City living, Family, Food, Travel, Winter

Entertaining Parents

“When are the first customers arriving?!” Robin’s question came right on time, at noon.

“Honey, they’re guests, not customers. And no one shows up at the beginning. People are shy about being the first ones here.”

And so began the litany of questions. An avalanche of chicken nuggets slid from the oven. A dozen people descended at once, and our house turned into a happy, chaotic hive of convivial conversation.

Even at 78 guests, there were people who couldn’t come or came stag. When we set a guest list these days, we count by fours and fives, so numbers add up quickly.

What a wonderful mix! The living room buzzed with talk of city politics travel while new neighbors and old friends mixed in the family room. Travel, Trump, and the ham were all hot topics.

Kids were everywhere.

A neighbor texted to say she would come with their 5 but stay only briefly to leave room for the “out of towners.”

I told her to stay as long as she could stand. “We wanted a bigger house because our old place couldn’t hold all of our friends. I never imagined we would double our circle when we moved. It’s a blessing, not a problem!”

“Talk to me again after you’ve had 30 kids tearing around your house for 2 hours.”

Though it was too cold to be outside, the kids stayed busy upstairs and down.

Our friendships have multiplied mostly because of Robin and the high quality adults who come with his playmates. As the kids scatter for school and lose touch, I want to keep their parents around!

Five pounds of chicken tenders, three bandaids, and a little insanity is a small price to pay.

So we survived our big party and enjoyed the chaos of wrestling and coloring, snacks and wine. We cleared a few juice boxes from the guest room and a tater tot from Robin’s nightstand. Two kids lost teeth.

Here’s the lost and found below. (One front tooth still at large, possibly swallowed! )

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City living, Family, Food

A Certain Accommodation

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My mother just stayed with us for 11 days, at our invitation. She is a gracious guest and has acclimated to our hippie ways. She has come to not mind and even enjoy (she claims) some of the differences in our households.

It wasn’t always this way. When I lived downtown, her arrival was always accompanied by a storm cloud of regret, about the traffic on the expressway, the challenges of driving cross town, the impossibilities of parking. “Why do you have to live in the city?” was the question, either implied or blurted.

The fact that I had no cable in my bachlorette flat only complicated the matter. “How do you know what the weather is?” she wanted to know.

“I, um, look outside the window or open the door.” (Or call the weather hotline–pre smartphone–or watch the local news, with rabbit ears balanced for passable reception.)

Questions followed her out of the bathroom: “Why does your toothpaste taste funny?”

“I dunno. Ask Tom. From Maine.”

I’ve been there myself, in college, fresh from her tidy household, visiting friends in off campus apartments hastily mopped with Dr. Bonner’s, smelling vaguely of beer and Christmas and patchouli. (And freedom.) Who can forget their first encounter with handmade soap in the shower, the surprising tingle and sting of peppermint oil on your genitals? Good morning!

Mom is a good sport, and of course her horizons have broadened as everyone else’s have since the 90s. She’s opened her mind to lots of things, some because of me, some despite me, most in ways and for reasons completely unrelated to me. It’s all good.

She is always sure to bring a good book along for her visits now, as we watch so little TV. She says she doesn’t miss it when she is here, though we encourage her to flip on the TV anytime she likes. Even without cable, we get a good 8 or 9 stations. But she relishes the quiet. We’re not so Amish as she thinks. The stereo is often on, more for music than NPR when she’s in residence.

And we accommodate too. There’s bottled salad dressing in the fridge, no fat yogurt, diet soda that my husband also enjoys on her visits. She graciously tries my braised greens, though she prefers a spinach salad. She can pronounce quinoa, though she’d rather have rice.

More importantly, we’ve learned not to challenge each other or over read. Just because I choose obscure root vegetables and whole grains I never knew as a kid, doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy a tuna noodle casserole. I am not too uppity to remember where I came from, nor am I a snob. I love cheesy broccoli and other unsophisticated dishes of yore.

My mother’s signature dish has changed with the times. She wowed us so profoundly with her stuffed acorn squash some years ago. Now whenever she visits and wants to bring dinner, we beg for it. She makes mine with meatless sausage and doesn’t even cringe or smirk anymore when her mouth forms those words.

(In appreciation, I promise I won’t ask her to try seaweed or eat Indian food.)

Mom came around on my city living even before I left my downtown walk-up, over a decade ago. On a shady bench in Rittenhouse Square in the 90s, as she munched on a scone from Metropolitan Bakery and watched dogs and children parade past, she admitted she saw the city’s charms. She could understand why I wanted to live here.

That weekend we shared a meal at a favorite Italian BYOB in the neighborhood. She ordered the stuffed squid in saffron broth and turned to watch my jaw drop as she handed her menu back to our server. “Don’t look so shocked. I’m not as parochial as you think I am.”

We’ve since left the urban core for a leafy neighborhood with sidewalks, trees and more ample (parallel) parking. She’s relieved to avoid the city traffic here and to have a guest room all her own, albeit with the same futon couch/bed that’s been with me since I was in my 20s.

I’ve grown up in these years. We have a bed frame for our box spring. Our papasan chair is long gone, replaced with a comfortable leather (sorry) club chair. The remaining second hand furniture is mixed with just enough Crate and Barrel and original art to create the illusion of an intentional aesthetic.

Randy and I were nested comfortably by the time our son came along. After an unexpected cesarean section, mom stayed with us for over a week here. She was an angel of mercy, cooking vegetarian meals, keeping the laundry going in our weird little front-loading machine, running the steps when I couldn’t, and caring for me and her new grandson. For my part, I watched Dancing With the Stars with her, and even for a week or two after she left. It was a tender time.

Having a child has demanded a new, more profound round of accommodation. I have more plastic in my household than I’d ever imagined. We still favor wood, organic, hand-me down. But we graciously accept well intentioned gifts. And the little guy has his own demands, for Cars and Thomas and all that branded crap I swore I’d never buy.

He calls me on my old hippie habits too. I’m still prone to let yellow mellow on the night shift, but he scolds me in the morning, flushing the potty with contempt.

As for my mom, we meet in the middle, I suppose. I try to accommodate, though she is more adaptive than someone her age should be. She tries my bok choy, and I stock the diet Pepsi. She empties the dishwasher, cooks comfort food, and shoos us out on badly needed date nights. Now that’s worth grilling some burgers for!

Food

Mother of the Year (brought to you by Bush’s Best)

milkWhy yes, yes I did just squeeze chocolate milk from my son’s drink box into my coffee. Yes, he is drinking chocolate milk for breakfast. We, um, ran out of milk yesterday. Not just skim milk or 2%, but all of it. Out completely. I somehow managed to take my son to the zoo, cook dinner for the next three nights, turn out two loads of laundry and race off to a work function. But I completely failed to remember we were out of milk.

Oh, it gets worse. In the pantry, I’ve scared up a couple drink boxes of organic milk that inexplicably require no refrigeration. The chocolate ones are a treat we restock regularly. The white one must have been leftover from Super Storm Sandy, back when I laid in non-perishables. A relic of the days when I was an attentive mother. Apparently, those do have an eventual expiration. Thank God I tried to pilfer milk from the Robin’s cup first, and noticed the white milk tumbling out in chunks. It is enough to make me vegan.

Has it really come to this?

Last week was a big end-of-year potluck at Robin’s Preschool. I have coordinated the last two class potlucks, so I was almost relieved to have a conflict for this one. Still I was able to swing a work-at-home day so I could at least catch the Preschool Show before slipping off to an evening computer class. I could kiss my boys, see Robin’s turn in the Orange Room skit and pass off the family dish.

beansI brought baked beans. Not homemade. Not even organic. At 4:45 that day, I opened two large cans of Bush’s beans and dumped them into a covered dish just before powering down the laptop and driving up to school to meet the family for the 5pm show. Two pounds of canned goods from the Acme. A heaping Corningware dish of processed food, one of Robin’s favorites.

In the last three years I have carted crock pots of homemade veggie chili to school, sent fresh baked apple muffins for birthdays–sweetened with honey, not sugar. I’ve made my grandma’s halushka for a family heritage lunch and turned out a small vegan batch for a classmate with dietary restrictions. I’ve carved cantaloupes and frosted sugar cookies to share, steamed epic amounts of broccoli that rendered the car interior noxious on the short drive to school. I’ve lost countless markers and plastic serving spoons in the process.

I chuckled to myself at a potluck a couple years back when a parent who had signed up to bring macaroni and cheese walked in with a crock full of Kraft. But you know what? It went! The bowl was picked clean while my homemade hummus crusted over on a table nearby.

I’d like to say it was this sort of pragmatism that motivated me. But really, I am just lazy and willing to surrender to LCD eating now and then. Beans please the masses, as evidenced by the nearly empty bowl I found waiting for me in the kitchen when I returned from class. As I scraped the leftovers into a container and lifted the spoon to lick it, I was horrified to notice the chunks of meat. Apparently in my haste, I didn’t even have the decency to read the label and select vegetarian beans.

Call me Mother of the Year.