Let Them Eat Cake

Making breakfast every morning is not so bad, especially since most of my kids can pour their own cereal and milk.  I will even occasionally make them an omelette or cheesy eggs or pancakes when it strikes my fancy.

Making sandwiches every afternoon can sometimes get my goat, especially since I have to line up the bread in assembly line fashion, 14 slices at a time.  But I still spread the peanut butter and stack the turkey breast and cheese with love, because lunch lady duty is certainly not the worst chore in the world.

Making dinner every night is what sometimes makes me vexed, especially when I plan and shop and prepare and chop and sauté and grill and boil and toil, only to be met with insulting commentary from the peanut gallery.

“Can I have a sandwich for dinner?”
“What’s that smell?” followed by a gagging noise.
“What’s for dinner tonight?  Can I stop and pick up something because I’m REALLY hungry?”
“Is there any leftover pizza?”


But my favorite thing to do in the kitchen is bake.  I just love making cupcakes and cookies and pies and muffins and cakes.  Especially the cakes!  I love the smells that fill the house and I love flour on the counters and the perfect sweetness of a really good vanilla extract.  I learned my mad baking skills from my mom and from her mom as well.  They showed me how to sift flour and to grease a pan and to whip cream into perfectly stiff peaks.  They taught me to bake bread and pie crusts and fill cream puffs, all made from scratch.  I learned how to flavor and spread real icing, drizzle chocolate melted in a double-boiler, and how to make art come out of a pastry bag.  The rest I have learned from watching hours of cooking shows and even more hours of trial and error.  There is little that can make me so happy as a cake made and decorated in my own kitchen to celebrate someone I love.

As I have struggled with my stupid thighs and general time management over the years, so I have used mixes and canned shortcuts and cheaters, and even foregone the desserts altogether.  It was just easier that way.  I bought finished products right from the grocery store.  It got the job done, but it just wasn’t the same thing.  Oh, how I have missed real baking.  I missed it so much!

Kid E contributed the last quality of “A Good Friend.”  Cake is awesome.

I recently rediscovered the love and I started baking again.  This time around I mix the old school with a few shortcuts, and I try not to sample the goods as much.  I also try to have a reason for baking… holidays, birthdays, rainy days, PMS… you know, something legit.  We celebrate five family birthdays throughout the month of September, two in this house alone, so I have had an excuse to bake until my heart is content.

Kid E’s 5th birthday came first and he let me bake him the moon.  I made 24 cupcakes to bring to his school, a traditional double-layer round decorated cake which we used to sing “Happy Birthday” to him on his birthday, and an additional 24 cupcakes to “have around.”  What?  Cupcake Emergencies are a real thing.  I even let him choose icing colors and decorate his own cake.  It was fabulous.

“Happy Birthday” written out by mom. Lego guys (one on a chain), Super Mario character with a broken wing, Double X-eyed guy, blue plastic bear, and a “See No Evil” monkey all added by Kid E.

When Kid B’s 14th birthday rolled around, you’d think that I was all baked out, but no!  I was on a roll.  Bring on the sheet cakes, bring on the fancy decorations.  I set aside a day just for baking on the weekend prior to her actual birthday.  My mixer and my spatula were ready.  I was about to explode with the baking love.  I even offered to try making icing roses (if she wanted a girly cake), or an icing field that looked like actual grass (if she opted for the soccer theme).

So, I guess it was predictable that teenage Kid B asked for an ice cream cake from the store.


I definitely feel a Cupcake Emergency coming on now.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was also a Monday, so it was laundry day, grocery shopping day and Kid A had an interview in midtown at 7PM, so she and Sheepdog were not home for dinner.  Best birthday ever, you say?  Wait… it gets better.

The day started around 12:15AM when Kid E moseyed into our bedroom and asked to cuddle with me.  As I took him by the hand and led him back to his own room, I cursed him silently for waking me.  This back-and-forth routine continued over the next three hours.  The silent cursing did not last long.  Every time I would start to fall asleep again, Kid E would tap me on the shoulder.  By the hundredth time I felt like I was being tortured.  On one trip back to his bed I told him congratulations on giving me the worst birthday present ever.

His confused response was, “But I didn’t even get you a present.”

If somebody is up during the night I always try my best not to disturb Sheepdog, because he has to get up early and go to a real job.  By 3:45AM I was exhausted, infuriated, desperate, and on the verge of tears.  I no longer cared about Sheepdog and his stupid job.  So the next time Kid E came in I ignored him.  Sheepdog finally heard him (“Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom…”  Seriously, how does the man NOT wake up?) and he jumped out of bed.

“WHAT?” whisper-yelled Sheepdog.

“I have to pee,” said Kid E, very matter-of-factly, with a hint of “What would you have me do…urinate in my bed?  I’m no savage!”  So Sheepdog took him to the bathroom and then back to his room.  At last, the kid was sleepy enough to stay in there.

“Happy Birthday, ” Sheepdog whispered to me when he came back.  “I’m sorry you’ve had a crappy night.”

“I’m thinking of moving out,” was my very serious response.  I don’t remember if I dreamed over the next three hours, but if I did it was probably about locking myself behind multiple doors with heavy deadbolts.

I wish for world peace. And for skinny thighs.

I woke up later to Kid D screaming that his stomach hurt as he was running past me into my bathroom.  “I don’t feel so good,” he sighed as he crawled in bed next to me.  I didn’t even care if he had washed his hands first.

As I was zombie-walking down the hall to put Kid C onto the elementary school bus, I realized that Kid B had overslept and she would need a ride to school.  This keeps getting better.

Actually, it did get better.  Kids A, B and C went off to school.  Kid D felt fine, so I dropped him off as well when I was taking Kid E to preschool.  Then I went home and collapsed until I decided to make my own birthday cupcakes for dinner.

Sleep is a funny thing.  I am a girl who needs a good nine hours, so I rarely hit my mark.  I make up for it by sleeping in on the weekends (Shout out! Sheepdog for helping me do that) and taking occasional naps.  You’d think I would be used to interrupted rest after having five babies, but I never adjusted.  The cumulative effect of sixteen years of sleep deprivation has left an indelible mark on my personality.  I’m meaner and even more sarcastic.  I have even been known to growl on occasion.  I have to use more under eye concealer.  It is not a good thing.

It is a good thing that Kid E has some sixth sense thing happening, because he was one more sleepless night away from being put up for auction on eBay.  Last night he went to bed without incident and then slept through the entire night.  I am a different person today than I was yesterday.

Today I feel like I can take on the world.  Today I feel like I am a Disney Princess and everyone around me is a singing animal.  Today I am She-Ra, Princess of Power.  Today I feel like Wonder Woman and Laura Croft and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all rolled into one, except not all fit and and wearing some sexy ass-kicking costume because I’ve just been too tired to work out lately.

But today I have the energy to fix that!  I’m gonna go work out right now.  Then I’ll probably take a nap, because who knows what tonight will hold.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

My Baby Had a Birthday

Poor, poor Kid E.  By the time he does anything we are so “been there, done that” that we just roll our eyes and sigh as we go through the motions.  This weekend was his fourth birthday.  We had a family party and invited his aunts, uncles and cousins.  Technically, I feel that most three-year-olds are too young to have any real friends.  I do not count the few kids who don’t bite them or hit them or steal the toys they are playing with to be “friends.”  I guess I could have invited some of his little preschool classmates, but he doesn’t even know their names.  He just calls them by the color of their shirts when he recounts the events of the day.

Quick aside… I actually thought that my kid was really racist when he first started doing this.  He would tell a story about “the black boy” or “the yellow girl” and I would be like, “What did you call them?”  But he would point at them and I would see that the boy was actually wearing a black t-shirt and the girl was in a pretty dress with yellow flowers all over it.  Whew.  I thought I really screwed up for a minute.  Nothing like thinking that your kid might be a sociopath.  Imaginary crisis averted!

So my sisters and their husbands (minus the one who needs to be in his man cave for the entirety of all Tennessee football games, bar none… we missed you/ are offended by that, B!) and their many, many children came over on Saturday afternoon to help us celebrate the four years that my youngest son has spent as a member of our crazy family.  We hung out, the older boys wrestled to the point that the house shook, ate some yummy food and we just generally caught up by spending time with one another.  But it is not a real family party until somebody cries.  Here’s how this one met the mark…

Sister B has not one, but two children who have peanut allergies.  One of them is severe – it can mean life or death to this child.  She has a prescription for an EpiPen and she leaves one in the school clinic (the “nurse’s office” for you old-schoolers) for an emergency situation that we all hope never occurs.  Our family is familiar with the fact that her kids can not be around nuts, and we plan accordingly when having a party.  It has taken some pre-planning, some reminding and a slight learning curve (Who would have thought that pretzels could be a no-no?  Snyders also makes peanut butter pretzels, so the disclaimer “processed on equipment that processes peanuts and tree nuts” is on their regular pretzels package.  If you have a nut allergy it is best to just say no.)  And even with several children in our group who will eat nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for two of the three main meals of the day (we have tried everything you can think of, and we continue to try periodically…) it can get dangerous.  And the discussions can get heated.  Here’s where this particular one went…

Sister B’s oldest son has the severe nut allergy.  He is in fourth grade in public school and according to their parents, so do many other children in the class.  So the teacher made the decision to ask that no one send in peanut-based foods in their lunches, snacks or treats.  Apparently this did not go over well and the passive-aggressive emails started circulating.  Sister B was up in arms about it.

We were trying to discuss with Sister B how you have to beware the slippery slope of telling people in the general public what they can and can not eat.  Although how can you weigh any argument (even convenience, cost or the fact that many elementary-age kids are particularly picky eaters) against “but my kid can die if he comes into contact with nuts?”  Even the notion that a great number of food intolerances are exaggerated into allergies (the CDC estimates that less than 4% of American children and 2% of American adults have true allergies, while the FAAN – The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network – says the true numbers may be less than 1%) was conceded by Sister B when she found the data online.  Yet she kept going back to the fact that her son actually is severely allergic (with a doctor’s confirmation) to nuts and could have an anaphylactic reaction if exposed.

Then Kid C shared her story about a classmate I will call “Brian.”  Brian had an allergy to dairy and every time a child celebrated his or her birthday at school with treats for the class, Brian had to go to the clinic and get a special dairy-free cupcake that his mom had provided for him.  Kid C meant for the story to show that Brian was easily able to participate in the celebrations despite his allergy, but it just made Sister B even more sad about the whole situation.

“Poor Brian.  He has to go to the nurse’s office and eat his cupcake.”

“No,” Kid C clarified, “He just picked it up at the clinic, but he ate with us in the classroom.”

“Did the other kids in the class make fun of him for it?” we asked (gambling that the answer would be negative, so as to reassure our sister).

“No, it was just what he always did.” she answered.

“Oh, they might as well make him wear a t-shirt that says ‘I’m Different!’ said Sister B through her silent tears.

And that’s how you throw a great family party.

Happy Birthday Kid E!  I hope you liked your train cake.  I made it with love.  And gluten, but no nuts.

I wish my cousins didn’t have food allergies.  And I wish for a Nerf dart gun.

For more information on food allergies go to http://www.foodallergy.org.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

It’s Mayteenth… High-Five an Angel!

I don't think this is actually Kid C being born. But maybe it is. I was kinda out of it that day.

Ten years ago I went into Shore Memorial Hospital with some labor pains, but I had false labor throughout the last trimester and I was still ten days away from my due date.  Sheepdog was working in Philadelphia at the time and he had (rather inconveniently) taken the train to work that day, so he was hours away from being by my side.  Being a patient in the hospital brings feelings of helplessness, but being nine months pregnant and clumsy in your own body just makes it worse.  The staff was so helpful – hydrating me to stave off labor, even for just a little while longer, but they still didn’t discharge me.  Later in the day a new nurse came in and checked my monitors.  She then called my doctor and calmly told me that she was advising him to do a c-section sooner rather than later.  There was nothing blatantly wrong – no fetal distress – but this nurse had been doing her job for a long time and her experience told her that this baby should be delivered.

The rest of the afternoon was kind of a big blur to me.  I remember Sheepdog rushing in to hold my hand, frantic after his long day on mass transit.  At the nurse’s insistence, my doctor had arrived and was checking on me too.  They all agreed that this baby was being delivered on this day, but there was still no sense of urgency.  Then I felt like I had been stabbed in the side with a giant machete.  And again.  I remember being taken into the operating room and I remember getting an epidural.  I remember everybody coming and going from the room, but still not feeling like this was an actual emergency.  I even remember thinking that it would be cool to watch the surgery in the reflective ring around the operating light above me.  I felt the pressure of the incision, but I was no longer in any pain.

Then I heard a splashing kind of noise, followed by a frighteningly insistent, “Get it out!  Get it out!  Get it out!”  I think it was the normally very calm and soothing voice of my almost hippie-like obstetrician, but I wasn’t really sure because I had never heard him speak with any kind of urgency.  The rest of the surgery was controlled chaos, everyone in the room busily doing their jobs with single-minded focus.  I was asking (out loud, I thought), “Is it a boy or a girl?” over and over and over again, but I never got an answer.  After what seemed like an eternity, Sheepdog (who had been at the head of the table with me the whole time) told me that we had a beautiful baby girl.  I was so very cold and tired, but joyful over the birth of our third daughter.

I never passed out completely, but I do remember coming to in the recovery room afterwards.  The doctor explained to Sheepdog and I that the stabbing pain was a concealed abruption, wherein the placenta had torn away from my uterus.  That had caused significant bleeding in me and the baby had ingested some blood before she could be delivered.  She was having some difficulty breathing, but she was in the intermediary nursery (Shore is a community hospital and they did not have a N.I.C.U.) so they could monitor her respiration and the oxygen in her blood.  They never had to intubate her, so he was cautiously optimistic.  Sheepdog went to be with her immediately, but I was stuck in recovery, unable to see my helpless, sick new baby until the next morning.

Two very worrisome days of sitting by her side (me in a wheelchair… hospital rules), holding her tiny little hands and telling her all about the crazy family that she had been born into, and many tubes, monitors and tests later, Kid C finally was released from specialized care.  Her oxygen levels were stable and she was breathing very well on her own.  They even let us go home shortly thereafter, but I would forever be affected by this incredibly complicated weekend.

I kept Kid C close, even closer than I did with the other kids as newborns.  She slept in a bassinet by my bedside for over five months (I said it was because I was more convenient for breastfeeding, but I was secretly checking to make sure she was still breathing every five minutes).  I was intensely overprotective of her, even for a Type-A, control-freak, compulsively sheltering Mama Bear who was getting little sleep and had two other little active chickens in the coop to look after.  And Sheepdog?  He might as well have lived somewhere else, as he was still commuting to Philadelphia every day and I never had time for him anyway.

Then came September 11th, and everybody was holding their families a little closer, so I fit right in.  Then came The Story for Another Day, and Sheepdog and I moved our family to Atlanta.  By now, Kid C was just over a year old and she was running and playing and developing ahead of schedule.  She was fun and charming and silly.  I had started to relax my vigilant watch over her a slight bit, but it wasn’t until a specific day in the Fall of 2002 that I really was able to let go.  That was when I read the surgical report from the day she was born.

Because we had moved, I needed a new doctor.  I didn’t have one confirmed yet, so I had my old doctor send my file directly to me.  I was curious, so I looked through it and found the report.  It was technical and medical and official and void of any emotion, as any proper surgical report should be.  I read it many times over, always more stunned than the last time I read it.  I had done some research on concealed abruptions in my dad’s Gray’s Anatomy book the summer after she was born and I learned how dangerous they can be to both the mother and baby because they are usually undetected until it is too late (the concealed part is really bad).  I went over the report again, mixing in what I knew to be the facts and trying to make sense of the foggy parts from my memory.  Do you know how something can be staring you right in the face, but you are blind to seeing it until you finally get lucky and actually do?  Well, I finally got lucky.

I realized that my doctor and the surgeon who was assisting him, and especially the nurse were all angels disguised as medical personnel on that day ten years ago.  Yes, those people were experienced and talented and just doing their jobs, but mistakes happen and sometimes things are not clear while they are happening as they may be in hindsight, and there was no real reason that I should have been so close to the critical and capable medical intervention that I and Kid C so desperately needed when my placenta tore without warning.  Angels, lucky stars, fairy godmothers/ godfathers, guardians… call them what you want.  I believe that they were on duty for us that day.  And that realization gave me such a sense of peace.  So I backed off on the overprotective Mama Bear thing (not totally – I am still a classic Type-A, duh), and gave my daughters more room to grow and make mistakes and learn things on their own.

Often, and especially on this day – which Kid C has so lovingly called “Mayteenth” since she was little – I think about those angels.  I thank God for them and the so many others who have watched out for Kid C and the rest of our family over the years.  I am so incredibly grateful for all of the little and big miracles that happened the way they did in order to bring such a vivacious, crazy-haired, creative, kooky, burst of joy into our family.  Happy Tenth Birthday, Kid C.  Let’s go high-five some angels.