February 28, 2011

Gelukkige Verjaardag

Today is my amazing au pair's birthday.** Or, it was, when it was still today. Given my night owl habits, I think it's tomorrow already.

Birthdays in our house start just one way. With breakfast. Big, gooey, fabulous breakfast. When the diva and the redhead go birthday happy, their preference is always - always - chocolate chip pancakes. And for Peabo it's all meat, all the time. What can I say, the kid likes his protein. Usually he wants sausage and bacon and more sausage with a bit of cheese on an English muffin and a hefty dose of cinnamon rolls on the side to satisfy the little tiny sweet tooth he's been burdened with.

This morning, we made a birthday breakfast for our au pair. And that meant I was up early. Earlier, in fact, than I wanted to be, because my kids take this tradition so very deeply to heart.

The first hit was at 6:00 a.m. On the nose. A full hour before I'd set my alarm to ring.

"Mom! Mom!" That was Peabo. "You wanted to make breakfast for our awesome au pair!"

"Yes, and I will," I mumbled. "But I'm going to go make it after my alarm goes off. Okay?"

He went to go watch the news. It's his latest thing. He tapes the news at night, then watches it in the morning, and we talk about it at dinner. That's pretty cool. (Albeit totally beside the point. But you wanted to know, right?)

Then came the Diva. Who got the same response.

"Okay. Then I'll go make her a card." So she left, and my redhead climbed out of my bed and followed her. (Wait, how did he get there? I missed something. I musta been sleeping.)

Then the dog - remember the dog? - went berserk. Can't sleep when there's barking, so I woke up and got to cooking.

For my au pair: Pancakes. Bacon. Eggs. Raspberries. All on a tray with a pretty napkin and lovingly handmade cards from the two who like to make them. We tried to feed her breakfast in bed, but it's hard to get everyone ready for school when they're watching someone else eat, so we wound up with a big, family breakfast at the table, with manners and everything.

I so totally love that.

This is her second birthday with us. When she came to the U.S., she was 18, and more mature and responsible than most fully grown grown-ups I know. Now she's 20. Still mature, and nearly a fully grown grown-up herself.

Of the many, many wonderful au pairs we've had, she's the first who stayed with us for more than a year. She fits into our family as though she were born to it. I don't know if it's the hint of Dutchness in her Belgian self that clicks with the hint of Dutchness in our American family. Or maybe it's her experience with Asperger's, which she has in spades.

The best of our au pairs have been far more than just daycare providers. They were - and are - family. And this au pair, she is just that. Family. A big sister to my kids, a friend to me, and in many ways the daughter I'd have had if I'd started my family twenty years ago instead of twelve.

In just over a month, she goes home to the family who raised her, who made her this special and entrusted to her us. My kids and I owe them a great, big, giant thank you for that.

We call her Chuck, because Peabo likes it that way.

Gelukkige verjaardag to you, Chuck. You're the best birthday gift ever. And we are gonna miss you like crazy.

**Published nearly a week late because, well, you know. Timeliness is not exactly my strong suit.

February 23, 2011

Home Cookin'

Tonight was a first for me. Well, I mean, it was and it wasn't.

The "wasn't" part was a class A Aspie tantrum sparked by my good home cooking. Not a first. There was a time when I'd spend hours slaving over a hot stove creating a dinner crafted from honest-to-goodness fresh ingredients that had never spent any time in a box, only to have my Peabo run screaming from the table. He'd spend a good 15 minutes letting us all know exactly how awful the meal he hadn't tried yet would taste.

Home cooking was a break in the routine, right? He was used to the box. He wanted the box. He expected the box. When he didn't get the box, he'd tell me. In his own special way.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I embarked on The Great Home-Cooking Campaign. I've spent the better part of the last eighteen months foisting such disgustingness as homemade meatloaf and brussels sprouts onto my kids. After a while, they learned to like it. Yes, even the brussels sprouts. They eat meatloaf and baked ziti and a dozen different vegetables, including lima beans. We've introduced couscous and polenta and herb-rubbed pork tenderloin. In fact, yesterday I served chicken with fennel and olives. They didn't like it much. But they tried it. And they didn't run screaming.

Until tonight. Another class A Aspie tantrum sparked by my good home cooking. Only this time, it wasn't because I was cooking. It's because I wasn't.

My stove broke. Or rather, half of it did. I'm down to two usable burners. Which means that braised pork chops with broccoli and from-scratch macaroni and cheese went from planned to impossible. I make my veggies in an electric steamer, but I still needed one burner for the pork chops, one burner for the macaroni, and one for the cheese.

A change in plans. And my Peabo had his first home-cooking tantrum in months. Because he'd rather have my food than food that comes in a box.

I am quietly proud.

Oh, and also? He calmed himself down. He calmed. Himself. Down. Then he sat and he talked to me, and he figured out how to be okay with an unexpected change in the menu.

Progress on two fronts. So I get to be quietly proud of him, too.

And by the way, that chicken with fennel and olives stuff whipped up by the Proud Italian Cook? That is some darned awesome yumminess. Go make it. Like, right now.

February 20, 2011

Too Osum Mom

My five year old wrote that. On the back of an envelope. It was for me. See? "To Awesome Mom."

It totally made me cry.

He's been in Kindergarten for just over 100 days, which I know because he and my au pair recently counted out precisely 100 Honey Nut Cheerios and brought them to school on the 100th day. A hundred days of learning means he can read like a pro. He knows letters have sounds. That one O makes an "awe." That two Os make an "oo."

Now he's using those sounds to write.

And he thinks I'm awesome. Or, you know, osum.

This is the kid who greets me after school with a happy "Hello, cute mama!" Who never thinks that one hug is enough because he'd rather have five. Who curls up in my lap in his fuzzy mornings and sticks his finger in my bellybutton. The kid's a morning-hater, like me, and I love him for it - enough so that I forgive the wacky bellybutton thing.

He's also five. Inside the envelope was a heart that he'd written on and colored on and then cut up to make a puzzle. He was beaming when I finally put it together. He wrote, "I love Mom. Mmmmm!" I guess because I'm yummy. And then he drew a brown me and a blue him and a whole bunch of decorative brown circles. He read me the words. Then he pointed at the pictures. "That's you. And that's me. And look, I'm pooping!"

He's pretty osum too. Poop and all.

February 6, 2011

Girl Time

In elementary school circles - or at least in ours - the annual Father/Daughter dance has taken on prom-like proportions. There's dress shopping and hair doing and dinner out with dad. And that's no less special when your dad lives in one house and your mom lives in another. In fact, on some level, it becomes that much more special because it means on this one day each year, you get alone time with each of your parents.

Yes, I said each of them. Because the Father/Daughter dance isn't just a night out with dad. It's also an afternoon with mom. And that's all about the girl time. It's about trying on dresses and shoes and stockings. It's about manicures and hairstyles and finding the right something in mom's jewelry box.

And it's about getting to know each other.

That's what my daughter and I did today. We shopped. We groomed. We coiffed. And I learned something I didn't know before.

My diva looks like me. That's not a surprise. She knows she looks like me; I know she looks like me. But I didn't know she was proud of it. She is, though. She's proud to look like her tired, wrinkly, plumply middle-aged, glasses-wearing mama.

I expect that to vanish the second her age ends in "teen." But for now, and for nine, I'm touched.

February 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Little Foodie

This is what a birthday looks like for my diva, who really ought to consider being a pastry chef when she grows up, because that girl is all about the baking.

It started the day before, with a little birthday sugar cookie she made for herself in her Easy-Bake Oven, complete with pink ruffled icing and little sugar flowers. She even shared it with her brothers, her au pair and me. Which was a surprise. Because she's not just about the baking; she's also about the eating, and she doesn't much like to share.

Then there was the birthday breakfast in bed, with homemade-from-scratch cinnamon buns, scrambled eggs and fruit salad and a rose in a bud vase, all of which were incidental because the buns were the only things that mattered.

By the way, have you ever tried to make breakfast in bed for a morning person? The trick is to tell them you're making them breakfast in bed even though they're wide awake and fully dressed. Then they run upstairs and wait patiently so you can pretend you woke up first.

After that, we had a big birthday party which featured many, many crafts, the highlight of which was the chance to decorate one marbled vanilla/chocolate cupcake to within an inch of its life. And then eat it. Before dinner even.

And finally, yesterday, a festive school party featuring mom's homemade sugar cookies. We briefly considered purchasing big, thick, yellow-iced sugar cookies at Giant - at my urging, because really that's a lot of baking, even for me. Then my diva said, "Oh but mom yours are so much better," and I caved. What can I say. Kitchen flattery from the kids who once ran screaming from my cooking totally does me in.

I wish I had time for a proper tribute to my gorgeous girl, but I'm working like a madwoman at the moment and need to get back to it. Suffice it to say, she's nine now. Nine. It still surprises me. She's as tall as my shoulder and can add fractions and write stories and sing songs most people actually want to listen to. She tries everything - every food, every sport, every everything. She's fearless and creative and just a little insecure, and some days all she really needs is a great big hug from her mom. I could not love her more.

Happy birthday, sweetie.