A Magical Childhood

storyland

A few years ago I heard an actress describe her childhood as “magical” and something clicked in me.  I had been searching for that word, a word, to describe my desire for my children.  And that phrase “magical childhood” is something I’ve become a bit fixated on.  Before I had a hard time knowing and understanding what kind of childhood I wanted my kids to experience.  We lived in the heart of NYC at the time, with tons of sights, sounds, friends, encounters bombarding us everyday.  It is a glorious, and extremely fun place to raise a child.  It kinda blew my mind that riding the subway was completely normal to my kids.  But I was raised on a small farm, with space to roam free, unencumbered by rules and supervision.  As a fairly new parent I struggled: did I want my kids to experience the city with all its diversity and bustling life or did I want them to have that freedom I experienced as a child?  Both had their pros and cons, I realized it really depended, ultimately, on what my husband and I wanted.  So, when I heard that television actress relate her childhood as magical I knew that’s exactly what I wanted for my kids; and that was, potentially, attainable just about anywhere.

But, what exactly is a “magical childhood”?  What does that mean?  Is it possible?  Does it just happen?  Or are there conditions that I needed to create in order for a magical childhood to develop?

storyland

I began to ask around.  I talked and discussed with family members and friends what they thought a magical childhood meant.  Or if they had any memories of magical moments in their childhood.  Here are a summary of their responses:

My husband:  He remembered many magical moments when his dad would spend time with him.  His dad worked a lot, but when he was home his dad focused on the kids.  And he remembers some of those times very vividly and holds those memories dear to his heart.

My dad:  His most magical moments of his childhood were also with his dad.  His dad, my grandfather, was a dairy farmer.  My dad fondly remembers times when his dad would spend one-on-one time with him, often in the form of teaching him something new.

My sister:  She shared an experience she had as a mother, with her two kids.  She said it was a simple time, just the three of them were sitting on her bed and she was reading stories out loud to them.  And she felt there was a feeling of happiness, goodness, and openness.  She felt that moment was very magical and thinks her kids felt that too.

My good friend:  She had a completely different perspective on it (and that’s why I love her so).  She said she didn’t really think children felt like their childhood is magical; but as an adult, when you look back, you can see and feel the magic in selective memories.  When kids are in the thick of it, life it hard: feeling left out of friendships, not understanding homework, pushing against parents, etc.  It’s only maturity, and growing up, that makes childhood magical.

Although I see my friend’s perspective, I don’t completely agree.  I do agree childhood can be stressful–the bulk of mine was, but one of the most lovely things about childhood is there are long stretches of time (such as summer breaks) when a child has nothing to do, except be a child.  I think parents and adults often put too much pressure on children to perform well, not be lazy, or just be a good kid.  And a lot of childhood stress can stem from adult pressures.

I thought it was interesting and enlightening to hear my family members’ perspectives; they all had magical memories involving a parent, a simple loving interaction with that parent.  Which is, surprisingly, quite the opposite, from my most magical childhood memories.

I am smack dab in the middle of a large family of seven kids and, in hindsight, my parents were going through a very rough time while I was young.  Both parents were gone almost always, working, getting multiple graduate degrees.  Doing their best do avoid each other and the struggles at home.  By the time I was 10 my dad no longer lived at home.  I do have a nice memory of my dad putting me to bed a couple of times and telling me bedtime stories.  But the most magical times were when I was playing outside; usually in the spring and summer.  We lived on open land, with a few farm animals and space to roam and get lost.

I love looking back and feeling the warmth of the California sunshine on my back.  Remembering touching the round, smooth leaves of the locust tree between my fingers as I gathered them into my bag, like a robber, before my brother–the cop–captured me and put me in jail.  (Did you know…if you pinch your fingers tight around the top of a locust tree twig and pull down all the way to the end, the leaves break off in the form of a rose between your fingertips.)

The dogs’ incessant barking, the roosters crowing, the tall tree limbs swaying and creaking in the winds; these are what my magical memories are made of.  And so much more.  Much, much more.

I’m excited and curious to look through the lenses of my children’s lives.  Every so often one of them will mention a memory that sounds perfectly magical.  Note to self: write those down!!!

My 8 year old just woke up and is sitting here next to me in my cozy bed, as I finish this post.  I asked her, “Do you have any magical memories?”

“Going to Storyland or Santa’s Village.  Everything seems perfect when we go there; everyone is happy, it’s summer, nothing bad happens.  It feels good.”

Magic!  The magic happens when we feel good.  But most especially when we feel good with the ones we love.

What do you think makes a childhood magical?  What magical memory do you have from your childhood?

A Mother’s Redemption

Sun Salutations

Jealousy is a vicious thing.  It not only robs you of good, healthy relationships but satisfaction and enjoyment of all the wonderful things around you.  I was raised with a jealous mother.  She despised my dad for having female friendships.  I was raised to believe he was the one who completely ruined their marriage; my dad had “girlfriends” their entire 23 years of marriage (according to my mom), Janet and then Martha were his accomplices in finally destroying their marriage.  I was only 10 years old when they split, I only know the stories my parents tell me.   My mom spoon fed me a daily dose of poisoned dad hate.  My dad told me once his side of the story.  The events of the stories basically matched–my dad was not completely in the wrong, but he has moved on.  My mom has filled much of her life with underlying levels of jealous rage.

I hate my mom because of it.  She’s in her early 70’s now, showing signs of dementia, and there are beginning to be moments of redemption.  I feel guilt for not calling her frequently, she always mentions how lonely she is.  When I look past the guilt I mostly feel apathy.  In her intense effort to destroy my dad and his happiness with his children, she has destroyed herself.  She spent years of her life pining away at her misery rather than seeking the good.  Her heart was buried in hate and pity and she wallowed in it constantly.

But, there are glimmers of redemption in our story!  Sometimes when I call her she will listen and engage in our conversation, more than just ramble on and on about her challenges.  For Christmas a new sewing machine showed up on my doorstep.  From my mom!!!  It was a huge surprise; completely unexpected.  Somehow she shook off her self-pity, listened to something I said, spent some money on me, and just did it.  I was so touched.  She put me before herself.  She gave a good gift!  That is progress!

I haven’t always hated my mom and I won’t always hate her.  This is only a small blip in the emotional healing of my relationship with her.  I’ve been exploring and allowing all the pain of my childhood to come up from deep inside me.  It’s extremely painful, but I’m ready to let it go.  I’m tired of the anger I frequently feel.  My hope is if I let myself acknowledge all the anger and hurt that I felt as a child because of her than maybe I will find the peace deep inside.  I don’t want the negativity I was so familiar with to become my normal.

My heart does go out to her on a number of levels.  I can’t imagine feeling like I couldn’t trust my husband.  I can’t imagine trying to raise seven children in a home where love between my spouse and I fluctuated so profusely.  I can’t imagine thinking I needed a second Master’s degree or to work 3 jobs when I had little kids at home who needed me emotionally.  I can’t imagine requiring my little children to care for themselves and each other constantly.  She was desperate at so many points along the way.  She was so successful at working hard.  She knew how to work hard and she did it well.

We were very poor many times.  By poor I mean no heat in our mouse infested house.  There was only one period of time where she accepted financial help (as far as I know).  And it was not the time we lived in the cold, mouse house.  We ate nasty canned food from the Bishop’s Storehouse and my aunts and uncles helped pay the bills.  She is a prideful woman who repeatedly confuses self-pity for humility.  Friends, family, strangers would frequently tell her what an amazing mom she was or praised her on her hard work.  Every time her response would be, “No I’m not amazing, I guess I’m just lucky.”  “I just don’t know how my kids turned well.”  “I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”  If someone told her she was beautiful she’d correct them.  She is in a constant state of belittling herself.  But she thinks she’s being humble.

And the worst part: she ran away.  That’s why I hate her so.  She ran away.  Yes, she slept in her own bed every night, so we weren’t abandoned completely.  But I never saw her.  Now that I’m a mom I realize she didn’t have to get that second Master’s degree when she had 7 kids, her marriage was falling apart, and she was working full-time.  She didn’t have to work 3 jobs when she had teenagers at home trying to keep the house together for her.  She ran away from the hard stuff.  She ran away from being a mother, but yet, kept having children.  She may work hard, but wise she was not.

I too have struggled with being jealous.  I see my own daughter struggle with jealousy.  I’m pretty certain it is in our genetic code.  But I know I don’t have to give into it–I can leave it and move beyond it.  Just as my mom was intensely jealous of my dad’s friends or others financial successes, I have a tendency to feel intensely jealous of my friends’ mothers.  Ironic, isn’t it?The friends whose moms come visit them frequently, or help them, or simply mother them (even as adults–I didn’t even know that was possible).  I envy them, their relationships, and how that has prepared them to be more amazing mothers than I am.  It’s hard for me to see that and not feel cheated.  My friends have something I want but can’t have; it feels so wrong and unfair.

But there is redemption.  You see, I am a mother.  Yes, I have some pretty fierce issues to overcome.  But I AM A MOTHER!!!  I have this unique opportunity to rise above my challenging past and become the most amazing mom to my children.  I want to be that mom other kids envy.  I make so many mistakes and it is so stinking hard to be a good mom.  But I won’t leave my children to raise themselves.  I won’t ask my 8 year old daughter to babysit her 2 year old little brothers at night with no one to call for help.  I won’t abandon them for Master’s degrees.  I will hold them tight.  I will hold my tongue.  I will overfill their buckets with love and tenderness.  I am becoming the mother I always wanted.  And that is the healing redemption of motherhood.

Fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies originated from the 1980’s Quaker Oats box.  My mom would make those cookies regularly and they were a family favorite.  Over the years Quaker has changed the recipe on their box and I’ve tweaked the original recipe to make cookies that are even more delicious.  I never alter or create recipes.  I love to create in the kitchen and I’m pretty decent; or so says my picky husband.  But my strength in the kitchen relies on knowing what a good recipe looks like and following it precisely.  So altering Quaker’s original recipe–several times–is a big deal for me.  I have made these cookies about a million and one times and have tried simple changes and watched and tasted how each modification has improved or diminished the deliciousness of these cookies.  The surprising result of all this experimentation is not only a tasty treat but an increase confidence in the kitchen.  I love that I feel more comfortable to test little changes in recipes now.  I understand food and the science of it just a little bit more.  This increased knowledge and confidence is so freeing.  And I’ve noticed it beginning to spill (pun intended :)) into other recipes and concoctions in the kitchen.

cookie dough

My family loves these cookies and I hope you do too.  We make these often enough that I finally taped the recipe inside a kitchen cupboard door.  I have the recipe memorized, I’m sure.  But as a mama of little busy bodies, running in and out of my kitchen constantly, I get distracted and forgetful.  A quick glance at the handwritten recipe, on bright orange construction paper, is a helpful crutch.

After years of tweaking, trial and error, and finally remembering to write down my favorite alterations, here’s the recipe.  These can easily made gluten free, and I do it about half the time.  Just use oat flour instead of wheat flour.  If you want a healthier version use whole wheat flour.

oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

 

Fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour (all-purpose, oat, whole wheat, what ever suits your fancy)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups old-fashioned oats (quick works too!)

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional, but delicious)

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream butter and sugars together.  Add eggs and vanilla, beat until fully incorporated.  Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt.  Next, stir in the old-fashioned oats.  Last, mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts.  Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.  (I love parchment paper–less dishes!  Use it if you have it!)  Bake in hot oven for 12-15 minutes.  I prefer chewing cookies (12 min), but Bradley loves his cookies firm and crunchy (15 min) so we always have both!

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.  Unless you like big cookies, then you’ll only get 3 dozen!

Capturing Creativity in my Kitchen

Capturing my love of whole foods, combined with the activity of a bustling kitchen.

A weekly collection of photos from the center of my home.

This week I was inspired by the lovely blog beauty that moves to pull out and dust off my DSLR camera again.

I started snapping the everyday happenings in my life.  It has been fun to be creative this way again.

This is just a small sampling of  everything that has happened in my kitchen this week.

pasta salad

oatmeal cookies

whole wheat bread

apple

no knead bread

rolling out spinach pasta

{this moment}

spring day

I feel inspired to join in with one of my favorite blogs, SouleMama, today and share {this moment}: A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

I also feel inspired to dig out my Nikon and start taking some “real” photos again.  I have been resting heavily on photo journaling with my phone, but I miss the beautiful photos my Nikon D40 takes.

Grati-Tuesday

One of the benefits to writing down two things I’m grateful for every Tuesday, is the opportunity to think about and focus on the beautiful things in my life.  I’m am too often guilty of reflecting and dwelling on the things that are not quite right.  There are a lot of things I would love to change but when I focus on the inadequacies in my life (or my perceived inadequacies) I neglect to see the bounteous beauty all around me.  And, I don’t want to let life pass by without noticing the amazing moments I experience almost constantly.

Two things I’m grateful for at this moment:

1-My amazing husband.  I can be pretty hard on him sometimes.  We seem to be living in a constant state of change and flux; moving almost every year, traveling full-time for several months, frequent job switching, etc.  It’s the way he prefers to live.  Not me, I’m a planner.  I love to know what’s coming next; I thrive on a predictable life.  (In this way we are the epitome of “opposites attract”.)  But, no matter who frustrated, stressed, confused I am he stays pretty mellow.  The one thing I am most sure of is his love for me.  And, honestly, no matter how crazy life gets, or how crazy I get, I will always rely on him and his love.  We are in this journey together.  When I follow his lead and not freak out life is absolutely amazing and full of fabulous surprises.

honey in Savannah

2-I am grateful for tools that make my life super easy.  Sometimes we (the majority of Americans) take these amazing, typical home appliances for granted.  Only recently, when we moved to our new apartment in the burbs last September, did I finally get a dishwasher and washer/dryer in my apartment.  These “simple” things have changed my life.  It is like I have a staff working for me.  Several years ago Bradley bought me a roomba for our apartment in NYC.  It was fabulous.  It cleaned my floor everyday, even the dust bunnies under the beds.  Soon after receiving the gift I remember saying to Bradley, “Now if they only made a robot that would clean the dishes!  That would be awesome!”  Bradley just laughed, “You mean a dishwasher?”  I completely blushed; I had been doing my own dishes by hand for so many years I had completely forgotten how common dishwashers are.  Although we no longer have a working roomba (I worked that 3 roombas to death!), I feel so grateful for a good vacuum, washer/dryer, oven, dishwasher, etc.  They make my life so much easier and allow me to spend more time doing fun stuff.  Like reading stories to my kids.