Fresh guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips
Chicken & red pepper enchiladas with pumpkin-jalapeno sauce and Cotija
House margaritas (courtesy of the Hubbs)
Warm peanut-butter dark chocolate chunk cookies
I’ve been wanting to get some pictures up of our lovely home post-remodel, but nothing’s quite DONE yet. I have about a million ideas and things I want to do before I feel like it’s complete, but I’ll probably always feel that way, so I’ma just dive in here.
Right after the holidays, we turned our messy little storage closet into a play closet, or, as I like to call it, “the cupboard under the stairs.” (The junk that was in there is now crammed into the other storage closet we have upstairs, so we don’t open that closet door for obvious reasons.)
We put the art supplies in the front little half, which is great because they can reach them whenever they like now. It’s also terrible, because they can reach them whenever they like now.
We also hung the paper cranes and the tinkly lights that used to hang in Noah’s nursery.
The part of the closet that’s deeper under the stairs is now a little book nook, and we put some wooden puzzle toys in there too.
I love how Noah and Violet will go in there and close the door and after a few minutes I’ll hear them playing together or Noah reading aloud to Violet. (“They frowned at the good and……… they smiled at the good and frowned at the bad. See, Vi? They’re sad ’cause he’s got a broken leg. They broke their bread at half past nine, in a straight line… and the smallest one was Madeline.”)
This closet is just off of our front room, the room that was previously Noah’s nursery. We knocked down the wall between the living room and the nursery and put in the stairs. It’s kind of a weird layout now, and there’s a column in this room too, since the wall was load-bearing. But it’s a perfect place for art, musical instruments, and toys. One of my goals this year is to get a piano, and then this music/art/play area will be complete.
The painting on the top was Noah’s first real painting that he did at an art studio, and the lower one is Violet’s first ever painting.
This star garland was made by my lovely friend Erin. I love it so much in this space!
It’s in the 20s here again today and it’s been about a week of this frigid weather, so this morning I faced one of my biggest fears: THE INDOOR PLAYGROUND. Indoor playgrounds are like breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. Trap a bunch of snot-nosed kids in a room with soft equipment, turn on the heat, and let ‘em run amok? Who came up with this?! It’s the worst idea ever. Last time we were at this particular playground, a multi-tiered, four-level climbing gym where my children get lost and I have to climb my ass through chutes and over nets to save them, some kid pooped on the top level and it got smeared and trampled by a thousand tiny socked-feet before the grownups wayyyy down on the ground level found out about it.
So, yeah. If disliked indoor playgrounds before, I absolutely loathe them now, and would do just about anything to totally avoid them. Picture me, restless all night long, dreaming of poopy hands reaching out to touch Violet’s face, runny noses rubbing Noah’s arm. This morning, I ripped off the covers, marched into the bathroom, glared at myself in the mirror and, breathing hard at my reflection, made the following speech. “THIS IS IT. GET IN THERE, ROGGENDORFF! (*slaps face*) YOU GET IN THERE. YOU SHOW THOSE MOTHER FUCKERS WHO RUNS THIS TOWN! YOU MAKE ‘EM YOUR BITCH! YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!”
We came, we played, we conquered. (Well, time will tell if we conquered. Viruses have incubation periods, after all. But at least there was no visible poop involved, and I consider that a victory, unfortunately.) On the way home, per norm, Mr. Chatterbox starts saying weird things from his car seat.
It’s always from the back seat of the car that Noah suddenly says the most horrifying things. It’s either that he has nothing to do except sit there and think and, like me, his thoughts eventually seem to all turn dark, or that he knows I can’t do anything about it when he expresses those dark thoughts because I’m stuck driving the car, but he uses his time back there to frighten the living hell out of me. It’ll be all quiet, peaceful, sunlight pouring in the car through the long, thin shadows of pine trees, the rest of us are like fuckin’ smiling and humming to ourselves and he’ll just break out with ”If a police pulls us over, I’ll get a stick and stab him in the throat and kill him. And then I’ll throw him in the garbage.” (I’ll never forget that doozy. It was three or four months ago now, and it was (up to that point) the most insane thing he’d ever said. I almost wrecked the car.)
So on the way home today, he’s revving his engine. “I’m a good guy, Mom. But I need to KILL the bad guys. The bad guys are so bad, that I need to kill them.” Now, I’m familiar with this line of thinking. In addition to it being a central theme in many of the movies and stories we all hold dear, Noah has been very fascinated with the topic of late. “Good guys” and “bad guys” and their place in the world are very interesting ponderings in his little head these days. I have not responded well, I’m afraid.
No, because I am terrified of my children’s awareness of violence, I’m learning about myself. And rightfully so, on the one hand. Seeing children at the park play with pretend guns, running around screaming “kill” and “die” and “shoot” just makes the movie in my head flash forward to those same kids in 20 years, being convicted of homicide. Lance and I have been very careful with the words we’ve used around Noah, and the shows and movies we’ve let him watch, and the stories we’ve read together. There will come a time when he will understand death and evil people, right? Why rush it, right?
Then he goes to preschool and learns it all, anyway.
A few days ago Noah told me he did something so bad he couldn’t tell me what it was. I pressed him until he finally admitted something so minor I don’t even remember what he said. I think he accidentally tripped the dog or something. He was that worried about my reaction to his accidental violence? Hmmm. Yesterday he said “I hate beans,” and then immediately apologized. “Why?” I asked, honestly perplexed. “For saying hate,” he mumbled, ashamed. Worst of all, last week I watched as a young toddler pulled Noah’s hair while they were playing, and Noah laid there, not moving, and cried “stop” and “hey” and “nooo” as the other mother and I rushed over to help him. It was this, more than anything, that finally jarred me. My attention to what was happening was suddenly pushed from “subconscious” to “conscious.”
I’m going to have to backpedal, I realized. Have I been so intense about not using violence or even violent words that I’ve made him believe he can’t approach me with dark thoughts that are entirely normal? Does he believe he can’t talk to me about them because I react so strongly to hearing him say words like “kill” and “hurt” and “die”? And does he believe he must lie still and take it, waiting for an adult to help, while he’s being hurt? Later that day I explained to him that while it is unacceptable to hurt someone else, using his hands to defend himself (in this case, physically removing his own hair from someone else’s fist), then getting away as quickly as possible to find help (if help is needed) is the right course of action. “I’m not telling you to hurt others, Bubbs,” I reminded him, just to be sure he understood. Then I put on my best Mama Bear voice. “But also don’t let others hurt you!” Had I forgotten to tell him this to begin with? More and more as I thought about it, I realized I haven’t been guiding him into making kind YET WISE choices; I’ve been manipulating and controlling him so that he doesn’t trust himself to make those choices on his own.
How many ways has my tendency to overprotect and control every situation bled over in his little life?
I go back and forth. Children need guidance. Children need autonomy. CONTROL! LET GO! CONTROL! LET GO! “ROGGENDORFF!” I say to myself in the mirror. “GET IT TOGETHER OR YOU’LL FUCK UP YOUR KIDS, YA DOOFUS! GET IN THERE! OOMPH! YEAH!”
The truth is letting Noah be himself is hard. I want to shape this little person, and to some extent that’s my job and my privilege as a parent. But not when shaping becomes smothering and squashing him into the person I think he should be, into some weirdly perfect little parrot. Maybe he’ll get his hands dirty a few times as he learns to figure out “good” and “bad.” Maybe that’s the only way he’ll learn what makes them dirty to begin with. Maybe my job isn’t to keep him from getting his hands dirty, but to help him wash them when he comes home.
Today when he said that, as a good guy, he thought his job was to kill the bad guy, I bit my tongue. (Literally. It hurt.) I always find myself wanting to steer the conversation away from these dark thoughts of his. My go-to for this particular theme is along the lines of “Don’t you think the good guys will turn into bad guys if they try to kill the bad guys? Killing is bad, therefore people who kill are bad?” It’s honest. I truly believe that, so that’s the kind of thing I usually throw out whenever he broaches the subject. But today I just let him talk. I know he’s heard what I’ve said. I know things sink in even when I don’t know they’re sinking in. So I said nothing.
So Noah kept talking. Unsurprisingly, the topic organically switches from death to God and God’s role in our lives fairly often. Part of wrestling with good vs. evil is figuring out the Divine in us. It’s a subject with which most adults I know grapple, too. “If God lives in your heart and you die,” he asked me once, “where does God go?”
YES. THAT SOUND WAS A RECORD SCRATCH. Followed by my pounding heart. Followed by my Hamlet-esque soliloquy entitled “I Don’t Fucking Know! But You’re Three and You Need Answers! But I Don’t Have Any!”
Today he mused further. “How does God live inside you AND all around you?” We chatted back and forth about it a bit, me explaining (again) that God isn’t like a person so God can exist everywhere all at once, and him asking me why God is a spirit, whatever the hell that means. When I was out of answers I remembered what a good friend advised me to say next time Noah pondered the Divine. I also remembered my vow to try to stop controlling his every thought and let him have an original one every so often. So I asked him what HE thought. He said this.
“I think God is like the sun… AND the sky.”
Holy, holy, holy shit.
I think you’re right, Noah, my deep thinker. I think that’s a better metaphor for God than any I’ve ever come up with in the 30 years I’ve been alive. I think I’m going to ask you what you think more often.
And I think you’re gonna be just fine.
Last month you turned 4 years old, and I hadn’t cried at all. Dad cried. Mom didn’t cry. I watched you blow out your candles, and I watched you open your presents, and I chose baby pictures for your party slideshow, and I watched as you took a friend by the hand, looked coyly into her eyes, and said “Hey, June. I’m four.” (WHOA, slow down there, Tiger.) All this didn’t trigger a single tear. Then I opened up my laptop, logged onto WordPress, clicked “new post,” and wrote “Month 49.” And then I realized I have been writing you letters for four years. FOUR YEARS! You’re so big! You’re just so BIG! I pick you up to carry you to bed and tuck you in and I make a grunting sound! You tackle me and it hurts! You eat your own meal at restaurants! Probably needless to say, but yes. I cried just now. Not explosively like your dad upon seeing a picture of two-year-old you, but I’m man enough to admit I shed a tear or ten.
You’re big (and smart) enough that when you got approximately 200 Lego sets for your birthday and Christmas, you learned how to build them all by yourself. Then when you (or Violet) break them by dropping them or playing with them, you don’t sweat it because you like adding your own additions. I found half a helicopter stuck to half a fire engine the other day. I thought it was pretty cool. You’re big enough to read books to your sister (unless you think we parents are around… I’m not sure if you don’t want to mess up in front of us because you think we’ll laugh at you?? Or if maybe you just figure it’s our job to read to the baby around here, not yours). You’re big enough to tell us, all the time, how much bigger than everyone else you are, how much “specialer,” smarter, faster, etc. In other words you’re old enough to understand competition now. ((sigh))
You don’t call Daddy and me by fake names anymore, but your imagination is still out of this world. Mommy met with your teacher the other day and she asked me what you like to do at home. “Legos,” I answered, thinking it over. “He likes to play with his Playmobile fire trucks and ambulance, he loves to read and watch movies…” It didn’t seem complete until I remembered what you REALLY like to do is pretend you’re someone or something else. No longer Bob the Builder or Fireman Sam or Captain Jack or Big Frank (all characters from books or shows that you adopted), you are now something different every day. You have costumes to fit whatever you are, and you even created your own recurring character, “Officer Mike.”
He is a police officer who often helps the firefighters with traffic, from what I understand. He is (you are) a stickler when it comes to speeding, given how many tickets I’ve received for walking around here too quickly. Sometimes, though, you explained to me one day, you give presents instead of tickets. This is because sometimes all the speeder needs is a little practice going slower. That is why your friends (and family, thankfully) get a new car when they get pulled over. “Mean guys” get tickets. Seems fair to me.
You seem to have calmed down a lot lately, so maybe you understand that now you’re four, it’s time to start acting NOT your age anymore please oh please for the love of donuts. You still have your moments, but getting angry no longer means you kick or pretend to bite. (You never bit down, just would like put your teeth on our shoulders? To show us how angry you were I guess? Um it was annoying.) Instead you usually just cry, which is sad but also shows progress because it means you’ve resigned yourself to the inevitable: YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO WASH YOUR HANDS. Or put on clean underwear. Or come to dinner so that your body can receive vital nutrients. I know. We suck like, so bad.
Actually most of what we fight about these days is clothes. I definitely didn’t think I’d have to worry about that until at least the teenage years when I’m hollering at you to take off that Marilyn Manson t-shirt and pull up your pants for God’s sake, isn’t that uncomfortable?! But no, those years are here, now. And it’s not about you wearing clothes that look ridiculous (which they do) or clothes that don’t match (which they don’t), because I truly do not care about that at all. Sometimes you’re mad because what you want to wear isn’t clean. (Because I let you wear it for three days AND NIGHTS in a row and it’s smeared with avocados and boogers and it smells like the dog after she comes in from the rain.) Boy oh man does it hack you off when I tell you I must wash your clothes and you won’t be able to wear them for two whole hours. Sometimes, the worst times, you tell me that you won’t wear an outfit (one that’s clean) because it “doesn’t look cool.” I hate that. I don’t even know what to say to you, my barely four-year-old innocent little boy, when you start talking about what’s cool or not cool. Sometimes you’re mad because what you want to wear isn’t weather appropriate. “Why do I have to wear my WINTER coat!?” you whine, yet again, as we get ready to go out in the snow. In 96 degree weather you wanted to wear a hat, boots, and a lined coat, yet in 6 degree weather you want to wear a t-shirt and NOTHING ELSE.
But most of the time you are calm, reasonable, rational even. There are times when I feel my heart will explode because of how gentle you are, how loving, how kind. You seem to have truly turned a corner in this over the last few months. You are showing a real ability to empathize, which I was afraid might never happen. You apologize, with total sincerity, when you see you’ve done something to hurt someone. You apologize when you think someone is annoyed, which makes me feel bad and I’ve actually been trying to get you to dial it down. (“You only have to apologize when you hurt someone’s body or their feelings,” I tell you painfully, after you’ve apologized with great remorse in your voice for taking a piece of train track off the table while we were playing. “Oh. Sorry…” you say. “Noah!” I laugh. “Sorry! AH! I’m trying to stop!” …Ok Mommy is worried.)
The other day Violet was setting the table, and she broke one of my painted plates. “Oh, sad,” I said. “That was a favorite.” A few minutes after it was cleaned up and thrown away, you said, “I’m sorry that happened, Mom. We can get a new plate for you at the store! Hey, Dad, let’s get Mom a new plate like that one at the store.” I just came around and hugged you tight, because I didn’t know how else to respond to such uninhibited sweetness. You’re the same with Violet, on a more consistent basis. “I had it first!” rings out now and then, but only because she’s run over and snatched something from your hand and you haven’t fought back or tried to stop her really in any way. The two of you are CAH-RAZY about each other. You annoy her sometimes with your smotherly love, but she asks about you all day long when you’re away and squeals with joy when she first sees you in the morning or after nap time. No one makes her scream with rage like you do, but no one makes her as happy as you do, either. And I know the feeling is mutual, because you’ve told me that you love her more than you love anyone else. There is nothing more wonderful than seeing the way you two love one another. You protect her already (“Don’t be mean to my baby sister,” you told a rowdy kid the other day at the park.) (For the record, he wasn’t being mean. You just wanted to let him know you were watching him, I think.)
You’re learning things at preschool all the time; some beautiful and some hateful. For example, you told us you want to grow your hair long. That’s your right, and I respect your wishes to have long hair, so we haven’t cut it for several months per your request. But I don’t know how to take it when you come home from school telling me that someone told you your hair is too short and that’s why you can’t play the games your girl friends play. “You’re a BOY,” you’re told, almost as an insult, at school. “You can’t be a mom!” “Your hair is ‘wrong,’” someone told you. “You’d be prettier if you wore a skirt,” someone told you. So at home you put on your skirt, and you ask me desperately “Can I be a mom??” “Yes, my love,” I assure you. “You can be anything you want to be of course.”
This is the thing for which I was most unprepared. I expect it with your sister: I feel like Violet will need a constant reminder that she can be or do anything in this world, that she is strong, that she has value, because this is a man’s world, still, regardless of how far we have come. And I want my daughter to know her rights in this man’s world. But I never expected to have to tell you that boys can do anything girls can do! “I’m a boy,” you told me last week. “I can’t do ballet. That’s why I want to be a grell (girl).” I marched you right over to the computer, sat you down, and made you watch about a thousand videos on YouTube of male ballet dancers. “I’m a boy, that’s why I can’t like flowers.” I gave you a lecture about male gardeners and florists, including your great-grandfather. I’m trying to hammer something into your head, Noah. Don’t you ever tell me you can’t do something because you’re a boy. If you don’t like something or you don’t want something, fine. But it’s not because you’re a boy. Don’t you dare believe that for one second.
If you could feel one 100th of the fierce pride your Daddy and I have for you, you would never doubt your abilities ever again. You are so unique, so smart, so loving. Your creativity astounds me as always. I cherish everything about you, Bubbs, just exactly the way you are, skirt or uniform or long or short hair, Officer Mike or Mommy Wolf or just your wonderful self, my darling Noah.
I love winter. I know, I’m a freak, but when you’re raised in the South where it’s hotter than hell in the spring, summer, and fall, you enjoy a good 50 degree winter just for a change of pace. And snow is an EVENT. If flurries are on the forecast, all the schools and most work places and, well, shoot, basically the whole dern town shuts down and there’s a rush at the market so you can’t buy eggs or milk.
And then if snow actually COMES, which happens maybe once out of every 10 times snow is predicted, the entire South takes a collective pause. If you open your door and stand on your porch right after the snow has started sticking, everything is so quiet you can hear the flakes softly falling, chh chh chh chh. It’s beautiful.
Even more beautiful if you have a cozy chair by the fire, a big mug of hot cocoa, a soft blanket, and a good book. Less beautiful if you have kids who don’t understand why they’re trapped inside and why their mom is trying to read a book with no pictures by herself in the corner.
Last week temps got down into single digits, and that is unheard of ’round these here parts. It did snow but we didn’t play in it because none of us were happy with 3 degree snow. I wanted to be inside my warm house, watching the snow fall from a window, and my kids felt the same. But after a few days of that madness, we were all pretty stir crazy. As soon as it turned a balmy 25 degrees, the kids and I bundled up and walked down to Ugly Mugs to get coffee. (They both call their hot chocolate coffee, too. I wonder what they’ll think when they take their first sips of real coffee.) One of the things we love about this neighborhood is the alley that stretches from the end of our street to the busy strip of Eastland with shops, restaurants, and coffee shops. We’ve walked to Ugly Mugs at least once a week since we moved here 4 1/2 years ago, and the kids love this short adventure just as much as we love how close we are, and as many times as we’ve walked up that alley, they never cease to make new discoveries. At the end of the quick walk we know friendly faces and warm coffee and a pile of books and corners to tuck yourself into to read and sip await us. It’s days like these I feel very fortunate to be here, now.
It’s getting warmer, but it’s still chilly enough outside for… well, chili. Tonight I made chili from some ingredients we had on hand and it was, ok I admit it, DELICIOUS. Black beans, a butternut squash some dear friends dropped off with us yesterday from their garden, peppers, onions and garlic, and broth, and I put it all in the crock pot with some seasonings and we smelled it cooking all dang day. Needless to say, we were ready to eat. Even Noah and Violet tore it up, Noah even asking for some tomorrow in his lunch. Um, yes you may.
Chili needs cornbread. I made biscuits this morning, and I baked a loaf of bread yesterday, and I tried to convince myself that that was plenty of BREAD in one house for goodness’ sake, but biscuits and multigrain bread just don’t cut it when you’re smelling the savory-sweet aroma of chili stewing all afternoon, so I caved.
Oh, mama. Cornbread is one of my favorite things. Cooked on the stovetop in a skillet with melted butter, then transferred to the oven and baked, this cornbread is crisp and buttery on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside. (Did I mention this is buttery?) And this is real, traditional, SOUTHERN cornbread. It is not sweet. If you’re eating cornbread with sugar in it, that’s not cornbread. That’s like, a corn cake or something. No. Just say no to sugar. And then say yes to butter. (Seriously, it’s best if you just hum your way through the butter. Let your hands work without your brain paying attention. You’ll feel much less guilty and your food will be much more delicious.)
I highly recommend making cornbread this week. Oh, and chili too. It’s like, major forgiving. Be like me: look in your fridge, throw some stuff in your crock pot with some black or pinto beans. Done.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.
Measure the buttermilk and milk in a measuring cup and add the egg. Stir together with a fork. Add the baking soda and stir.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until combined.
Add the melted butter, stirring until just combined. In an iron skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot skillet. Spread to even out the surface. (Batter should sizzle.)
Cook on stovetop for 1 minute, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Eat with chili, or with jam, or scarf it down while you’re standing over the sink. Whatever.