23 July 2009

Her balls are so big she doesn't even know she has them

Tonight Sarah went to a swim meet in the rain. I brought the boys home early, as a friend agreed to watch Sarah. When the meet ended, she called to tell us she was on her way home.

"Hi Mom," she said. "I did really well; I got first place in freestyle."
"Great!" I replied.
"I'm leaving in a minute; could you please run me a hot bath for when I get home?"

I did not answer, because I thought it would be unkind to ask what madam cared to drink this evening, so I could have it ready upon her arrival, and, would she also like her towel warmed?

I like to think the service is excellent here, but this was a bridge too far.

When she got home not five minutes later, the first thing she said was, "Is my bath ready?"


"But I'm really cold, and I asked you to run it for me!"

I thought about laying out the distinctions between a house and a hotel, but instead, I laughed, and suggested that perhaps her energies would be better utilized if she drew herself a bath.

I often marvel at how effortlessly bossy my daughter is; it is my fondest wish that this will serve her well one day, when she is running the world.

19 July 2009

A weaker woman would have caved by now

In the past week, I have been verbally abused, bitten, and hit. One night, as I was getting him washed up for bed, Sacha adopted the telltale male stance, and let loose a stream of urine on my bathroom floor, mere steps from the toilet. It was so deliberate that any doubt I may have had that he perhaps he wasn't yet capable of controlling evacuation was erased. I could practically hear him thinking, “Fuck you, Mama.”

To cap it off, on Friday when arrived to I pick him up from camp, he more or less ran screaming from me.

“Sacha, Mom's here!” called a counselor cheerfully.

Sacha turned on his heel and walked in the opposite direction.

“Come on, Sacha, Mom's waiting for you!”

Sacha feigned great interest in the sandbox.

She sent someone to retrieve him, and that is when he dug his heels into the mulch, and had to be dragged in my direction. He was so resistant that the counselor had to pick him up and carry him to me, and when placed by my side, he turned on his heel and ran back to the playground.

I take it as a sign of faith in me that camp did not alert DYFS.

A weaker woman would have called the whole thing off by now.

Although I regret that we are locked in an epic power struggle, there is no turning back. In retrospect, on the subject of toilet training my most stubborn beast, there may have been no way of avoiding this. I have dangled many positive incentives, from candy to prizes to privileges, but he cares not a whit for any of them. At this point we have the pole wedged so far up our ass that we cannot take a step in any direction.

So while Sacha may not like me very much right now, I know that he loves me, and at this point in his life, love is preferable.

I have seen a few signs of softening on his part; after a week and a half strike, he finally decided to enjoy himself in the baby pool, and when he is in the mood, he not only pees on the potty, he asks for his Skittle when he's done.

In the mean time, I am contemplating outsourcing the whole affair, and have begun composing my classified ad: Seeking strong willed individual to toilet train adorable stubborn bastard. Must have proven record of success, the patience of a saint, and ample sense of humor. Generous compensation, and all the Skittles you desire.

16 July 2009

Domestic dispute

I recently took a big step forward in housekeeping, and freed myself from the tyranny of the dish drying rack.

Ever since we moved house almost two years ago, and were advised to clear everything from our kitchen counters for house showings, I have become slightly fascist about kitchen clutter. While our old house was on the market, it was a pain in the ass to go to the basement to retrieve the toaster, but there was something so serene about the empty expanse of kitchen counter.

When I set up my new kitchen, I did it with an eye toward keeping only what I use daily on the counters. Although it may make me seem like a shallow person, I am not afraid to admit that it gives me a thrill to see so much white (actually, almond, to be accurate) space.

The one thing I was not able to give up was the drying rack.

And yet, every time I walked into someone else's house where there was no drying rack, I was a bit awed. How did they do it? Surely the wooden spatulas cannot go in the dishwasher? To say nothing of the over sized items, the wineglasses, and the fragile, but attractive, and impressively inexpensive drinking glasses, that have been known to shatter when they jostle up against other items during the wash cycle?

Last month, I had a vision of me, sans dish rack. I mulled it over, and last week, I went for it. I put a hook on the side of the cabinet to hang a towel, which I lay on the counter for hand washed items. After washing the dishes, I dry and put them away, and hang my towel out of sight.

I cannot tell you how this small adjustment pleases me!

Last night, David revealed that he does not like this new arrangement.

He cleans up after dinner, and so while I have less clutter, he has more work, as he can no longer leave the dishes on the counter to dry overnight for me to put away in the morning.

My husband is highly accomplished domestically. He may have better maternal instincts than me, is an excellent cook, has no compunction about cleaning the bathrooms, or doing laundry. (He can't fold for shit, but I think this is a genetic flaw.)

So although I know it is unfair to lay a greater share of domestic responsibility at his feet because I am aesthetically controlling I have a highly refined aesthetic sensibility, as the one who spends more time at home, I decided that my vote counts twice, and so I'm afraid he's going to have to suck it up.

Thanks for understanding, love.

14 July 2009


It is becoming apparent that my rogue nation does not like the new world order. In other words, he is pissed off at me.

It began with subtle remarks that, not coincidentally, entered the lexicon this week. On Saturday morning he was watching TV, and as I bent down to give him a kiss, Sacha turned to me and said, "Could you please go away?" and went back to watching his show.

I laughed this off, and came back a few minutes later to sit with him.

His response was, "I don't want you."

I've been hearing variants of this all week, always delivered with utmost politesse. I take this a good sign of my parenting; even when being rude, my children are exceptionally polite!

But civilly expressing his discontent was not getting Sacha anywhere. And so tonight, he took up arms against his oppressor, and BIT ME.

We were having a quiet moment snuggling, and apropos of nothing, he leaned over and sunk his teeth into my forearm. The shock, not to mention the pain, caused me to jump, and I gave him a slap on the back to dislodge his jaws from my flesh, and express my discontent.

When I released him from jail the step, I handed him over to David to bathe and put to bed. He screamed so loudly through his bath that David had to get Guantanamo on him and splash him with cold water in order settle him down long enough to hear that it is unacceptable to bite anyone, and he would not be watching television tomorrow.

Tonight we caught the tail end of The Incredibles on TV. In light of what I am dealing with, I thought it fitting that when Jack Jack's superpower emerges, it is, essentially, an awesome tantrum.

He can take as long as he likes to toilet train, but I will not revoke my fatwas. What a hard case I have!

13 July 2009

Battle of big pool

Since my failed attempt at toilet training Sacha, I have turned to tough diplomacy. Specifically, I have begun to isolate him from the community of nations by denying him two coveted privileges. It has become apparent that I am dealing with a rogue nation who knows that the U.N. has no real power.

Put another way, I am attempting to kick him where it hurts, and I am not succeeding.

I drive a minivan (surprised?), and the seating arrangement has always been big kids in the back row, Sacha in the middle row, because it is easier for me to buckle him in this way.

Lately, Sacha has become fascinated with sitting in the back with his siblings, and since I won't move his car seat, Sarah and Gabriel have been alternating sitting in the second row with him.

I was touched that Sarah and Gabriel came up with this idea on their own, so that Sacha didn't have to feel like the odd man out in the car. But not so touched that I was unwilling to upset the status quo.

And so I issued my first fatwa: Big kids in the back, babies in the second row.


So now, we ride around town with Sacha pleading, "Back seat? Back seat? BACK SEAT!!!" This has really made me appreciate how long this town is, as I drive from one end to the other listening to this.

My second strike has hurt even more. Two weeks ago, Sacha discovered he could let go of me in the pool and swim by himself with his life vest on. He is intoxicated by his new found swimming abilities, and wants nothing more than to swim in the big pool ALL DAY LONG.

Which led to the second fatwa: The big pool is for big kids. Children who wear diapers must confine themselves to the baby pool.

It has been a week since I issued this decree. SACHA HAS NOT GONE IN THE WATER ONCE. He does, however, repeat, ad infinitum, "Big pool? Big pool? Big pool?!" I generally ignore this, and watch him have a fit as Sarah and Gabriel go for another swim.

Since it is unseasonably cool this summer, no big pool has been win-win for me. I do not have to make constant trips to the bathroom with my newly toilet trained son, and, I no longer have to brave the cold water. So when Sacha finishes tantruming, I can actually relax and watch him on the playground. And, I don't have to be quite as fearful about him drowning, since he never goes in the water!

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will be buying a case of diapers on my next trip to Costco, and may very well be doing this for quite some time.

As with most parenting endeavors, patience is what is most required. And so, we wait.

But if we get sick of waiting, David has a radical idea that may work. He suspects that if we tell Sacha that he cannot poop on the potty, he will make a beeline for the toilet.

09 July 2009

The potty wars

Sunday night Sacha pulled off his diaper while watching TV, because who doesn't prefer watching their favorite show bare-assed?

Instead of replacing his foundation garment, like I usually do, I tried a different approach, just for kicks. I told him he had to sit on the floor, not the couch, and that if he peed, he would loose TV privileges. An hour later, he was still sitting happily, engaged in the favored American pastime of watching TV while playing oneself. And he was holding his water.

He is 3-1/2, and I have been waiting for some kind of sign that he is ready, or even slightly interested, in MOVING TO THE NEXT LEVEL. Perhaps this was the sign I'd been looking for? I broke out the underwear.

Oh, how wrong I was!

Monday was relatively smooth. Apart from what I (mistakenly) thought was a minor accident at camp, he did fine. He peed whenever I took him to the bathroom. He did not poop, but I expected this would be the case, figuring he would find night time the right time to do the deed, once he was safe in a pull-up. I checked him before going to bed; nothing. When he woke on Tuesday morning, he was still clean.

Interesting, I thought; my adversary's powers of withholding are stronger than I anticipated.

When I picked him up at camp on Tuesday, I learned that he had SHIT IN HIS UNDERWEAR. (Oh, dear.)

Fascinating, I thought; my adversary is cunning too; he chose a strategic moment, when I was not around, to unleash the contents of his bowels.

This, of course, was not a fluke, as he showed me when we got home, and PROCEEDED TO DO IT AGAIN, on my watch.

It had not yet occurred to me that we were now locked in a power struggle from which I had no possibility of deescalating.

Still undeterred, on Wednesday morning, I tightened the screw a quarter turn. I told Sacha that it was unacceptable to go to camp and soil his underwear — it would be embarrassing to be expelled from summer camp for such an offense, and would look awful on his permanent record — and so, he would have to do his business on the toilet, before going to camp.

He sat on the potty for 30 minutes. He peed like a champ. NO NUMBER TWO.

And now, it was time to leave for camp. Oh, shit. (No pun intended.)

I wanted him to go to camp. He wanted to go to camp. I brought him in and escorted him to the toilet, where he peed some more. Who knew he had so much water in him?

Having grown up in New York City (Staten Island is part of NYC, thank you very much), I am a highly skilled at parallel parking, but by now, the car was wedged in so tightly that there was no possibility of exit until someone else pulled out.

I consulted some experts, namely, the camp directors, who brought me to my senses.

To sum up: I had failed to heed two pieces of sage advice, and as a third time parent, should have known better. "Never get involved in a land war in Asia," and "Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line!"

Chastened, I bid a tactical retreat. Back to diapers for now. I lost the battle, but I will ultimately win the war. Although he may come alarmingly close, I know that my son will go to kindergarten in underwear.

My ignominious defeat reminded me of a few important lessons. Despite one's many years of parenting experience, you never quite know what you are doing. And more importantly, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him shit.

05 July 2009

Slinging hash: key lime pie

I have an unofficial tradition of making key lime pie for Independence Day. Unofficial because some years I don't bother and no one suffers for it, but if there is a day during the year that a key lime pie is going to get made by me, this is the one.

I settled on key lime pie for several reasons. There are few desserts more American than pie, and it is one of the few types of pie that David likes (I maintain that his dislike of pie is un-American, but because we accept the flaws in those we love the most, I have come to terms with this). It involves no exotic ingredients: graham crackers, sugar, eggs, butter, limes, sweetened condensed milk. This is not 1955, and sweetened condensed milk is not exactly a pantry staple, but it has such a long shelf life that if you buy a can now it will be good next year, if the urge to bake strikes you.

Most importantly though, is it is extremely easy to make, and involves little mess. You don't have to prep a large amount of fruit. It takes all of 20 minutes of hands-on work, and a lot of time chilling, so you can do it in the morning, go out and enjoy your day, and feel like a very good hausfrau come time for dessert.

We did enjoy our day very much. We went to the parade, and perhaps it is my imagination, but living here in the Berkeley of New Jersey, the mood seemed decidedly more optimistic then during the past eight years. My children were excited to go, and annoyed that my pie baking kept us from arriving earlier. The parade seemed sweet to me, as opposed to lame, as it has in years past, where I was going through the motions of being proud to be American under the auspices of an administration that seemed hell-bent on destroying this country's standing in its misguided attempt to promote democracy.

We went to a party, and on the way back to the car, I accomplished a long-time goal of finally walking down Mid-Park Lane, the alley that winds between Park Street and Midland Avenue, where I had the pleasure of watching Gabriel pee into the stream. Sacha was so amused by this that he almost pulled down his pants to give it a go, until he noticed how excited that would have made me and David. (Note to self: work on poker face.) He decided his diaper did the job very well, thank you very much.

I made pizza for dinner, which is always a hit. Then I brought out the pie, and cut everyone a slice.

And that is when things darkened. What is this, my elder two asked, eying the pie suspiciously.

“It's key lime pie,” I replied noncommittally. (Already working on poker face!)
“Do I like it?” Gabriel asked.
“You love it.” I lied.
“What's it taste like?”
“It's very sweet, and a little tart.” I offered.
David added, “It's a little like lemonade.”
“Or limeade,” I added, “And you love limeade.”

The pie sat a few more minutes on their plates, as they performed mental cost-benefit analysis, and ultimately decided to give it a try. It was not a hit.

“Too sour.” Sarah declared.

“It's a little too sweet,” explained Gabriel, whose naturally optimistic demeanor prevents him from criticizing anything too harshly. “I'll just eat the whipped cream,” he added.

Sarah could not miss this opportunity to lob another criticism: “I wish you'd make the whipped cream with sugar.”

Sacha's reaction was the most damning. Although he'd declared himself full and the dinner dishes had been cleared, he ignored the pie entirely, and requested another slice of pizza.

I am long past the point of getting upset when my kids reject my cooking. Children outnumber the adults in our house, so the odds are stacked too high against me. But this was tooth-achingly sweet pie, topped with whipped cream. Not, as you might have surmised had you witnessed the scene with the volume turned off, braised monkey brains with brown butter served in a cranial cavity bowl.

Although I knew it would not satisfy my two out of three criteria, and David and I would likely be the only ones eating it, the pie was still worth it. Not only because it was good, but because watching the show my children put on was part of the entertainment.

And now, the two of us can enjoy leftover pie for breakfast.

Key Lime Pie
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, March 1997

Feel free to use a pre-baked pie crust, or a can of whipped cream. I won't tell anyone, and you are still a good person.

You do not need key limes to make key lime pie; regular Persian limes are perfectly fine. Go figure.

The recipe calls for sweetened whipped cream and a garnish of slivered limes dipped in confectioners sugar. I never add sugar to whipped cream as I think cream is sweet enough as is, and like the contrast when serving with something sweet, and really, when else do you serve whipped cream. Sarah, of course, disagrees.

As for the limes, I'm sure it would be attractive, but A: I've likely used the last of my limes for the pie, and B: I can't be bothered.

If pressed for time I don't cool the pie shell completely before filling and baking, and I haven't noticed any significant difference.

Lime Filling
4 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/2 cup lime juice (3-4 limes)
4 egg yolks
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 sleeve of graham crackers, processed to fine crumbs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Whisk zest and yolks in medium bowl until tinted light green (about 2 minutes). Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, then lime juice. Set aside at room temperature to thicken for a few minutes, while you make the crust.

Pulse the graham crackers in the food processor, or place in a sealed ziploc bag and beat them silly with a blunt object. Turn the crumbs into a bowl, add the sugar and then melted butter. Stir to blend. Press into pie pan, starting in the center and moving up the sides. Use a finger to tamp the mixture around the rim of the pan while pressing it up the sides of the pan to form a flat top edge, and give the crust structure.

Bake 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature, or not.

Pour filling into crust, bake 15-17 minutes, until center is just set. Cool to room temperature, refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Serve with whipped cream, enjoy listening to your children complain.

01 July 2009


A Swedish couple has made a decision to keep their child's gender a secret.

What a charming idea!

I thought we were moving toward a more complex notion of gender by acknowledging that there are inherent differences between the sexes.

So many parents start off with the good intention not to define their children by their gender. And then, you have children, and if you are paying any attention, all your preconceived notions of gender neutrality go out the window. You can dress your girl in blue, and your boy in pink, but biology, is, to an undeniable extent, destiny.

Boys are, in fact, different than girls. Boys spend a lot more time with their hands in their pants. In a boy's hands, everything becomes a vehicle, or a weapon. Girls are more interested in dolls, and nurturing. They can, by and large, sit still for longer periods of time, while boys crave movement.

There are many exceptions to these generalizations, but they are not coincidences. There is a reason why we have two genders. Men and women have different strengths, and we complement each other. It is not a happy accident that you need one of each to make a baby. Girls are genetically programmed to be mothers. This is not to say that women are obligated to bear children; simply, that we are built for it.

The notion of gender neutrality is a myth, and to deny this does no child a service. An child is not the correct forum for conducting a radical social experiment. This Swedish couple is on the fast track to fucking up a human being, and for that, they should be ashamed.

Slinging hash: ginger butter

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, trying to find something new to do with salmon.

How to Cook Everything looks intimidating, but it is very accessible. I liken it to a more contemporary version of the Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer. Lately, I find myself referring to this, or The Gourmet Cookbook, far more than the old tried and trues.

In the first chapter, Bittman includes a recipe for compound butter, which lists 21 variations, but really, the combinations are endless. His second suggestion, for adding fresh ginger, caught my attention. I love ginger, but am more intuitive when I cook in an Italian/American/French style. When it comes to Asian flavors, I can't improvise as well.

I keep butter in a crock at room temperature, so it is always soft, and a bowl of chopped parsley on the counter. When I buy a bunch, I chop it immediately, use what I need and sprinkle the rest at will throughout the week. It's quicker than rinsing, drying and chopping a bit at a time, and keeps it from getting lost, and slimy in the fridge.

And thus, a recipe — although I use the term loosely — was born.

I have been putting ginger butter on everything: fish, steak, duck, chicken, rice. At this point, if you stand still too long in my kitchen, you run the risk of getting slathered with it.

Ginger Butter
adapted from Mark Bittman

You can halve this recipe, or use half and freeze half.
Cilantro can stand in for the parsley, but the thought of cilantro makes me gag. It may be genetic.

1 stick (8 tablespoons softened butter)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger
Chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

This is what my mother calls a shit and mix recipe: take some shit, mix it together. Done.