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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

When our children are young we represent their whole world. Our decisions effect where they live, what they eat, what clothes are on their backs, and just about everything else involving their general health and well being. I can remember taking my daughter to kindergarten for her first day. So small, with her little hand in mine. Her brand new lunchbox squeaked in time as the handle moved back and forth while we walked toward the school building. At the door, she hugged me tightly around the neck, and as I watched, she went inside. That was to be the first of many steps she was to take on her way to independence. Sitting in the car before turning on the ignition, I can remember feeling a sense of loss leaving my little girl there. A sort of knowing that there had been a shift in my universe, and things would never be exactly as they were again.

Was I to have become a teacher, I believe kindergarten or 1-3 would be the grades I would have chosen. They are so open to everything at that age, and unabashedly excited by the world. As the years pass we become accustomed to seeing the glorious blooms on the trees and stems around us this time of year. Sometimes we forget to actually take in their beauty or acknowledge Mother Nature for how much color, fragrance and life she adds to our worlds. Children, at least in my experience, see everything with fresh eyes. A bug crawling on their arm, which we would most likely flick off as an annoyance, a child would watch in wonder as it made it’s way through the maze of hair across their skin. They would gasp in fascination when it spread it’s tiny wings and lifted effortlessly into the air. A feat we humans will never accomplish without something either strapped to our backs or a plane around us, yet take for granted every time it is done by a creature who can.

Our job as parents is to make our children independent, self-sufficient, beings. If you think about it, it is rather a self-defeating process. In the end, we enable our little ones to fend for themselves, leaving us on our own to fend for ours. When they in turn have their children, if this is their choice, we are once again called into action. Babysitting is often the first and main job as a grandparent. Today’s parents, I don’t believe, lean on high school sitters like they did when I was growing up. A huge supplement for my meager allowance (in my eyes at least) came from my weekend babysitting jobs. Usually, not always, it was a pretty good gig. If at night, my favorite time to sit, the kids would need entertainment for a few hours, perhaps a story, and then they were off to bed. Most parents provided yummy snacks and a television so the rest of my job was simply hanging out for a few hours, eating popcorn, and watching scary movies. For this service I charged $1.50 an hour, the going rate at the time. Now this was not going to get me a suite at the Ritz Carlton but in those days a good night, plus tip, might gain me access to the local movie theater, or buy me a burger and a malt at Bob’s Big Boy.

One couple I babysat for frequently were the Oranges, Harry and Ann Orange to be exact. They were a thirtyish couple, both equally as round as they were tall, who had a penchant for dancing. The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I made a lot of money thanks to those Arthur Murray dance lessons Ann had signed them up for. For as quiet a man as Harry was, he chose a mate in Ann who was a polar opposite. Ann was flamboyant, and animated, all kinetic energy and flapping ruby red lips. Harry, on the other hand, enjoyed long naps in his massive recliner and watching endless ball games or rounds of golf on the television. A match made in heaven. Where Harry was a comfort first guy, sweat pants and matching shirt, Ann loved to dress up. The woman never allowed her generous proportions to deter her from bold prints, short skirts or loud outlandish colors. Even at that age, I admired that trait in her. Back then, stepping up as a female and going against the grain wasn’t popular or accepted like it is today. At the time I thought Harry and Ann old, with nearly one foot in the bone yard. Not as old as my parents, who I was fairly certain were ancient, but still old by my teenage standards. Huh. Funny how much younger thirty something seems to me now. Together, the Oranges had produced Lily, an insipid little five year old prone to outbursts of ear drum assaulting screaming. Lily, who would have been better named something more fitting her temperament like Habanero or Beelzebub, was the demon seed. If she didn’t get whatever it was she wanted she would be begin hurling her toys at me, or even in one incident, actually took a knife out the drawer and pointed it in my direction. Had she been the only child I’d watched during my impressionable teens, I might have reconsidered bearing any of my own. Thankfully, that was only for one summer, and when I related the knife incident to my mother she informed Ann I wouldn’t be accepting any further babysitting assignments in the future.

Finding a babysitter was a far different process when I was in the business. Nowadays, parents vet sitters thoroughly before entrusting them with their offspring. Sophisticated sites are available where prospective “child care providers” can be found. The sites allow clients to browse resumes and contact references to ensure the candidate is thoroughly checked out before arriving at their doorstep. Back in my time it was more, “Doesn’t Jimmy have a sister who babysits?”. Numbers were exchanged, Jimmy’s sister was called and asked if she was available for Saturday night or if not, did she know anyone who was. The most vetted I ever was was when one man asked me on the way to his home, “Do you smoke weed?”. Assuming this question was by way of ensuring I did not light a joint while on duty, I assured him I did not. With this information under his belt, he pulled a huge joint out of his pocket and asked if I minded if he did. “Um, no.” Maybe I should have vetted him.

When my children needed a sitter I tapped from the well of the Mormon family who lived down the block. With seven children under that roof, four of them girls, they needed the extra income. Three of the four girls were teens and all three babysat at my house on one occasion or another. The mother was a bubble or two off, but nice enough. Very religious. Now, before you start leaving me notes, I don’t mean that religion is a bad thing but she was the type of religious person who insists on foisting her beliefs on you. I never picked up or dropped one of those girls off without receiving some sort of literature on how to save my soul. It occurred to me to tell her I believed that ship had sailed but didn’t want to to offend her. The middle girl, around sixteen was very shy. I can’t remember her name at the moment, but then sometimes I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast so don’t find this alarming. At any rate she babysat for us one Saturday night. My children’s father was a very handsome man, at the time in his mid twenties and I noticed our babysitter had not overlooked this fact. Women can read other women’s intentions when it comes to their men, I don’t care how old they are. When we came home that night I realized I didn’t have the correct change for her so asked if she’d mind stopping by the following day to pick it up. She said she’d be by in the morning.

It was a Sunday, and the children had gone to church with their grandparents. My husband was in the shower when the girl came to the door. I let her in, and went to the bedroom to retrieve my purse. Meanwhile, my husband had cut himself shaving and the blood had run down his chest. He thought it would be hysterical to walk out in the buff and scare me holding his hands up in the air like Dracula. Uh-huh. Lizzie, ahhhhhh there’s that old brain, was standing there when he rounded the corner saying “I vant to bite your neck” just as I came back in the kitchen. As you can imagine that was an interesting situation to explain to her mother. That was the end of that association.

So, I leave you with my babysitting stories for the day. Hope your weekend is filled with wonderful stories to tell. This idea below would have been perfect for my little monster.

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Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that a number of parents these days seem to be afraid of their own children?  Perhaps afraid is the wrong word, more intimidated.  I’m not sure if this is coming from the wealth of parental guidelines they are given on how to achieve perfect parenthood or from the heightened competition among parents to provide the latest and the greatest for their progeny.  Children are enrolled in kindergarten before letting loose of their first good cry.  Two year olds are given lavish parties that cost more than a half year’s mortgage payments, and designer clothing lines for these age challenged humans are flying off the racks.  Yesterday I saw a mother interviewed at an upscale fashion show who said she would sacrifice anything for her children. It seemed this included providing them with pricy jackets lightening her bank account to the tune of thousands of dollars and indulging their every whim.  It is almost as though if parents pursue a career or enjoy outside activities that do not include their children it is viewed as somehow taking something away from their offspring or being neglectful.

On Good Morning America this morning they interviewed an author, Pamela Druckerman, who has written a book titled “Bringing up Bebe” in which she discusses the French child rearing ideas and how they differ from ours. Children are treated, well for lack of a better way of putting it, like children. They are not deified like some diminutive mini-gods as we do across the pond.

As I’ve said previously, our fourteen year old granddaughter is living with us for an undetermined time.  I believe when she opted to stay with us she viewed us as the kindly couple who occasionally slipped her a ten under the table, rather than war-torn parents who have already survived the trenches and have a clear understanding of how the game is played. Testing the water, she announced yesterday that she was going to pierce her nose at school but thought I might get upset so decided to wait until she’d spoken to me.  An excellent choice. I explained that if she had, in fact, poked a hole and stuck an earring in her nose, I would have gently removed it and returned it to her when she was; a) eighteen, or b) the Queen and Camilla stopped wearing those ridiculous hats, or c) when Snookie gets her growth spurt.  Ahhh, the sweet facade melted like Swiss cheese off a hot burger quickly replaced by one that said “I wish you would be run over by a riding lawn mower”. Let the games begin.

After some pouting, she said”when I’m eighteen I’m going to do whatever I want”.  I replied that if she wished at that time to pierce herself with connecting chains to the extent that when she bent her right knee her eyebrow would arch that would certainly be her choice, but, this was not going to happen on my watch.

While in the market yesterday waiting in line at the checkstand, a woman, probably in her late forties, came up behind me, her teenage son in tow.  I heard him before I saw him. Holding his cell phone as if it was his last chance for communication before the meteor hit, he was texting with the speed of light. Sparks flew off his fingertips while his mother carried on a conversation with a head of long black hair. Finally, he looked up, or I think he did, it was hard to tell as his hair covered about ninety percent of his face,  and muttered, “whatever”, and resumed texting.  After several further queries from mom I determined that “whatever” seemed to be the lone word in his vocabulary he used when addressing her.  I found myself wanting desperately to ask, although not a physical person, if I could just cuff him once or twice solidly on the back of the head to see if any new words might be jogged loose.  Good God.

Growing up I never shared my parents bed unless I was ill, and not often then.  There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room when it came to rules and Supernanny never pulled up in her little black cab with her naughty step in the trunk.  For the most part when I was told,  told, not asked, to do something, I had two choices, do it now, or do it right now. I earned my allowance by working for it, and if I’d had the temerity to look my mother in the face and tell her to shut up (not that I didn’t picture myself doing it more than once) I would have found myself smiling out of the back of my head.  Different world.

For me, these are new and untraveled waters.  I was certainly not always right as a parent, but I have shared this earth for many years longer then my children and grandchildren and hopefully I’ve gathered a few morsels of wisdom and a pointer or two about life along the way.  Also, unless I’m mistaken, it was my name written on the checks that made the television come to life when the power button on the remote was pushed, and the potato chips appear as if by magic on the shelf in the cupboard.

I have a friend with four children who complained to me the other day she can never watch TV because her children are always watching it and they won’t let her.  Really? They won’t let you?  Splain that to me Ricky.  I suggested that maybe she might try the word “no”.  It’s an amazing word.  Only two letters and yet it carries such weight.  I asked her to repeat it several times and get the feel of it flowing off her tongue.  Going a step further, perhaps instead of turning on a video game or a new episode of Bad Girls Need Love Too, the children could step outside in the sunshine, yup it’s still out there sun and trees and everything, and get some exercise, or maybe help clean up the mess they just made.

I adore children.  They’re wonderfully receptive little creatures prone to magical thoughts, imbued with imaginations as big as the world around them. Small people filled with whimsical dreams whose enchantment with life should be able to be captured in vials and sold to adults to remind them to exercise the child within themselves. Still, to my mind they require structure, and guidelines to make them feel safe and secure balanced with lots of laughter and love. These are radical concepts, I realize, but my thoughts for the day.


Cheesy Spinach Stracciatella

12 1/2″ diagonal baguette slices
2 cloves garlic, halved
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
Parmesan cheese, grated
8 cups rich chicken stock
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (plus extra for garnish)
3 eggs
1 6 oz. pkg. baby spinach
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil.  Cut garlic cloves in half.  Mix together olive oil and parsley. Brush oil onto both sides of baguette slices. Rub with cut sides of garlic. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese. Bake 8-10 mins. until golden brown.

In large saucepan bring stock to boil. While heating whisk together Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and eggs. Stir into hot stock and cook for 2-3 mins. stirring constantly.

Break spinach into smaller pieces. Add spinach and basil to hot soup and cook for an addition 2 mins. until slightly wilted.

Place 2 bread slices in each bowl. Ladle soup over top. Grate fresh cheese on top if desired. Serves 6.

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I watched a bit on the morning news recently where they were discussing the fact that a manufacturer is pushing padded bikini tops for pre-teen girls, targeting youngsters way below the developing age.  Whew.  What’s next?  Let’s see we could include a package of condoms in Happy Meals, and offer breast enhancement to five-year olds.  Women, young and old, are dealing with a constant barrage of information about how lacking their bodies are already, do we have to wean them on it?  Late night paid programming channels all target the ladies.  Do you have belly fat?  Here’s the cure, either cinch it in with a full body girdle, or take a magic pill that will reduce that cellulite overnight.  We are tucked so tight after fifty these days that you could bounce a quarter off of us.  It just makes me angry.

I was a chubby little girl.  Growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was fortunately surrounded by friends and family that loved me but I do remember moving to California and suddenly finding myself the brunt of unpleasant jokes that I had never had thrown in my direction before.  Believe me, I am all for healthy eating habits, but it’s more difficult, I believe, for women in this world.  A friend of mine, who used to be very tiny, gained a lot of weight after her children were born.  Prior to that time she was always getting comments on her looks but as the pounds were added she told me she suddenly felt “invisible”.  We’re compared to runway models, who, if they turned sideways would completely disappear, as our role models.  It makes it hard for those fighting their weight to feel valuable and attractive.

With the growing stresses in our world, and children involved in a merry-go-round of sports, homework, and outside activities women are faced with trying to balance their lives, most possibly around a full-time job, create healthy meals for their families, exercise, fold laundry, do housework, and generally find a moment to grab a few hours of beauty sleep.  I can see where the draw of fast food or a quick pop of a container in the microwave might be extremely tempting.

I think I was more fortunate when my two were on the rise.  Although economically there was no choice but to work full-time during their formative years, we weren’t face with the added pressures facing young parents today. We were allowed to take time for ourselves on occasion without  feeling that we were failing as parents.

As far as I can recollect, and the old gears need more oil than they used to, I knew of nobody in my sphere of friends that shared a “communal bed” with their children, sports were fun activities we participated in with our kids with a few exceptions, and life just seemed to run at a slower pace. 

Our grown children adhere to such tight activity schedules with their children that I’m amazed they have time to write the schedule in the first place, or put it in their Blackberry, or whatever people use these days.  In order to make a plan with them you have to call their people, and after checking four or five devices confirm that there’s a tentative opening in May of 2011 on May 4th between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 a.m.  It’s crazy.  I would be crazy.

In the early years with my kids,  we really couldn’t afford to eat out often so fast food was definitely a treat not the norm.  On the weekends I would cook ahead and make a meatloaf for the upcoming week and freeze it for later in the week, or prep pasta sauce for the month and freeze it in individual packets to take out as needed.  Guess it was just a different time, with a different set of stresses.  Our children played freely in the yard and there were less expectations to live up to, other than loving them immensely and doing the best job you could in raising them.  This, of course, while knowing in the end there probably are no such thing as “great parents” just the group that failed on a smaller scale than the one below them.  It’s a tough job, one that comes with lots of advice, but no 800 technical support line, and the handbook changes from generation to generation. 

Last weekend while I was ironing I watched the movie Sybil, and decided that in the scheme of things I managed quite well.  Smile. 

At any rate, in my humble opinion we need to quit throwing all our eggs in the “girls need to look perfect” basket and maybe toss a few into the “what type of humans they are” basket.  Just my humble thoughts for the day.

I usually make a homemade pasta sauce for this, and certainly that would work well if not better than purchased, but this is for those times when you want a quick but delicious meal. 

Easy Chicken Parmigiana

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 beaten eggs
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 jars marinara sauce
Angel hair pasta

Pound the chicken breasts to 1/2″. I put them between two pieces of plastic wrap or in a large baggie to do this. Mix together flour, pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Place in shallow bowl.

Mix together bread crumbs and 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese. Place in another shallow bowl.

In a third shallow bowl beat the 2 eggs.

Dredge cutlets in flour, then eggs, and then thoroughly cover with bread crumb mixture.

Brown in olive oil in large skillet over medium heat until golden brown on both sides (about 3 mins. each side).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In bottom of casserole dish spread 1/2 cup of marinara sauce. Place chicken on top of sauce. Spread 4 Tbsp. of remaining sauce on top of each breast. Top each breast with 3-4 Tbsp. of mozzarella cheese followed by 2-3 Tbsp. of Parmesan cheese. Cover and cook for 25 mins. Uncover and place under broiler until cheese is bubbly.

While chicken is cooking prepare pasta according to package directions. Heat remaining pasta sauce in small saucepan. Drain pasta well and return to pan. Mix in warmed sauce and heat on low until chicken is done.

Place cooked chicken on top or to the side of pasta. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Serves 4.

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Well, my birthday’s tomorrow. I have mixed feelings about birthdays, particularly mine. Usually the two weeks prior to the big day I find myself in a slightly introspective and uncharacteristically melancholy state of mind. I attribute this mainly to the passing of another year and taking stock of what I have accomplished during the three hundred and sixty-five days since my last birthday, and what I am looking forward to accomplishing in the days coming up. Always, I find myself glad to still be occupying air space. This, in itself, is something I’m thankful for every day.

My son and daughter-in-law and their two children came over last night to help me celebrate. Normally we are not in close enough proximity for me to share my day with them, but this year we are staying with my mother and her husband for five days which is close by so it worked out just perfectly.

I remember when my children moved out and took their first steps into adulthood without the benefit of my wings for protection. They were excited, as I remember I was at that age, at that taste of new-found freedom armed with what you taught them through the years, some that stuck and the rest that went in one ear and made a direct beeline to the other ear, disappearing unheard or unremembered into the wind.

In the beginning, when they had packed their last bag and headed out for new adventures, I would sit in their rooms, teddy bears now gone, and devoid of annoying piles of dirty laundry on their beds, and feel an amazing sense of loss. When you’ve nurtured and worried and laughed with your children for nearly twenty years and that role suddenly shifts, it’s a bigger transition for the parents, I believe. I remember questioning who I was now that I wasn’t their caretaker. How do I redefine myself?

After a few months I found myself enjoying a taste of freedom as well. Not that I didn’t miss them, I still do, but having had children at a very young age, I found myself on my own at forty with a world I still wanted to experience and explore. I also was pleased to note that my two young adults were getting along well, with the usual pitfalls and spills accompanying growing up, and that they still looked to good old mom when things got tough or they just needed to be reassured that I was still there.

Then, if you’re lucky, at least in my view, they get married and create new young beings that are interested in hearing your stories, and find small hands once again taking yours and familiar old books being read once again by you before bedtime, the cycle begins again in a new way.

So, being able to take my grandson and granddaughter out into the chilly night last night armed only with a flashlight and three vivid imaginations to slay dragons and fend off evil spirits, but mostly to feed the ghostlike images of ducks floating in the pond nearby, I was reminded of what’s important, and how life goes on as it’s supposed to.

Happy Halloween.

Sausage Tortellini Soup

1 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 14 oz. cans beef broth
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 carrots, sliced thin
3 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. sugar
3 small zucchini, sliced
1 9 oz. pkg. fresh cheese tortellini
1/2 bag fresh baby spinach
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Crumble the Italian sausage in large skillet. Add onion and garlic and brown until sausage is cooked. Drain.

Stir in broth, salt, pepper, oregano, undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, carrots, sugar, and Italian seasoning. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins. Skim fat. Add zucchini, spinach, and tortellini. Simmer for 15-20 mins. longer. (8 servings)

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and cheesy garlic bread.

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