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Archive for January, 2010

Letting Go

Tomorrow morning I am doing something I have dreaded for years.  I am driving my son to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his driver’s permit.  For years I looked at this day as the beginning of his driving awayfrom me.  I worried that it would be hard to see him growing up.  Instead I have come to realize that I have spent his whole life helping him to have a happy life.  I have spent every day guiding him and watching him become the young man that he is.  It’s funny the things we will do for our children and how simple it all begins.

When my son was just over two months old, we were having a lazy morning in bed, when I lifted him up above my face and wiggled his tiny little body and he laughed.  It was the first time he had laughed.  It was such an unexpected sound I almost dropped him.  After I recovered from the shock, I spent the rest of the day trying to get him to do it again.  When he did, it was the best sound I had ever heard.  But it was more than that.  Babies amaze me.  They don’t laugh with just their voices and their facial expressions.  They laugh with their whole body.  I can picture the next laughs as clearly as I can anything in this room right now.  He was lying in his baby bath, butt naked and his whole body exploded with each burst of laughter.

Before that day, I knew how much I loved him and in theory I knew I would do anything for this tiny baby from the moment he was born but until that day, I didn’t realize that that anything extended to shaking my head vigorously to and fro, over and over again just to watch him laugh.  My head ached for days but it didn’t matter if that is what it took to make him happy.

So, he is growing up.  He is becoming more and more independent.  And instead of dreading each step, I have started looking for ways to help him to enjoy each moment.  Instead of worrying about him driving away from me, I now look forward to the hours we will be spending in the car over the next few months while he learns to drive.  I know this means he will one day drive away from me and find his own life somewhere else but now I am excited by the prospects.  I look forward to watching what was my happy baby become a happy young man.

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Raising a Foodie

My fifteen year old son has a gift.  Well, maybe not a gift but a talent.  Okay, still not sure that is the name for it either but he can do this really cool thing that I would like to take credit for but can’t.

Every afternoon, the second he walks in the house he takes one deep sniff of the air and comments on what’s for dinner.  When he first developed this talent, he could identify the easy things – sautéed garlic and onions or the sting that chipotle peppers left in the air.  But his talent has increased over the years.  Lately, it has become a game we play together.  I start cooking an hour or two before he gets home and then wait for his response as he arrives home from school.

“Are you roasting red peppers,” he will ask before he has even disposed of his backpack.  “Are we having sausage and pepper penne?”

Last week, I thought I might stump him by making something we haven’t had in a while, Jamie Oliver’s Andy the Gasman’s Stew.  There are so many pungent flavors in this one and it cooks for so long that I thought I might have finally found the one that would trip him up.  But there was no hesitation.

“Do I smell oranges and rosemary?”  He immediately asked.  When he picked those two out of the air I knew he had won our little game.

I have raised a foodie and for that I can take only partial credit.  The truth is I would still be making spaghetti with jarred sauce or the chili off of the back of the tomato cans if   we hadn’t moved to England and discovered The Naked Chef.  Though Americans have adopted several British shows recently, the BBC’s programming leaves much to be desired.  Because of this dearth of interesting television, I was forced to watch The Naked Chef as I sat knitting in the evening.  Instead of the punishment I expected this to be, I soon found myself sitting my knitting aside and watching Jamie Oliver make cooking look easy.

Slowly, I worked up the nerve to attempt some of the easier recipes, side dishes mostly.  After finding that I could cook these with little effort I decided to try the more complicated dishes.  I bought the cookbooks and started making the curries and stews and even the roasts.  And I discovered that it was as easy as Jamie had made it out to be – so easy that my kids could do it.

Over the years I have taught my children to cook with the aid of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks but more importantly with the biggest lesson I learned from The Naked Chef – cooking doesn’t have to be hard.  If you love good food and appreciate good ingredients, there is a joy to be found, not just in sitting down to a good dinner, but in preparing it as well.

This afternoon as I was baking oatmeal cookies, my three year old son came into the kitchen and asked what I was doing.  “Baking cookies,” I answered.  In the tradition that has been established in our house, he walked over to the island, grabbed a stool and scooted it over to the mixer.  He was prepared to be involved in the baking.  Right now, he can identify the flour, sugar and butter.  He knows how to turn on the mixer and drop the dough on a cookie sheet.  But the my favorite thing he learns in my kitchen is a love for cooking and for healthy, homemade food.

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The Gift

It’s the thought that counts. The best gifts are from the heart.  We’ve heard these sayings for most of our lives and for the most part we believe them.  But isn’t there always a small part of us that is more cynical than that?  Usually, it is in the giving that we feel this way.  I know that I question the gifts I am giving each Christmas.  Did I spend enough?  Is it nice enough?  Will they like it?  But sometimes it is in the receiving or the expectations of receiving.

This Christmas though, like a Hallmark special, these sentiments were brought home.  As I was heading out the door to Christmas Eve mass, I decided to check my email, more out of habit than expectation.  But there it was.  A gift from my father.

My father is not an emailer.  Until Christmas Eve, I had received exactly three emails from him in my entire life.  The subject line read simply, Ann Marie Wilson.  There was no body of the letter, just an attachment, again labeled Ann Marie Wilson.  I almost left it sitting, thinking I would call my dad later to make sure he had sent this and that the attachment was not some virus that had been sent using his account.  But something told me to take the chance. Maybe it was the Marie in my name.  No one except my daddy calls me Ann Marie and even he hasn’t used it in years.

So, I opened it and I stood there, in front of my computer on Christmas Eve, tears streaming down my face reading a poem about the love of a father for a daughter.  A poem my father had written for the daughter who he chose to make his own thirty eight years ago.

The thing that struck me most about the poem was not just the love he poured into it.  It wasn’t just the fact that my dad is not a poet or even a writer by profession or nature.  It was the fact that I already knew all of these things he was telling me.  He describes the moment he met me at a bowling alley on his first date with my mother.  I was three.  He asks whether I remember it.  I don’t remember it but I know it is the moment he fell in love with me, because he has told me the story so often over the years.  He always tells it the same way, explaining how he knew I was meant to be his daughter.

He goes on to talk about our life together – his teaching me to ride my bike, the times he pulled splinters out of my fingers and cactus spikes from my toes.  He talks about the tough times with my mother and then our lives after their divorce.  And he talks about giving me away at my wedding.

The point of the poem is to tell me that I am a gift in his life.  I didn’t need a poem to know this.  I have always known that my daddy loved me.  I have always known that, even though he has three children of his own, he has never thought of me as anything less than his daughter.

I wanted to write something about this poem right away but the words were not there.  Two weeks later and the words still escape me.  But I had to try – try to explain how the poem was only part of the gift.  The rest of the gift was the years of having a daddy.  He could have chosen to marry my mom, have his own kids and treat me nicely.    He didn’t have to teach me to ride a bike or read a book.  He didn’t have to love me.  But he did.  And that was the best gift.

Each year, as Christmas approaches I worry over the gifts I give my children.  Will they like them?  Will they think their brother or sister got something better?  Will they understand why I bought the things that I did?  I am sure that my parents did the same thing.  And I am sure I will do the same thing for years to come.  But now, there is a part of me that knows, I mean really knows, that the best gift I give them will always be the love.

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