The salad my kids actually eat.

Kale Caesar

This is our go-to salad; it’s a crowd pleaser and kid approved. Oliver has turned into our picky eater (although he’ll eat an entire platter of sushi without blinking). Give him suspicious looking bread or chicken (meaning ANY bread or ANY chicken) and he will act like he’s dissecting a frog for dinner. He won’t eat sandwiches, he’s particular about the cheese he likes, cold cuts are a bipolar decision depending on where the moon is in orbit and if we’re in the year of the Boar or Sheep. Peanut butter and jelly? Insulting. Nutella? The answer is always yes.

So when I find something with kale in it and a dressing I love that both my kids devour and ask for more of … I make the living daylights out of these greens and pound my chest triumphantly when no one is looking.

Kale Caesar

I’ve adapted this recipe to a memorizable combo of whatever I have on hand.

Ingredients

1 Anchovy filet – I’ve resorted to keeping anchovy paste in the house
2 (or more) cloves Garlic
1/2 Lemon, juice of (I often don’t have this so I just omit, I might up the red wine vinegar a bit to balance it out)
2 bunches Tuscan kale … we happen to call it DinosROAR Kale.
1 to 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Mayonnaise
1 tbsp Sriracha
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp Olive oil, extra virgin
1 tbsp Red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, plain (and if I don’t have this, I just up the mayo to accommodate the ratio)

I throw everything, without chopping, into my immersion blender cup and blend. It’s that easy and it keeps in the fridge – one recipe of dressing usually serves us well for 2 salads, or smaller individual salads throughout the week.

You can shred some parm and add croutons. But you don’t have to. Sometimes I add veggies to the salad, my fav is avocado.

Kale Caesar

Last night we had this salad with some grilled pork chops and strawberries. It’s not often that a meal for the 4 of us is equally received as something edible and delicious. I try very hard but some nights I know that Jessica isn’t going to love it, or Oliver will be a fight to the finish line. I need a win once in a while, whether it be in a smoothie or a salad or figuring out the one cut of chicken Oliver will actually eat that isn’t a Costco rotisserie beast.

And this Kale Caesar is my back pocket win. My tricky little side-kick. My hail-Mary, I have to feed them, if I have to see another picked at plate with food shoved in all corners I will literally combust, winner of a salad.

It’s that good.

I don’t want to ever forget this

On the way to youth group this week Jessica says, Someone got their period at school today.

And ok, I know this isn’t what you’ve come to expect here. It’s just, the things they say! Also, parenting.

I let her talk and Oliver got more and more curious. “What’s that?” I let him know it’s something called puberty and it happens to boys and girls, at different ages and in different ways. That was enough for him until he asked for more. “What’s a period, exactly, Mom?”

“When a girl releases an egg. It happens once a month.” (Keeping the nitty gritty out of it, because, 7 year old.) Which automatically led to: GIRLS LAY EGGS?

And you guys, there was no stopping it.

We had the sex talk.

I said things like, you know how you have those two balls under your penis? Girls have two sacks inside their bodies that hold all the eggs! And the boy has to give the girl a “seed”.

He is staring blankly at me at this point. And I’m running with the garden theory because my mouth keeps opening and words keep falling out of it.

He stops me and says, I don’t really understand what you’re telling me. How does a boy give a girl a seed for a garden?

AND OH MY GOSH I TOLD HIM BOYS HAVE TO PUT THEIR PENIS INSIDE THE GIRL TO LET THE SEED OUT.

I have undone all coherent parenting up until this point.

I keep digging the hole, trying to explain my way around this conversation without Aaron. Somehow the explanation came to a conclusion and he just looked at me and said … “ok.”

Complete silence follows.

I am freaking out. I said things like, this is probably weird to think about now but some day you’ll enjoy this thing called Sex and it’s not just for making babies or “gardens” to grow … it’s for fun! And it’s beautiful. And and and……

He scrunched his face up and looked at me, “I didn’t understand anything you told me” and “That’s just really awkward to think about.” He was mortified. I talked about God’s plan and how our bodies were made. I did all the things while still trying to interject that our bodies are so cool! And someday you’ll understand! Also, sex is neat!

But currently I think he’s internalizing how to get over the fact that if he wants to be a dad someday (and he very much does) that he’ll have to use his penis and those magic little balls to build a garden out of invisible seed and somehow he’ll have to transplant that garden to a floating, microscopic egg that just happens to be inside a girl.

And can we really get on board with that?

No. No we cannot.

Clearly I’m done here. #dropsmic

(PS. Hey buddy. Someday when you read this you will be embarrassed that I wrote this and then published it on the Internet. I apologize. You are a class act. I just remember how different this conversation was with Jessica. How prepared dad and I were to sit down and talk about this. We practiced saying words like vagina and penis and sperm and then vagina some more so it would be natural, like we were talking about arms and legs. Just a piece of our bodies! Nothing shameful or weird to see here. We still don’t know what we’re doing as parents. This situation is proof positive that we’re trying our hardest to give you the information you not only need and want; but also to arm you with the correct information for you (and Jessica) to be able to make important decisions about your bodies and love and relationships. And mainly, about respecting yourself while also respecting other people at the same time. Clearly you’re both too young for such decisions, but you also live in a world where you, especially, are bombarded with images and expectations of what love should look like, act like, feel like. The horror of it all (for me) is that mostly you’re being told that love and sex and our bodies are commodities that we can freely exchange for empty feelings with no consequences.

When you were 3 you stuffed a sticker in your ear and it got stuck (sticky side in) to your ear drum. We had to take you in to the ENT and we had one last try to get it out before they were going to have to put you under. Dad and I were with you, you were afraid. We held your hands and I put my face right next to yours so I could hear what you were trying to say. There were these huge crocodile tears sitting in your eyes that you wouldn’t let go of and when I bent down to listen you were saying, over and over again, But I’m not brave! I’m not brave!

You were terrified and in pain and your mom and dad were there to protect you and keep you safe and in all of that, you refused to cry because somewhere along the line you picked up that you needed to be strong (and not cry or be afraid) in order to be brave. You were three. I was already crying but I started sobbing then, right there with the ENT, as he pulled the sticker out of your ear. As your dad held your little hand and cried too. And I wasn’t crying because I was afraid. I was crying because my beautiful son, who was nothing but brave in my eyes, who was vibrant and such an open little soul, who was strong and surprisingly intelligent, thought he had something to prove as a three-year old laying on an out-patient operating table with lights beaming down on him and all kinds of scary and new things going on.

I wanted to take you away from this world where you weren’t allowed to be honest with your feelings or curious about how they worked. I wanted to protect you from ever feeling less than brave and strong and mighty. I wanted to give you the confidence I saw in you and I wanted to keep you little so I would always be there to help you feel brave when you didn’t know how.

Every night when I put you to bed I started telling you, “I love your brave heart, your kind hands, and your beautiful mind”, like a lullaby of wishes to wash over you. If I believed it and whispered it in your ear enough, maybe when the time came you would believe it, too.

Sex is brave. Respecting sex is brave. Someday, you’re going to have to be brave like this. You’re going to have to make counter-intuitive decisions and more than anything I know you’re this brand of brave.

I want you to have the logistical facts but I also want you to be informed about the choices you have. This is touchy for me because of how I approached sex and my body, with amazing fear and complete condemnation. There are certain risks involved, and it is better to wait for a committed relationship (I’ll go ahead and say it: marriage) but you know what? Our bodies are human too. So here’s the facts … no matter what I love your brave heart, your kind hands, and your beautiful mind.

Love,
Mom)

This chapter is forever unwritten

This past Saturday I woke up crying from a dream. In my dream I was talking to one of my brother’s on the phone when I said, sobbing, “I don’t have very many people who hold me left in my life”. Aaron tried to wake me up and ask me what was wrong and when I was finally able to tell him, he laid there with me in his arms while I let that statement wash over me.

R E S T

Today is Jessica’s birthday, she’s 11, and last night her birthday wish was to have a snow-day from school today. She got her wish! But by 10 am she was in tears throwing a fit over how “normal” today was. It wasn’t about her enough. She was upset that not everything was orbiting around her and I saw red but tried to speak gently to her. The truth in those feelings was that we do love her very much, but the lie was she was entitled to order us around and demand to be put before anyone else all day. Because I will not perform to prove my love for my children. That’s a known here; they’re wanted, loved, cherished. But they’re not coddled, praised without cause, or handed success. In this house, we are kind. In this house, we treat others the way we want to be treated. In this house, we love wildly and unabashedly. But in this house, we do not cater to selfishness. We aim to cure it.

It’s been a rough morning. I’ve said it before here, but parenting her while I still need so much of what she needs from me is the toughest thing I do every day. A few years ago it was not hard for me to make magic appear out of thin air for Birthdays or Snow Days or just because We’re Alive Days. I thrived off the magic of childhood. Losing teeth meant I stayed up well past a respectful hour creating “fairy doors” through the house for her to find in the morning with her little sack of gold behind one.

She hasn’t grown out of wanting to experience that magic and maybe where I failed along the way is demonstrating the joy out of everyday magic. Feeling snow fall on your face, smelling the spring air, steam rising off a cup of tea, being able to read my favorite poets, or write on a rainy day. Being thankful for the small hands that held tight to mine, or holding Aaron a little longer before he left for work. I do all of these things, as a meditation in reminding myself that this life IS beautiful. I just haven’t talked about it … out loud? Enough?

Cool completely.

Moving into this new season and age of kids has been hard for me. When I was their age my life was in shambles and where they have the luxury of not even knowing that kind of pain, they don’t have the references to experience the great joy of our Now because the tremendous sorrow of my Past isn’t imprinted on their little hearts.

I was reflecting on this while trying to muster up my strength for today to be MORE patient, MORE kind, MORE understanding. Wondering to myself if I had failed at this Birthday. If this certain brand of sadness was creating an apathy to my child’s unmet expectations when it hit me: I don’t have a frame a reference for what this season means for me when I base my today on the experiences of my past. This chapter is forever unwritten.

No excuses.

A great freedom can come from this, getting to pen the pages of our lives with the kind of love I want them to know. Unconditional, no-holds-barred, boringly extravagant love. Which means I have more people in my life than I even thought who are still around to hold me. Because it’s not my job to open my heart and bankrupt myself for everyone else. It’s my job to open my heart, the way I open my arms, to feel the greatness of letting them in.

Let's look up, eyes wide shut. Let's hold our arms open to bring each other close. Let's step light but with purpose and let's inhale, deeply, the breeze in the air. Let's trust where we are and love where we're going, let's know when to stand still. Let'

Happy Birthday, Jessica. I love you with a depth I had never swam to before I laid my eyes on you.

Raising a woman to be seen.

Of all the things I want to talk about lately, this isn’t one of them. And yet, here I am: hitting the keys trying to figure this out. Not enough people are talking about what it’s like to raise young women. And if they are, I can’t find them.

Being a mom to my kids brings me to my knees on the daily. Taking this one day at a time has never been more relevant to me, if I think too far ahead I’m inept to do anything but crawl into the fetal position and weep. Not because there aren’t wonderful things on the horizon – but because the task at hand has never been so difficult. I could be wrong, in fact, I’m often wrong. I’m learning too. I’ve never done this before.

Jessica is 10 going on 14 and I’ve never been dumber in my entire life, the older my kids get the more they know and the less I do (duh). Peers opinions reign supreme, teachers knowledge comes before real life experience, and hell if I can’t understand how to build a math mountain. Can the children add? Do they know their times tables?

Good enough for me. 😉

Jessica is a beautiful mystery to me. She is wired a lot like her dad, there’s anxious energy inside of both of them. And I have my own version of this. But where I’m in my own world, introverted, introspective; they’re both hovering above the worlds they’re in putting the puzzle together, like puppeteers. Jessica has a need for control, sometimes a paralyzing need. Sometimes this need is so strong it blinds her. And she is ten.

Jessica

Socialization at ten is cruel joke. Or, that’s been our experience so far. It’s not fun. There’s a lot of crying. There’s a lot of wringing of hands as parents wondering if we’re doing anything right. Did we choose the right school? Will another school just defer the same issues? Is the root of this turmoil some where we can reach and touch and love and help and see? Or is the root of this unknown? Is this just what we’ll have to deal with over and over and over again as we sit on a life raft in the middle of this wide open ocean of her social life?

You see, because all I have to go on is my own experience. At ten: I was in fourth grade. My parents were getting divorced, my brothers were older and often out of the house and my sister, I don’t know where she went but she never came back. Life as I knew it was literally over. Nothing was the same. Was blue even really blue? School was my haven. I went early every morning because now my mom had a full time job to support 4 kids as a single parent, and I rode the bus home. Most of my hours were in a safe place every day. There were rules and expectations. I could perform in this environment because it was predictable. I had friends, but I didn’t need them. Other relationships were of no real value to me at ten. I rode my bike to friends’ houses, but I was more interested in being alone in the woods playing by myself. I craved validation from adults. I didn’t care if my peers agreed with me. I wanted to be seen.

I honestly don’t know what it’s like to not fit into a peer group. To be riddled with anxiety over the very fear of being noticed. I wasn’t interested in negative attention, I perfected what it took to receive positive affirmations from my teachers, counselors, and older peers. And I don’t know how to help her.

Here I am, a married adult women in a secure relationship. I’ve done this one thing really well: my kids won’t have divorced parents. And I still can’t create the perfect childhood for my kids. The safe places I never had, they have in spades. Their daddy doesn’t leave them, their siblings don’t reject them. But I can’t create friendships for them.

I’ve known all along that the timeline of my own childhood was in the background of theirs. It’s as if I’m reliving mine through them. I’ve read enough books and been to enough counselors to know that this is my mechanism for coping with the trauma. And at each significant marker – I hit the fan a bit because I brace myself for all the feelings to come back as I revel in the reality that THIS IS DIFFERENT! SEE, THIS CAN BE DIFFERENT!

I have to go back and reconcile the emotions I put into the pottery cavern I’ve kept, shaking and cracking, in the pit of my stomach since I was a small child. Adults were completely unaware that I could see them, that I listened to them. That I would remember what they did, like a wide-eyed panther hunting in the dark.

And I’ve learned that I’m not hungry for the kill, I’m dying of starvation. My hunger isn’t physical. My hunger is relational.

And I don’t know how to help her.

Playing with Jessica

Float

I’ve had the undeniable pleasure of this girls company lately.

Jessica

My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.

Bernadette Fox

We spent a lot of time in the sand together doing the only thing she ever asks of me: to swim with her.

She could ask me to write her poetry, to read to her, she could ask that I take her shopping, out for ice cream. She could ask that I listen to her friend drama, or she could ask me to hold her secrets. Instead, she asks only this of me: to swim with her.

To brave the bathing suit and the less-than-hot-tub temperatures, she asks me to freely accept the invitation to submerge with her into the only world that makes sense: floating. Under water, blood shot eyes, and red shoulders – she wants me beside her exploring the unknown. She wants the weightless companion of my body next to hers while she swims beneath the surface searching for shells and rocks and the mystery the water holds.

Just us.#favorite

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Can't stop. Won't stop.

Earlier this summer I tried on my bathing suit, the one I bought for Spain last year (gasp! It’s a two piece) and she walked in my bedroom as I surveyed the reflection. She gasped, and I readied myself for criticism. She pulled her hand away from her mouth and told me how beautiful I was.

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I started to cry.

I wore that bathing suit to the beach that day, in public, where people I knew were going to see me. But I didn’t swim with her.

Kouw beach in the clouds. #puremichigan

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A few weeks passed and we had this glorious opening in our summer schedule. Oliver was at camp, it was just her and I. We run away every year together. It started when she was 5.

A day to runaway

And the only thing that made sense to me was to get in the water with her.

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*best day ever* -Jessica

Over and over again. To respond to the call of her heart. To play frisbee in the water and watch her dive and teach her how to body surf and let her laugh hysterically at my constant “beaching” in the bed of rocks. The faces she made, pure joy. The feelings I felt, pure love.

It started when Oliver was only 3 weeks old – we were up north at a family cottage for Memorial Day weekend and Jessica had taken to being a big sister so well. I was so excited to have another baby, but I watched Aaron take her on an adventure and I was stuck on the shore feeding this helpless gift in my arms and I was angry at this baby. This stranger in my arms for docking me on land while my familiar love went on without me: on the water.

Who I am to my children is as different to each of them as it is to me. I can’t balance the roles they need me to play equally when we’re all together, at least, I haven’t figured it out very well. So when we’re all three of us together, I’m constantly worried about meeting each of their needs. I know Oliver’s love language is X and Jessica’s is Y. But I’m still the parent and trying to teach them how to behave and love and act and respond to different things at different times and I’m always caught in the middle.

Running away with Jessica is like going home for Christmas. The anticipation of the plans ahead are intoxicating. Will we bake Grandma’s cinnamon rolls? Am I going to wake up to the smell of coffee and orange juice and bacon? Will I get to sleep in my old room and did mom save that teddy bear I used to sleep with? Will I see my old friends? I wonder if our favorite restaurant is still open Christmas Eve, can we order pies?

You pack your favorite sweatshirt and pajama’s knowing the time you’ll spend in front of a fire will be 1,000 times more enjoyable in fleece. And you never forget your slippers.

Being alone with Jessica is easier than being in a group of people with Jessica. We connect and converse without even knowing it. She feeds the part of me that needs to remember the love and I think I feed the part of her that is love.

It doesn't get better than this. Beef-jerky-sun-bathing dreams.

And all it ever takes is getting in the water.

There’s a reason my first painting was of her as a mermaid.

Because it completely delights her and reminds me.