Friday, October 26, 2007

Joaquin's Big Day

Last Friday our Little Baby J, Joaquin Frederick, graduated from our New Mom's Group at the hospital. So, a little recap of the last 6 months...

Born at home, in his own room at 4:16 a.m. on April 17th. The birth was lovely, no complications. Just so excited to meet this amazing little person I'd been packing around with me for 10 months. Wonderful.

This kid came out "having read the manual", said his Auntie Amanda. Good nurser, good sleeper. Likes his life. Loves being packed around. Enoys watching faces, sitting up, grabbing onto toys and exploring them. Very interested in the cat. Just started being able to swallow some banana mashed up with a little bit of breastmilk.

Constantly keeping me amazed. Our little graduate. Sweet Joaquini.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I'll Be With You in Apple-Tasting Time

Everyone has their favorite time of year. I just peeked at my sister's blog to discover that her's is autumn. Joe's might be too, for this is when things cool off and life slows down...welcome to the world of having a pint and a game of cribbage without a lot of guilt that one should be out preparing the garden or working on some home improvement project. In the damp days of fall, we tend to move indoors. This is especially true in Portland, where October heralds the first of our nine and a half damp months. Leaves turn colors, drop and are pulverized, turning to applesauce on the road. Not exactly pleasant.

But last weekend wasn't bad at all. On Sunday, I got an itch to go do something I hadn't before--taste apples at the Apple Festival. Each October, Portland Nursery holds an apple and pear tasting in one of it's large covered areas. It's a big deal--there's live music from an eclectic variety of good local bands, face and pumpkin painting for the kids, cider pressing and cooking demos and a scarecrow contest. Oh, and tons, literally tons, of apples and pears for sale.

I arrived at about 11:00 or so, Joaquin sleeping soundly in the front pack. Joe would grab a shower and meet us later--he'd been out running and felt it was the sociable thing to do. While waiting for my fella, I found myself enamored with all the blooming chrysanthemums and getting that glow I feel every time I go to the Nursery. I must confess, there are days when I go and walk around there just to look at the plants and smell the herbs and flowers, even when I don't have a penny in my pocket. I just love the place. I meandered in to a covered area where vendors were sampling their wares: honey, chestnuts, preserves. I tried a unique 'apple mustard' that was quite zippy and exceptional, then sat down on a hay bale and watched a demo on poaching pears. There was a lot of peeling involved, but the delicious result of these poached bosc pears (cooked in a spiced red wine and cider solution) topped with a creme anglais sauce made me think I might actually attempt this sometime in the future. When Joaquin is, say, a few years older.

Joe arrived and we got into line to taste the apples. If you plan on coming to this event and don't like to wait in a line, arriving earlier is definitely better. There had been no line when I had first walked past; forty minutes later we had a good 10 minute wait. Families were out in full force and everyone seemed in good spirits, so the time passed quickly. And then it was our turn to grab a toothpick and sample some apples. The sheer variety of offerings was impressive:44 apples, 9 pears and 4 asian pears. Names as familiar as Gala, Granny Smith and Red Delicious juxtoposed with exotics like Mutsu, Splendour, Winter Banana, and the decadent-sounding Ambrosia. Let the tasting begin!

Despite it's Nectar of the Gods name, the Ambrosia, while good, was overshadowed by some regally named selections. Joe liked the Empire variety with its straight-ahead pure "appleness" (my wording, not his) and the dark-skinned King Davids were one of my favorite, perfect for pairing with cheese and a good hearty beer on a cool evening in front of the fire. Cox's Orange Pippin, Swiss Gourmet and Rubinette, the former hailing from England and the latter two from Switzerland, were all favorites for their sweet-tart flavor and crisp texture, juicy as an apple should be. And while I'm not much for green apples, the Ginger Golden was a shameless flirt of an apple, sweet-tart with just a bit of spice. Other notables were the Jonagold, Jonathan and Northern Spy, all fairly common names but still some of the cream of the crop. Sadly, my absolute mouthwatering favorite, the Honeycrisp, was available for sample but not for sale. You can only know how tragic this situation was if you've ever had one of these amazing apples. They remind one of a reisling wine, sweet with a bit of zing and oh-so-juicy! Amongst the pears (some of which seemed a bit less ripe than one would hope) the Cascades were the big stand-out, our palate preferring the local taste of the ruby fruit.

On our way out, we voted for our favorite scarecrows. The PeeWee Herman with it's cloth-sewn abstract looking face was very original and Joe's favorite. I took quite a shine to the hay-bale spider hanging from the rafters. It was impressive to see how the locals really turn out for this event, from the high-school face painting volunteers painting children's faces to the adults cutting up hundreds of apples and those at the weighing stations, measuring bags full of goodies headed for pantries, cellars and apple crisps. We loaded up with King Davids, spicy Galers and a token Ginger Golden before walking home, Joaquin still sleeping.

Never mind that he missed the whole thing. I'm sure we'll be back as soon as he can hold a toothpick and say "mmmmm". Fall may not be my favorite season--I'm not sure I have one, but the apples sure make it a sweet one.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Beverage Ritual

Long ago, in a life far, far away, there lived a former version of myself. One who had plenty of time in the morning. I actually woke up a good forty-five minutes early in order to enjoy my daily ritual: a proper cup of tea. Golden Assam Tips, a hearty English or Irish breakfast tea, Darjeeling...these names bring back sweet memories. I would recall the names of teas past with the romance one would experience recalling the names of former lovers.

Teas are the first loves of my life, in so many ways. Good friends, dependable, all with their own qualities, wonderful on their own but marvellously adept at being comfortable with a bit of sugar and milk. Creamy, dreamy, that first cup of tea in the morning. Time belonging solely to me and the tea-- ideal time to gather thoughts or to space out, staring at a favorite painting and petting the cat.

Here is the Western World modern tea ritual:
  • Run cold water for the brita. Wait for it to filter. Contemplate dreams from the night before.
  • Pour a fresh kettle of water; place on stove to heat to a boil. In the meantime, fill teapot and cup with hot water. Smile to yourself that you haven't given up on the finer things in life, one of them being a warm cup for your tea.
  • As water comes to a boil, use one heaping teaspoon of loose leaf tea per cup you are going to make. As I was always up first, one was all I needed.
  • Pour boiling *not hot, but rapidly boiling* water over the tea leaves. Cover, set timer to steep for five minutes. Get your cozy spot ready on the chair or couch of your choice.
  • DING! Pour your tea through a strainer into your warmed cup, then add desired condiments: sugar, milk or lemon. Clasp your warm cup in your hands, find your cozy spot, and enjoy the quiet.

Now with my new life, baby calls, but I usually have time for a small french press of decaf. It still feels like a ritual, still keeps me sane. Only this ritual is much less reflective.

  • Run water through the brita. Wonder if baby is going to wake up with the noise. Race to use the bathroom while brita is filtering.
  • Put kettle on stove. Go back upstairs to check if baby is still breathing.
  • Kettle boiling. Take kettle off heat. Scoop out one tablespoon expensive water-process decaf per cup the pot will hold. Remember, one standard cup of coffee is considered two by European standards. We are Americans. There is no time for teeny cups.
  • Pour water over grounds, stir, cover. Set timer for four minutes. Wonder if ticking timer will wake baby.
  • DING! Pour coffee, add condiments: milk and sugar. Stir, race upstairs carefully and sit with cup of coffee, sipping contentedly while baby sleeps. Watch the baby breathing and realize how life changes and rituals adapt.

Be thankful for decaf. It keeps me sane.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bad Mom/Good Mom vs Sad Mama/Happy Mama

So we saw it coming from a mile away, but yesterday the news was in: Britney Spears has lost custody of her children. As a mother, I'm not going to gloat, nor do I have a lot sympathy for anyone involved, except for her two little ones. Two years ago, who would have guessed Kevin Federline was going to come out of this being portrayed as smelling like a rose? Wasn't he a national joke for nearly as long? How did things come to this point, and more to the point, why do we care?

I believe, in my heart of hearts, that it's got a lot to do with our sense of judgement. Or rather, our being judgmental. This is where our language around parenting could use some changes.

I think that Britney isn't necessarily a bad mother, but I think she's really sad and very lost. Being depressed about one's life can manifest itself in damaging ways, especially in making poor decisions and practicing poor parenting skills. Self-medication is another behavior symptomatic of this greater problem. I know there are a lot of us out there that truly hope she takes some time to get into serious therapy, get some education on how to parent and takes steps to make a new, healthy life for herself.

So consider the language of being a "sad" mom. Do you feel any empathy? Have you ever been depressed to the point of making big mistakes? I know I have. I don't have the right to consider Spears as a 'bad' mother, because it would render me a hypocrite. I don't think her poor decisions and lack of parenting skills is due to any inherent "badness" on her part. But I do think it's easy for a lot of us to consider her to be "bad". It's easy to look down on someone else, it's almost reassuring, really. Judging someone else's shortcomings, when they are so transparent, lets us off the hook, at least for a while. We can feel better about our flawed selves. But it also robs us of an opportunity to do one of the truly great things humans can do, which is to relate.

Let's relate to Spears for a moment. It's as hard as hell to be a new parent, by far the hardest thing I've ever done. It's hard to go through a divorce. It's hard to be the object of ridicule, and to know that every time you make a mistake, it goes public. Take all that into account; now pretend that the person I'm writing about is a best friend, in a bad spot in life. Is she a bad mother or is she sad, needing a lot of help?

One thing that is most critical when one wants to change their life for the better is having the self-esteem and belief that they deserve more than what their life is right now. There are a lot of hurting mothers that don't have those tools to even get started. Should we kick them for their failure?

We mothers are not ever going to be perfect. The degree to which we screw up will be reflected later on in how long our kids are in therapy or if they are just able to brush themselves off and go about their business. Much of it depends on our ability to help them recover from our mistakes. We all lose it with our kids at some time or another. My son is only five months old and there are times that his father needs to take him now!. I hear other mothers who confess to yelling at their babies or swearing at them. The all-night crying of babies who won't go to sleep can make a new parent feel desperate and angry. We are only human.

Which isn't to excuse any sort of excessive behavior. I know firsthand the effect of growing up with a mother who was 'down' a lot. She wasn't depressed, per se, but she was down on her kids and herself quite a lot of the time. She didn't believe she deserved better, in fact, it seemed to me that after four marriages, she was still down on the men she chose to have in her life. Down down down.

It's hard to see a parent feel so limited, to witness a mother who deliberately chose some of the worst options possible and continues to blame others for her choices. This example taught my sister and I to become victims, people with no control over our lives. It took a long time and a lot of work to unlearn that way of living, but once you have, you can't go back to giving other people absolute control over your life. There's a certain power that comes with being powerless: you can always blame someone else for the disappointments in your life. It's pathetic, really, but when you don't care enough about your own happiness to make changes, that's what you do.

So, I have some empathy for Spears. I hope, for the sake of herself and her children, that she is willing to make some investments in herself and grow into the person she truly wants to become. Her boys don't need a celebrity mom, they need a happy mother. One who can find balance, choose wisely and keep herself grounded in this reality. I try to remember this everyday as well: my little guy needs a joyful mama, one can reflect that joy back to him. His self-esteem will depend on it. Because, deep down, I don't want a 'good' kid, I want a happy kid.