“Is It Hard To Be A Mom?”

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The oatmeal threatens to bubble over the edge of the saucepan, the lid clanging loudly as the steamy mixture pushes against it. I stop mid-shmear and turn the flame down to low. I hate cleaning goopy, half-cooked oatmeal mixture off the burner.

I catch the faintest whiff of smoke and turn toward the pancakes just in time to see the edges char to a crisp. All those chocolate chips gone to waste. I scrape the remains into the trash and start again even though we’re already running out of time.

The goal is to get everyone out the door by 8 a.m. I resume shmearing the cream cheese. Four brown lunch bags stand smartly on the counter in front of me, eagerly awaiting their contents. They remind me of Hanukkah candles just before they’re lit — neat and upright, promising magic and surprise. In go four bright orange tangerines. I wonder if anyone will eat them today.

The middle two are already arguing — it’s barely 7:30 a.m. — and I sigh loudly, trying to drown out their not-so-benign insults and petty complaints about who did what to whom and who started it. Their bickering competes with the day’s list of appointments, meetings, errands and carpools I’m going over in my mind. Is the orthodontist today or tomorrow? Must check.

“Mom,” he taps me on the hip. I spin around so quickly that a tiny glob of cream cheese lands in his hair.

“Yes, what? Do you want more cereal? Will you eat this hard-boiled egg? Do you want some milk?”

“Oh no, no thanks. I’m done,” he says as he drops his plate next to the sink. “In the sink. Can you put it in the sink?” I interrupt him again.

There’s a loud clank as he all but throws it into the sink. “Okay. Mom?” I reach down to pick the cream cheese out of his hair. “Is it hard to be a mom?”

His brown eyes are wide and serious. Such a big question for a 7-year-old to wonder about.

Is it hard to be a mom?

It’s not easy to coordinate everyone’s schedules and carpools and favorite foods. It seems like the fridge needs to be filled every other day, and I worry that my 13-year-old doesn’t eat enough. That’s hard.

I can’t seem to get a handle on who needs to be where when, even though I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, and it’s never been more glaringly obvious than it is now that there’s only one of me and four of them, and all of us have different needs in any given day. And I am the one mostly responsible for meeting those needs. That’s hard.

I recently watched my little guy collide headfirst with a teammate at rugby practice, and heard a bone crack when his brother stopped a soccer ball with his arm. That’s hard. Bee stings, ear infections, broken teeth, headaches … whenever my kids are in pain and discomfort, it’s always hard.

My daughter auditioned for a play and didn’t get the part. My oldest son wasn’t selected to play in the football final. A “C” on the science test even though he studied all afternoon. And it’s always hard to explain that sometimes not everyone is invited to the birthday party and this time it was him.

I think of the Hanukkah candles we will light soon. The desperate search so many thousands of years ago for oil to keep the flame burning in the temple. How that oil, that tiny amount of oil they hoped would maybe keep the candles burning for one night, miraculously lasted eight, and so now we light the candles for eight beautiful nights and remember the struggle and the miracle that came from that struggle. Because anything worth doing is hard, and worth struggling for. Like being a mom.

The oatmeal is cooked, the pancakes are delicious, and I manage to remove all the cream cheese from his hair. I cup his small face with my hands and look straight into his eyes. He’s still waiting for an answer.

“Yes, sometimes it’s hard to be a mom,” I say with a smile. I bend down and kiss him on his forehead. “But it’s not hard to be your mom.”

Happy Hanukkah.

This post first appeared on j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

Love And Cinnamon

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The margarine sizzles in the pan. My eyes, not quite awake, watch as the pale yellow blobs melt without complaint. The kitchen is quiet save for the sizzle. The whole house is quiet. It’s not quite 7am and my world is still softly dark. It was a struggle to leave the warm heaviness of dreams and bed in the dark.

Soon the sun will start to streak its blue-gray fingers across the sky. Soon they will all be awake and their breakfast will be ready. Homemade.

His brown eyes sparkle when I suggest French toast and his older brother mumbles an amenable “sure” when I offer fried eggs. I sprinkle a little salt on them while they’re frying and try my hardest not to break the yolk. “Sure” is a lot for a teenager with earphones – my heart squeezes when I hear it.

In the silent halogen-lit kitchen I beat the eggs with milk and slice the cinnamon challah. The spicy sweet aroma sticks to my fingers. It’s the only bread he’ll eat as French toast. We are averaging 4 loaves a week. The fork clangs quietly against the bowl. Sizzle sizzle clang. A gentle early-morning symphony of sound and smell.

I’m happy to be here, in the kitchen, making French toast and frying eggs before the sun and my family rises. I find myself here a lot lately: pulling chocolate chip cookies out the oven, a sweet treat just because; peeling bright sweet oranges to eat after football practice; marinating chicken for dinner or counting how many cans of beans I need for the chili. We always seem to be running low on something.

I soak the cinnamon challah in the egg mixture (not too long or it gets soggy and falls apart), and place it gently in the hot pan. The loud sizzle is oddly comforting and the coziness of my bed is forgotten. I’m warm here in the kitchen, cooking, thinking, drinking tea.

It wasn’t so long ago that the constant, endless need for bread, milk and eggs deadened my soul and squelched every spark of selfish desire that dared to flicker through my veins. Not at all long ago that my kids were always hungry, always wanting – demanding food, school supplies, attention. Or so it seemed. Their relentless torrent of needs depleted and exhausted me, until “Have a banana” was my answer to everything. Except we quickly ran out of bananas. The supermarket, the car, the grocery bags and especially the kitchen brought tears of frustration and despair as I struggled to find myself somewhere in the cereal aisle or while driving carpool.

Somehow, during my decade plus as a parent, I had confused my kids’ needs with my own. The mommy-and-me music and baby gym classes that once filled my day with joy and social interaction when my oldest was a toddler became frustrating and boring the third and fourth time around. No longer did I have the patience or the time to wait at the bottom of the slide at the park or play in the sandpit, and often I forgot the snack bags of carrots and goldfish that kept whining siblings occupied while we waited for karate class to end.

And I felt bad, guilty about it all. What kind of mother was I, who hated taking her kids to the park and repeatedly forgot the snacks? Out of touch with the things that mattered to me, as a whole person and not only as a mother, I ignored my frustration, my resentment, my boredom and kept going until the best I could do was snarl “Have a banana” through my clenched teeth every time one of them said they were hungry.

To find myself now happily awake before the dawn, preparing a breakfast that requires much more than a bowl and a spoon, is a miracle of time, love and motherhood.

I place the eggy bread gently in the pan. The heat from the burner warms my fingers. I make myself wait one minute more before flipping it over. Just the right amount of toasty brown. These three staples – egg, milk and eggs – are all we need for a morning of bright eyes and coherent conversation. I save the bananas for the smoothies they all drink. The kitchen smells like love and cinnamon. Even though I’m the only one in it.

Cinnamon French Toast Recipe

Ingredients

2 eggs
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
4 slices cinnamon challah (if using regular challah, add a few sprinkles of cinnamon to the egg mixture)
Butter or margarine for the pan
Powdered sugar
Maple syrup

Directions

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk.
If adding cinnamon, do so now.
Quickly soak each slice of challah in the egg mixture – not too long or it gets soggy and falls apart.
Gently place in the hot pan.
Fry until golden brown, 1-2 minutes on each side.
Dust generously with powdered sugar.
Serve with a swirl of maple syrup.

This post first appeared on Mamalode.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt was, “I thought that by this time in life, I’d…” Hosted by the wonderful Kristi of Finding Ninee.

On Mamalode: I Will Never Forget That I Dropped My Infant Son

DBaby One of my earliest memories as a new mom is when I dropped my newborn son on the bathroom floor. I don’t talk about it much, but I will never forget it. It was a horrifying, heartbreaking moment.

As he has grown into an independent, self-assured teen, I think about that awful morning often. I am so grateful to share this difficult memory on Mamalode today, in my essay I Will Never Forget That I Dropped My Infant Son. I hope you’ll give it a read, and let me know if you’ve had a similar experience.

When Stay At Home Mom Guilt Strikes Hard

FullSizeRenderYesterday I did nothing. And by nothing, I mean nothing. I was unmotivated, uninspired, and–unless seasoning the salmon we had for dinner counts for something–woefully unaccomplished. Smoked sea salt, lemon zest, plenty of dill. 

Days like that are few, if ever, for me. Not the unmotivated and uninspired part, I’m sure that happens to the most of us but we keep on keeping on. What was different about yesterday was that I was also remarkably unscheduled. No appointments. No meetings. I pretended we were not out of dog food or dangerously low on laundry detergent, so no errands. The day shone up at me from my iPhone, strangely and uncomfortably blank.

Read more here.

This post first appeared on Kveller.com.

They Know That I Am There

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Last week began and ended with hours of kiddie concerts. My tiny ballet dancer skipped around the stage first as a Ginger Snap and then as a Chinese Tea leaf in the ballet school’s production of “The Nutcracker.” It’s a beautiful show, with music and costumes and dances that carry the audience on a snowflake cloud of sugar plum dreams.

For 120 minutes. My Ginger Snap was up there for maybe three of those minutes. And another three for the Tea the following day.

I drifted. Shifted in my uncomfortable seat. Told my sons to “ssshh” when they asked if it was over. When would it be over? I wondered the same. It was beautiful and graceful and fun to watch, but of course we were there to see her, and we were wriggly and fidgety and wished we were elsewhere.

And then we glimpsed her smiling face under the floppy gingerbread hat, and she saw us waving wildly from the audience. And she beamed. Missed a step. And beamed some more.

The end of the week found me back in an audience, again for hours. This time at the school’s annual winter concert. I jostled for a seat as near to the front as I could find, amongst bright, puffy jackets and dripping umbrellas, and parents who had the foresight to reserve the best seats much earlier than I did.

Squeezed somewhere in the middle of the middle, I waved like a wild woman when my Kindergartner took his place on the stage. He whispered in his friend’s ear, pulled funny faces and did not stand still for a minute. Despite my frantic hands in the air, he had no idea I was there. What’s the point? I wondered crossly. Resentfully, I settled into my immovable chair for the next three hours.

All the kids sang sweetly. Pounded on xylophones. Played the violin and the trumpet and even the cello with their small 10-year-old fingers. But the morning dragged in a stuffy cacophony of restless coughs and whispers.

We had all carved time away from work and errands, meetings and appointments to watch the children showcase their musical talents, but of course we were there to watch our own children. Many parents left as soon as their child had performed. They had places to be, so many things to do on that busy, wet Friday morning, the last before the holidays and no-school-till-2015. I watched them creep out, one after the other, with something like envy and disappointment. That they didn’t stay to watch my child. That I couldn’t leave.

I couldn’t leave because my son is in fifth grade, and the fifth graders performed the newly-composed school song, at the very, very, very end. I was tired, hungry and irritable. I moved seats. I chatted incessantly to the friend sitting next to me. Her son is also in fifth grade. I thought about everything else that needed my attention. I wished I were elsewhere, doing those things.

It had been almost three hours since my little one sang the snowflake song, seemingly oblivious to my presence in the audience. Now I watched my big boy take his place in the left corner of the stage. Somehow I had unknowingly found a seat on the same side as he was.

Finally, I thought, as I distractedly gazed at the sea of faces on the stage. Just a few more minutes, and I can get on with my day.

A tiny movement on the left caught my eye. I focused my attention, turned my head so slightly. My son looked straight at me. And smiled. That small, almost self-conscious smile that means he’s happy. He ducked his head for a second, and looked back up at me. I heard his thought: My mom is here. For me.

The music teacher raised his arms. The opening chords filled the almost-empty theater.

“We work hard, take care, so we all can learn and play.

We work hard, take care, with kind hearts we share,

at our school on the hill by the Bay.”

Beaming Ginger Snaps and fidgety five-year-olds and school pride in the fifth grade.

“Were you there, Mom?” the little one asked me later that day. “I didn’t see you! Were you there? Did you see me?”

I have years of performances and ceremonies, Nutcrackers and school concerts ahead of me. At times I will be restless in the uncomfortable chair. I will resent that I didn’t get there early enough and all the good seats are taken. I will wish I were somewhere else.

And then my kids will stand in front of the audience. They will scan the crowd, and catch my eye and smile a tiny smile. And they will know that I am there. For them. And for me.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “When I’m really old, I hope to look back at my life and know that I…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and guest hosts Vidya from Vidya Sury and Kerri from Undiagnosed but Okay.