First Solid Meal

Baby CJ’s been studying us as we eat for the past couple of weeks. Because he’s often strapped onto our torso with the sling, it’s almost as if he’s an extra body part, and he’s awfully close to the food as it’s lifted from plate to mouth. His little head swings and his eyes grow wide, and his mouth opens as the food enters–someone else’s mouth. I may be projecting, but he looks kinda … hungry. Or at any rate fascinated. I had planned to wait till he was a full six months to introduce any kind of solid food, but after observing this hungry baby phenomenon for the past couple of weeks, I decided to give feeding a try. It is an awful lot of extra work. Breastfeeding is so simple, basic, fast, and by this point, not at all messy. We’re old pros now. (Breastfeeding at earlier stages in a baby’s life can sometimes be none of the above). It seems like whenever we get the hang of something, life invents another challenge.

So F and I headed uptown after school drop-off this morning, and bought a box of organic rice cereal. We came home and I pumped some milk while baby CJ worked the other side, and then we dug the high chair out of the attic, and mixed up a tablespoon of cereal with some breastmilk, broke out a bib, strapped him in, and proferred the spoon. I’ve done this a few times before, and the result is often disappointing, as I warned F (who was extremely excited, and imagined herself wielding the spoon). The tongue comes out, the facial expression says “disgusting” and the bowl’s contents eventually work their way onto every surface surrounding baby, including baby’s outside; with absolutely nothing swallowed. Both A and F refused solids till seven or eight months. But somehow, they didn’t look quite so hungry.

To F’s delight, baby CJ had no qualms at his first taste. He’s still working out the tongue and the swallowing, but he took in a lot more than expected. He cleaned the bowl, and then sucked the tray. Most went in. I’m proud of him, and glad that I tried feeding, since he’s clearly ready, but also know this will complicate life. The baby food grinder is out of storage once more, there will be extra bowls and spoons and bibs to wash, and a careful menu to introduce over time, as we watch for potential allergies. But he wants to be one of the gang, and he’s working so hard to get there. Babies. Their instinct is to grow up! No wonder people are always delighted to catch sight of an infant–they’re rare. We spend a vast proportion of our lives large and unportable and complicated–and, let’s face it, not nearly so cute.

Cooking Ahead

Overheard: F with Kevin and baby CJ in the living-room: “It okay, daddy, baby be happy. You can go to work now. You can go your office and sleep.”

This afternoon I spent cooking. Chopping veggies endlessly, using up the bits and bobs in the fridge, the wilting clumps of CSA parsley, the bag of collected beets and beet greens, fretful-looking cabbages, and on and on. I made borscht, an obvious choice given what was lurking in our fridge, a positively giant pot, though not with a typically meaty broth, just added a frozen steak bone to the brew; fresh dill from Nina’s, bought specifically for this meal. Meanwhile, I prepared a second giant pot, this one of fresh tomato sauce, using tomatoes from Nina’s, garlic, onions, celery, and a couple of despondent eggplants from the bottom drawer. I was going to toss in some green pepper, but luckily tasted first; they were CSA and an odd shape, and turned out to be hot peppers. So I chopped and froze those for later, a theoretical later because cooking for kids means leaving out the spicy-hot. Kevin and I douse our food at the table with a variety of hot sauces to satisfy our tastebuds. Maybe I’ll make a spicy salsa someday this winter??

The above paragraph doesn’t sound like it should have taken two hours of my day … but it did. In fact, it was probably more like three hours when all was said and done, and I’d placed supper on the table–the borscht is what we ate tonight. We also ate a small bowl of oven-roasted teeny-tiny potatoes, a whimsical mixture of varieties. These particular potatoes represented a joint family effort. I discovered a handful of forgotten potatoes this past spring, sprouting in a paper bag in our cold cellar. I’d just read somewhere that potatoes are easy to grow, so I suggested we cut them up and stick them in the ground. Kevin and A planted them out back along our fenceline, which gets a bit more sunshine than it used to. And lo and behold, the potatoes grew. A and AB dug them up yesterday. Okay, it amounted to a couple of generous handfuls, but they were beautiful and wholly ours. That was our first course for supper: our summer’s crop of potatoes, roasted with salt. We’re totally biased, but man, they tasted good.

Fortunately, we don’t have to live off them all winter long …

The other food, and indeed, the leftover borscht, is for meals later on this week. I’m finding the post-school-scramble to be unfavourable to cooking (it’s madness, actually, to be preparing meals from scratch amidst the melee), so this week I’ve planned and cooked ahead. This will only get more crucial as we add in music lessons and swim lessons, both after school, along with our other commitments, both pleasurable and necessary, adult and kid.

I also boiled eggs for the kids’ lunches (one egg per kid, per day), and made the kids’ school lunches for tomorrow. I always make the lunches the evening before, usually while preparing supper (I’m not a morning person at the best of times; it’s wise not to overload my dawn duties). This year I’ve been sending a container of cut-up fruit (peaches and plums and pears right now), a simple sandwich of Nina’s ham and a bun/bread with either mustard or butter, a baggie of cut-up veggies (carrots, celery, green pepper–actual green pepper, that is), a container of dried fruit and seeds (apricots, raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds), the egg, and usually a little something extra too. AB gets a cookie because she’s been brushing faithfully after her meals at school; A still needs to prove himself, but I did send each of them a little container of sesame snacks for tomorrow.

Alright, this has been a stolen moment (or three) and things have gotten positively out of hand behind me … meaning, it’s time for mama to cease the ceaseless typing and read a bedtime story. We’re nearing the end of Little Town on the Prairie, and Laura is already 15 years old. I’m admiring how her parents trust her as they encourage and watch her develop a social life in this brand-new frontier town. The next book (These Happy Golden Years) was always my favourite, but that was when I was a teen and I’m recalling there’s some pleasantly romantic stuff, which may not fly with the seven- and five-year-old crowd. We shall see …

Saturday Morning

Saturday morning and it’s time to clean up. The more children you add to a household, the more opportunities for instant disasters and chronic mess. This morning, for example, I came downstairs to discover the kids were “cleaning” the puzzle and games cupboard; translation: they were taking out every single puzzle and game and opening the boxes to inspect for missing or broken pieces and parts, and dumping some into plastic baggies, and … well, you can imagine this was not the kind of cleaning project I had planned for the morning.

To their credit, everything got stuffed back into the cupboard.

I am now sipping a cup of coffee and pondering all the things that need doing … and feeling weak and wishing I could instead read the paper. But the truth is that I like a clean and tidy house. I like to walk into rooms that are organized and free of spilt crumbs and feel airy and uncluttered. A place for everything and everything in its place, is something that runs through my mind on these mornings. Which is not the scene right now. I’m wading through diapers that need folding and laundry that needs doing and a dining-room table still plagued with loose garlic bulbs, not to mention a multitude of other neglected areas (toilets, anyone?). During the week there isn’t time to do this work, just barely time to keep head above water and say hello to Kevin.

I did have a writing morning yesterday, and in fact used it to write. I started another story in the Nicaragua collection. It’s slow going and feels personal rather than political. This project has changed so much over time, and undergone such a variety of incarnations that I no longer believe automatically that I’ve landed on the shape in which this story belongs; but I’m comfortable with this form and take great pleasure from it: stories rather than chapters. Whether or not it’s the form this story belongs in, it is the form that I most enjoy exploring–to read, and to write.

The Good and the Trying

The good first, shall we. Kevin’s at soccer tonight, which means he rushes out the door after inhaling the supper I’ve thrown on the table early in order that he can inhale it and rush out the door. Phew. My attitude about this has improved greatly over several seasons, and I’m being honest here (I think) when I say that I don’t begrudge him time to run around a field attempting to boot a ball into a net and occasionally coming home wounded (giant egg on head so far this summer, which turned into the most gorgeous purple black eye, like he was a performer in the Rocky Horror Picture Show). Where was I? Oh yes, my non-begrudging-ness …

Ahem.

The good. After Kevin leaves, I often feel at loose ends. I don’t know why it should be different to be left alone with the kids in the evening as opposed to in the morning, but it is. I feel less capable, less sturdy, less resolved. So tonight I drifted into the living-room, laid baby CJ on the floor (he’s happier rolling around than being held these days), and started playing the piano. I almost never play the piano anymore. When I do, it turns into someone on my lap hammering the keys and demanding Old MacDonald. Completely out the blue, and without the least premeditation, I sat at the bench and started playing the little riff from the Rolling Stones’ song that goes “You can’t always get what you wa-ant …” It’s a bluesy little riff, repetetive, and though I never figured out the exact chording and timing for the next bit–“You just might find, you get what you ne-eed”–it didn’t really matter, I just kept playing it over and over. (Is that even the right line? I’m really not sure where it came from or why it entered my head). The kids seemed lulled by the music, and interested. How did I know that song? What was that song? Get out the drums, I suggested, and a mini-jam-session erupted, dancing and drumming. I played a couple of other old songs, and then caved and played out of a kids’ songbook (A’s request). But it was soooo good. Our evening progressed so much better because of it, I am sure.

Ah, but how’s this for trying: realizing post-snack that their teeth still needed flossing (Kevin’s job, and I don’t know his method, but it sure as heck looks better than mine). Baby CJ was so fussy by this point that he was only happy in his sling, so I took each child in turn on the couch with the floss and CJ fussing and stuck to me and half-blocking the view of the teeth, my fingers occasionally getting chomped; the whole scene struck me as impossibly comical. But still trying. Also trying are AB’s bedtime requests. Despite supper and a snack, she regularly discovers that she is So Hungry as soon as the light goes out. Or better yet, as soon as Mommy or Daddy has made it all the way downstairs. “Mama or Dadda?” she will call coaxingly, then quickly the ‘plaint grows louder. Tonight I couldn’t turn to Kevin and say, “Your turn.” But you know what–cookies and the removal of them from the lunchbox turned out to be an effective motivator.

So here I sit, F just re-deposited in her bed (she’s having a hard time falling asleep this week, due to napping in the stroller on the way to pick the kids up from school), blogging instead of doing the dishes. We had a simple and popular supper tonight: whole wheat rotini, a sauce made from completely local garlic, onion, green pepper, and tomatoes (tomatoes and pepper thanks to a neighbour’s front-yard-garden! oh–and yes, I got permission before picking!), the whole lot mixed together with sliced nitrate-free local hot dogs (Nina). Hmm, does that count as a recipe?

Oh, our onions are off the table. They’ve been replaced by garlic bulbs. But the onions are now hanging rather attractively in my cast-off pantyhose down in our basement. Kevin sorted out that project. We also have a bunch of potatoes stored in paper bags in the cold cellar. Online research leads me to believe we can’t store the potatoes and the onions near each other–but I couldn’t find any answer to the question: how near? Like, in the same cold cellar? Or, side by side in the same cold cellar? If anyone knows, please comment.

The dishes are calling. In voices tiny, but persistent. Hello over there basking in the glow of a computer screen. You will sleep better if you wash us right now. (But will I?). Enter Kevin. He’s home. “Are you blogging?” Uh, yah. And do you want to do the dishes?

After School Transition

How wonderful to have my second-grader race across the schoolyard to shout, “I had a great day, Mom!” The newly-minted first-grader, though not as ecstatic, seemed to concur; she had lots of good, insightful stories to share. We sat in the shade before walking home so that I could nurse baby CJ. Our walks home from school are just about the best times in my day, eating a snack, listening to them relate random events that happened, asking questions, re-connecting. But the instant we walk through the front door, the happy mood disintegrates, usually in dramatic form. I’d forgotten about that. Considering that this is my fourth year of walking through that front door, you’d think I’d have some solid plan in place to counteract what is obviously just plain difficulty making the transition from school to home. But apparently I don’t; or if I did, I’ve forgotten it.

Suggestions welcome.

As soon as we were through that door, AB showed no signs of being worn out by her day, but A seemed utterly spent, his inner resources exhausted, unable to cope with the smallest problem (being offered the “wrong” flavour of popsicle fell just a hair shy of the end of the world). Tantrums at age seven? Not so attractive.

Why oh why are transitions, large and small, so hard?

This morning I asked AB if she’d seen her brother at recess (a new phenomenon this year), and she said yes, but that every time she’d gotten close to him, he would run away. She was very matter-of-fact about this and said she thought it was probably because he was embarrassed. She added that recess was a little scary at first (darn right it is–my stomach churns even now to think of being loosed into the anarchy of several hundred kids racing virtually unsupervised around the huge schoolyard), but said she’d soon made a new friend to play with and then she felt better.

Missed my quiet time today, and hope I’ve got the constitution to hang out with my sibs this eve. I’m only 17 months older than the next in line (there are five of us total), but at times feel positively elderly attempting to keep up at the Bond. Actually, I don’t even attempt to keep up, just try not to drift too far behind, stumping after them with my walker and chirruping on deafly while proferring photos of the grandkids … er, okay, I’m jumping ahead a couple of decades, but you get the picture.

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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, soccer coach, teacher, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more, with depth, with care, with light.

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