or mom looking at our butt holes?”

Tristan thought about this for a moment, and then he laughed. “I don’t know, but that would be really funny if you did.”

My question obviously didn’t help with his defense mechanism of laughter and joke making.

Rather than linger on what was obviously a bad comparison, I kept talking.

“Do you have friends that do that? Please tell me that you don’t have friends that look at your butt hole.”

“No. I don’t,” he said.

Then he started laughing harder, and I got worried that I’d just given him an idea. Suddenly I imaged getting a call home from school on this subject, and realized that, right then, I was failing as a father.

We went back and forth for a while. I explained to him that what he was doing was inappropriate and strange, and I didn’t want him to do it anymore.

“Fine,” he said while rolling his eyes. “I won’t look at Norah’s butt hole anymore.”

I wasn’t sure if I could believe him, so I said, “Do you promise?”

Tristan let out a long breath, “Yes! Dad!”

I didn’t push it any further.

“Thank you,” I said.

I approached Norah on the subject. She was stretched out in the tub, her head half underwater.

I asked her if she’d looked at Tristan’s butt hole, and she giggled.

Then she loudly cried, “Yup!” in her four-year-old chipper little voice.

I’m not sure if I laughed because of her response, or because the conversation was absurd, but what I do know is that I had to step from the room and regain my composure. I stood in the hallway for a while, listening to her giggle. I was a mix of silly laughter and anxiety, trying to understand if I was handling this situation appropriately.

It is in moments like these that I fully realize what people mean why they say there is no instruction manual on raising children. Would there be a chapter titled, “How to Approach Your Children About Not Looking At Their Sibling’s Butt,  And Turn It Into A Rewarding Moment”? No! I don’t think so.  How on earth could someone come up with a text complex enough to tackle the unexpected situations that can arise when raising a family?

Once I came back, I told Norah, in my best serious voice, that what she did was inappropriate and strange, and I asked her to never do it again.

“Ok,” she said. “I won’t ever ever look at Tristan’s butt hole ever again.”

I didn’t believe her. Norah is at that age where she will say, “Ok” to just about anything she is confronted with. If I tell her not to steal cookies from the pantry, she will say, “Ok.” Then I know that there is a 75% chance that I will find her 20 minutes later trying to steal cookies from the pantry. But much like when I discussed this situation with Tristan, I just wanted it to be over.

“Thank you,” I said.

Once both kids were bathed and in bed, I sat in the living room and thought about what it meant to be a parent. I wondered if I’d handled this situation well, or I’d just made things worse. I hoped that something like this would never happen again, but I knew that it would.

I never had an awkward talk with a parent. I didn’t really know my father that well, and my grandmother half raised me. I was shuffled between homes a lot, and so I missed out on a lot of those Hallmark, cliché moments, like the birds and the bees talk. But I’d heard a lot from friends talk about their parents approaching them about awkward subjects like the one I faced. My friends always said how it felt like the whole situation was so awkward for them, like all they wanted was for the conversation to just end. But what I never realized was that those conversations are just as awkward for the parents.

Maybe even more so. Especially when I consider how I feel that my children are a reflection of myself.

There was no way I was going to get out of parenthood without having more awkward conversations with my kids. I just hoped that, with time, I’d get better at it.

 

 

 

Clint Edwards is the author of No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

10 Disgusting Truths About Postpartum Recovery

Women who are pregnant for the first time are hungry for information about pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum recovery.  They’re relentless scavengers of information, devouring books, posts, and pins, their appetite for knowledge as strong as the craving for human flesh by the man-eating lions of Tsavo.  Unfortunately, most information available is generic, repetitive, or far too sugar-coated to be worth a damn, revealing none of the open and honest nitty-gritty they are craving. Lucky for those on the information hunt, I’m a tell-it-like-it-is kind of girl and I don’t hold back on the good stuff.  If you stumbled across this on accident, it is possible that this kind of post may give you anxiety and fear and an intense desire to never have children (especially if you don’t read all the way to the end). Either way, I’m a believer that honesty is the best policy when it comes to postpartum preparedness.  So, here we go, researching beasts, this post is for you.

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia
10 Disgusting Truths About Postpartum Recovery Photo Credit: Wikipedia

1.  You will sweat (a lot) from weird places.  No matter how much weight you gain during your pregnancy, some of that weight is water weight. After delivery, that water starts to seep out of you, and it could seep from anywhere.  Your eyelids, your hands, your kneecaps. After the birth of my first child, I lost approximately five pounds of water during a brisk walk around the grocery store, solely through the bottoms of my feet. You will feel the water draining out of you in the most disconcerting way, picture more of a roaring waterfall opposed to dewdrops glistening on delicate leaves.

2.  You will be able to see and feel logs of shit through your paper-thin abs.  After my first child I remember doing a bit of yoga, bridge pose to be exact, and thinking, “What the hell is going on with my stomach?  Do I have some sort of hernia? Hemorrhage?  Did some part of my body get out of place?” But, no.  It was just a hunk of shit moving through my bowels, and I could SEE IT through my non-existent ab muscles. Horrifying.

Photo Credit:  Adrian Valenzuela via Flicker
This is Bridge Pose. Photo Credit: Adrian Valenzuela via Flicker

3.  You will be so excited to take a crap (after that first scary one).  Okay, so as appalling as it may be to basically see your bowel movements before you can feel any indication that you need to expel them, after nine months of constipation, the ability to take a normal crap will make you ECSTATIC.  For months after birth, you will give yourself a little mental high-five after sitting on the throne and taking a shit.  The bigger the better, again, after first scary one, but just go ahead and get that one out of the way and then ahhhhhhhh.  Heaven is the absence of digestive distress.

4.  You will discover that your fat has stretched out.  And fat doesn’t exactly bounce back like your abs eventually do.  If you’re like me, someone with an overall healthy lifestyle, full of exercise and fitness, but also full of friends and fun (both of which often involve NACHOS and WINE) and no desire to go to extreme lengths to become the most fit mom on the planet, you will find that you have developed a poochy stretched out bit on your lower belly. I found this to be true after my first, and found it to be OH-SO-MUCH-MORE-THE-TRUTH after my second.

5.  Your vagina might feel like it is collapsing in on itself and/or falling out.  Yes, it is possible to feel like your vagina is going to fall out of your vagina. This informational gem is strategically placed in the middle of the list, kind of like how FIVE, GOLDEN RINGS! is situated in the middle of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  It’s the highlight, clearly the important one, and it is iterated with a distinctively different tone than the rest of the song.  You will have no idea what this means or how it could possibly be true unless you have birthed a child (okay, full disclosure – you may feel this way just solely from being pregnant with a child).  I remember hearing from a few sources how they “couldn’t wear tampons” after they had given birth.  Naive me said, “Huh?” and scratched my head.  Wiser, post-childbirth me said, “Ooooh” and nodded in understanding (whilst doing kegels).

6.  You will develop pancake boobs.  Your breasts get larger during pregnancy and afterwards that boob fat makes good on the promise I gave in number four.  It doesn’t matter if you breastfeed or formula feed, pregnancy itself makes your boobs less perky. You’ll want to invest in a bra with some lift.

7.  You might not be able to have sex or sit on a bicycle for longer than you think.  At your six-week postpartum visit, when your doctor tells you how great you’re healing up, and gives you the go-ahead for sex and exercise, know that a lot of what they are examining is your vaginal muscle tissue. However, you may continue to have pain in your pelvic/public/tail bone area(s) long after any tearing or stretching has mostly healed up. Wowza. The pelvic bones are kind of important and hard to ignore. It took me a full year after baby number one was born to be able to go for a jog without experiencing any pelvic pain for the twenty-four hours immediately following the workout.

8.  You will not care about getting shit on, getting pissed or getting puked on. What used to seem disgusting when it happened to other people suddenly becomes no big deal.  Your kid shits all over his or her crib and you are covered in feces after cleaning it up?  You will not care.  Your child spits up all over your hair and sweater three seconds before you are supposed to walk out the door to go to work? You will not care (and you won’t change, you’ll just rub it in).  Your kid pees on you?  Of all the substances, that one is the most benign.  It’s basically just baby flavored water!  You really will not care.  You will care only that your child is clean and taken care of. I’m not being sarcastic here.

9.  You will pee on yourself at least once.  When you sneeze.  When you cough. When you wait to long to go because you’re taking care of the baby.  You may have experienced some of this during pregnancy, but it is important to be aware that it does not go away just because your child is no longer punching or head-butting your bladder. I’ll be honest, this is much more disgusting than the baby pee you didn’t care about.

10.  There will be something more disgusting than what I mentioned here.  What it is will depend on your body, and your birth story, and your comfort level when it comes to disgusting things.  Maybe you will shit the bed the day after giving birth, maybe you will wake up soaked in your own breast milk night after night, maybe your breasts will be so uncomfortably engorged you will stuff chilled cabbage leaves in your bra to reduce the swelling.  You will very likely be embarrassed and feel like you are the ONLY ONE who had to deal with whatever this disgusting thing is, but I assure you, you are NOT ALONE.

Are you still here?  Those who got scared and didn’t finish reading miss out on the best part, and that is:  Don’t worry, ladies. Our bodies are amazingly resilient and things go back to how they were before. Ish.  For most of us, any small changes that remain with us forever are really no big deal. You tend to not give a damn about your husk, when your heart and soul have doubled in size and made you happier than you ever thought possible. Disgusting realities be damned, it really is true when people say that it is all worth it in the end.  Some of the anti-saps reading this may find THIS truth to be the most disgusting part of the whole post.

If you liked this post you may also like A Comprehensive Pre-Pregnancy To-Do List and 10 Things Pregnant Women Do Not Want to Hear Coming Out of Your Mouth

10 Disgusting Truths About Postpartum Recovery
10 Disgusting Truths About Postpartum Recovery

How Vaccinations Are Like Wool Blankets

All of this nonsense about diseases that have effectively been eradicated starting to pop back in the picture due, at least in large part, to people choosing not to vaccinate is getting ridiculous. Unfortunately many are uninformed, misinformed, or have developed some crackpot conspiracy theory, which is wreaking havoc on such a simple and effective method of preventing the spread of infection. Let’s look at an analogy involving a wool blanket and a bitterly cold day. The wool blanket will represent the vaccine and the bitter cold will represent the infectious pathogen.

Wool blankets keep people warm.  Just like vaccines prevent disease.  There isn’t a question about this, this is fact.  Wool blankets aren’t magic suits that can protect against temperatures hovering just above absolute zero, or exposure to blizzard-like conditions for decades at a time, just like vaccines have their own limitations.  People aren’t given a one-shot deal at birth, becoming magically protected from communicable disease from day one.  Vaccines often given in a series and take time to kick in.  Vaccines don’t guarantee a 100% protection rate and they may not last a lifetime. Even though they aren’t magic, there is still no question that wool blankets keep people warm, just like there is no question that vaccines prevent disease.  My father-in-law says that wool from goat hair makes the warmest blankets and the entire scientific community says that vaccines are the most effective method we have to prevent certain diseases, as of now.  Scientists are continuously tweaking and changing and adjusting as more information is gathered, and over time the evidence has remained the same – vaccines prevent disease.  It would be dangerous to purposefully sit outside in a blizzard and refuse a wool blanket, just as it is dangerous for most people to refuse vaccination for themselves or their children.

Large wool blankets keep people warm, and when many people crawl underneath the blanket together, the collective body heat keeps everyone even warmer.  It’s hard to freeze to death when it’s not just your own body heat being trapped underneath, but you have your entire community’s body heat surrounding you as well.  Vaccines are most effective when everyone is vaccinated – everyone is safer when they are surrounded by others who are also protected.  It’s hard to get measles when your fellow neighbor isn’t breathing measle germs onto the grocery cart handle you touch, the rolled silverware you pick up at the restaurant or on the desk you sit down at when you go to parent-teacher conferences.  The whole group is protected by all (or most) of the group being protected. This is called herd immunity. When you separate yourself from the herd, you’re effectively ripping off the warm blanket while you jump out, and taking your precious body heat with you.  Even if others are still under the blanket, you’ve put them at greater risk.  The more people who leave, the greater the risk.  This is why your neighbors want to stab you in the eye when you tell them you aren’t vaccinating your children. Assuming you aren’t quarantining yourself in some anti-vaxx compound, you’re putting them at risk.

Some people are more susceptible to damage from the cold than others.  Like, say, newborns, the elderly or someone who is otherwise immunocompromised.  For many, individuals being exposed to bitter temperatures might be an inconvenience or an experience that causes no more than temporary discomfort.  For some of the population, however, exposure is more dangerous and is potentially lethal.  Let’s take measles, for example, for many of us, getting the measles might be an inconvenience, but for some it can result in lung infection, seizures and swelling of the brain.  Even if the odds of serious or fatal damage are low without the protection of the wool blanket, they are so much higher than they would otherwise be if the damn wool blanket were there, just in case.

Wool blankets make some people itchy.  And vaccinations may have side effects. For the most part, the side effects are not severe.  A sore arm.  Tiredness.  A fever. But there are potential side-effects that can be devastating, and very rarely, even life-threatening (remember, vaccines are not magic potions).  However, the overall risk of not vaccinating FAR OUTWEIGHS the overall risk of vaccinating.  There is zero scientific evidence that suggests otherwise. For the world community as a whole, wool blankets are a warm, fuzzy, comfy, protective layer.  If you think you’re rolling the dice by vaccinating, it’s important to look at the big picture and recognize that the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor when you choose to wrap up you and yours in the wool blanket. By not vaccinating, you’re absolutely putting yourself in a situation of greater risk, standing in the cold shivering, and exposing those around you to elements they would otherwise be protected from.

Wool blankets aren’t the only protection from the cold.  However in this mediocre analogy, they are the best defense we have.  We have heating packs and shelters we can build, but in our little hypothetical here, the wool blanket is the only tool everyone has access to, and is the one that has proven to be the most effective. Good nutrition and hygiene, and other preventative health measures are all crucial, of course, but alone they are not enough, proven both by pre-vaccine rates of infection, and by the fact that we simply can’t make everyone else take care of themselves like they should, or make them stay home and away from everyone else during their times of illness.

Vaccines aren’t given to newborns on the day they are born, they may not last a lifetime, and some people have legitimate medical reasons why they cannot receive them. These individuals have no way to wrap the wool blanket around themselves, and really depend on the rest of us around them to tuck them in.  I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes here.  It really is this simple.

How Vaccinations are Like Wool Blankets.  Protect yourself and your community - wrap up!
How Vaccinations are Like Wool Blankets. Protect yourself and your community – wrap up!

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