Forgiveness and Scrambled Eggs

Childhood... full of uncomfortable, awkward moments.

Childhood… full of uncomfortable, awkward moments.

Miles run Wednesday: 10

Near-maimings by a golf cart while on 10-mile run: 1

Miles to be run today: 4.5

I had a great childhood.

This is not a popular thing to say if publishers are, say, wanting to publish a memoir about someone’s years addicted to heroin or how someone’s parents drove them out into a field to be raised by wild dogs.

When I hear my peers talking about whether kids benefit from staying at home or being in daycare, I can speak about both: I had a stay-at-home mom for a while, a part-time stay-at-home mom, went to daycare for a few years and spent time as a latchkey kid. All pretty good, all things considered.

During the daycare years, I spent time at four different daycares; five if you count the hippy-dippy one I enjoyed for one week while we were living in an apartment just after a big move.

There is enough material for several posts about My Time in Daycare. For today, let me tell you all about the week-long, hippy-dippy one.

We had just moved to Atlanta, and we were living in some kind of new job-subsidized apartment until our house was ready. The apartment seemed cool to me, but my mom said that roaches the size of Rottweilers came out at night after my sister and I were already asleep.

While my mom and dad were working, or whatever they did during the day, my sister and I went to this daycare inside a large house in Buckhead.

There were lots of old-growth trees shading the house, and the lighting inside left a lot to be desired.

The kitchen took up the entire center of the house: a large, open, galley-style kitchen staffed with good-natured counselors who had big dreams of teaching 9-year-olds to cook long before the Food Network was even a gleam in a hungry executive’s eye. We got to help cook scrambled eggs and toast, and we were treated like short adults.

The outside area of the house was blessedly shady, unlike most daycare playgrounds of the era. July in Atlanta is not known for being cool. There was a chain-link fence around the small perimeter and swings and climbing equipment. The ground throughout was reminiscent of the Dust Bowl.

As a rising fourth-grader, I was one of the big kids, and a few of the older kids made friends with me right away. We hung out near the playground equipment, but we were too old and jaded to actually climb on it.

We also went on roller-skating field trips and took a turn at bowling.

Everyone was perfectly nice to me.

But I had a secret weakness. One that made my mom shake her head in agony.

I forgot to ask people their names.

Then, months later, it was too late to ask. It was horribly embarrassing, and every time, I would coach myself: remember to ask their names. But in this peaceful, commune-style setting, the scrambled eggs had thrown me off my game.

And one tall kid who had been kind to me… well, I wasn’t sure if it was even a boy or a girl. He/she had short hair, either a Dorothy Hamill cut or a boy bowl cut. Which was it? It tortured me in bed at night while the roaches were having their way with my mom and dad.

You would think that hearing the other kids call his/her name on the playground would be a good clue. But here was the problem:

It was either Jane or Jame(s). Which actually sound incredibly similar in kid parlance.

I had two more days of daycare before we moved out to The Burbs. It was time to find out, once and for all.

We were standing out on the cement patio, the dusty red clay swirling around us. Kelly, a girl who was clearly a girl and who I had trusted to be my friend for lo, these three days, was right there. And Jane/James was turned away.

So I leaned over and whispered to Kelly, “Is the name Jane or James?”

Kelly leaned back and looked me over, then grinned.

“Jane! Jane! Anne thinks you’re a boy!”

Awkward.

Jane turned around, and I studied her face as she studied mine.

I felt sorry for her, that she would be stuck here with Fair Weather Friend Kelly, who obviously didn’t have Girl Jane’s best interests at heart.

Poor Jane, embarrassed by the newcomer (me), unprotected by her so-called friend, and still, as far as I could tell, devoid of any gender identity.

We eyed each other carefully. “You thought I was a boy?” she said.

“No!” I choked out. “I couldn’t understand what people were calling you. Some girls have boy names; I don’t know!”

Jane turned out to be a forgiving sort. “Yeah, it’s Jane. Now let’s go make some lunch.”

I breathed out.

And I made a pact with myself to learn the names of every kid at my new daycare, a place unlikely to serve up forgiveness along with scrambled eggs.

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A Stroll Down the Nature Walks of My Youth

Bee. Flower. Yep. Seen it.

Nature walks, Indian mounds, forts and gardens we visited when I was a kid: 547

Average temperature (in degrees F) when we visited: 97

Amount of whining involved in any trip with me as a child: too much

I went on a field trip with my son’s fifth grade yesterday. We were at the school at 6 a.m. to get on the buses and arrived back at 8:30 p.m.

When I am nominated for sainthood, please vote for me.

We visited a battleship, an aquarium, the beach and a fort. I was in charge of four boys. We spent the most time at the battleship’s gunnery set-up, with all four of them crawling over the various killing implements, trying to figure out which one would do the most damage in the least amount of time.

Here are my thoughts and memories about sightseeing; about being a kid and being an adult with kids:

1. Nature walks. My parents were much better than I am about taking us around to see whichever sights there were to see. Their favorite was nature walks. Nature walks are, well, free, and they are extremely nature-y.

As an expert now in the area of nature walks, I can tell you that no matter what the venue, there will be a nature walk nearby. The Washington Monument? I’m sure there’s a nature walk. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse? There’s a nature walk within spitting distance. Grandfather Mountain? I can definitely attest to that one, because my husband and I started walking on it, and I had on flip-flops. It wasn’t exactly a flip-flop kind of nature walk.

When I used to whine about nature walks, the air being stagnant and 98 degrees, the bugs getting all excited at the tribe of four dumb humans stumbling onto another feast opportunity, my parents would always say, “I bet your kids are gonna love nature walks!” Then they would laugh maniacally.

They do.

I recently took my kids to a little lake nearby to throw a frisbee and jump around. They ran up and down a hill for 30 minutes. Up. And down. And up. And down.

Then…  they volunteered to go on a nature walk. I know. Weird, right? We started walking around that lake, and it was all nature-y, and I was fine because it wasn’t too hot, and I had on running shoes, and we all talked and had fun. And after almost an hour and a half, my daughter said, “Do you think we’re almost there?” And I assured her we were, although I was starting to doubt it myself.

They never once complained. That, my friends, is some kind of weird karma.

2. Forts. I love history. Really, I do. I almost majored in it in college.

However, forts are not my most favorite thing in the world. Yesterday, we visited a fort with my son’s class.

We listened to a guy talk about weapons; he was pretty entertaining, talking about murdering people and how the bayonet they had back then was designed to kill you slowly after causing copious infection. Now, it’s been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

I wanted to throw in that AK-47s might be the real reason bayonets aren’t today’s most popular killing machine, but I restrained myself. It was thrilling; the boys were completely silent.

But then we started walking around this path that was basically around this bunch of odd little hills, and then there was a marsh (ahem, wetlands) and lots of wind.

My son pulls on my sleeve and whispers, “This is pretty boring, Mom.”

To which I said, in a totally grown-up and appropriate way, “I know.” I even added an eye roll. “My mom and dad took me to lots of forts, especially when it was really hot.”

He looked at me with pity and said, “Dude.”

Precisely.

3. Battleships. Boys like battleships. I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the same kind of thing like when Lyle Lovett was asked, “You seem to attract a lot of women. What’s your secret? What have you learned about women?” And he said, “Women like to eat outside.”

Battleships have claustrophobic little rooms and labyrinthine passageways where you lose track of which direction is fore and aft. The bathrooms offered no privacy, and there was only a tiny surgical room, even though the movie they showed described several of these ships having enormous holes blown out of them.

They reek of war and salt water and metal, and every boy I asked said that the battleship was the best part of the field trip.

We were eating lunch, and I overheard some of the boys talking.

“Dude, did you see that well? Like, what if you fell into it?”

“Dude.”

“No, well, actually, if you read the plaque, it said it wasn’t a real well. It said…” the boy broke off in mid-sentence, sensing the metaphorical sharks circling. It was the sound of his popularity in serious jeopardy. “I mean, I didn’t really read it, but the name of it just…. nevermind.”

4. The beach. I am firmly of the opinion that beaches are for getting wet. There is, like, all this water and stuff. Looking at all the water without getting in is like looking at a thick slice of homemade chocolate cake and saying, “Well, that’s some nice cake.”

Guess where we went yesterday? The beach. It was in between lots of other activities, and the teachers had prepped the kids for weeks, telling them they absolutely, positively could not get near the water.

Yep. You guessed it. Several of them rushed the water like malicious little lemmings.

And I just want to say, I almost did, too. It’s a pain to be a grown-up sometimes.

5. Gardens. Gardens are pretty. They have lots of flowers. And nature. And they’re peaceful.

They’re not great places for kids.

My parents took us to lots of gardens. And now, in a kind of hazing mentality, I have taken our kids to gardens, too.

We went a few weeks ago when they had the day off school. My friend and I took our four (combined) kids to the nearby Duke Gardens. It was hot that day, just like I remember.

She started out by yelling, “Don’t run!” as they dashed away down the garden paths. Isn’t that silly?

Garden paths are not walking paths for kids; they are mazes, designed for getting lost. Quickly. Let them. The funny thing about kids is that eventually, they get hungry. Or thirsty. They’ll find you.

Our kids managed to completely destroy the lunch of at least one college-aged couple in love who thought the gardens would be a great place for a peaceful, romantic lunch date.

One day, that will be my kids and their dates. And I hope they will remember how dumb they used to think people are when they’re in love. Karma again.

I hope you have enjoyed my meandering journey down a nature path. The next time you go, remember to bring water, wear sturdy shoes and never, ever tell your kids to walk. There will be plenty of time to walk when they’re 40.

Baking Bonds & Builds a Better Boy

Banana-Pecan Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Bananas in 24 banana-pecan cupcakes: 4

Sticks of butter in 24 cupcakes and frosting: 3

Temperature outside when we ran this morning: 23

(Okay. So the temperature has nothing to do with this post. But I’m ready for summer after our brief, cold flirtation with winter.)

When my son was born, I cried in the delivery room that he would grow up and never come to visit me when he and his wife moved to California or Hawaii or Thailand. I’m not proud of it.

If you met him today, you would question whether I had anything to do with his genetic makeup. He is all boy and an exact replica, a MiniMe, of my husband. They talk about code and gigawatts and googleplex, and my son thinks the only reason we should ever go out shopping is to head to the Apple Store. For some reason, he does not find boots exciting.

But he and I have a secret connection: baking. See those yummy cupcakes up there? He made them. And I can settle down now and know that part of my genes will go into the next generation in a sugary coated, cakey mess.

Here are the reasons baking is great for boys:

1. Baking is completely gratuitous. You don’t have to bake. If we want to eat survive in our house, we have to cook or occasionally order Chinese takeout. But you don’t have to bake a thing. Ever. And boys like things that are gratuitous. Come to think of it, girls do, too.

2. Baking means following the instructions. I actually hate following instructions most of the time. It goes back to my resistance to authority and dislike for people telling me what to do. But if you follow the steps just right in baking, you get something really sweet and yummy as a reward. I guess I can bow to authority every now and then. And boys can probably use a little practice at that, too.

3. Baking doesn’t involve sharp knives or things that can be used as lethal weapons. After hanging out with many boys over the years, I have found that society likes to encourage boys to use items that either are lethal weapons or can be turned into lethal weapons with the flick of a wrist. My husband’s grandfather made real crossbows for my husband and his brother when they were young. I still say–they were hoping the two of them would kill each other off. And our neighbors’ kid has nunchucks now. How many 6-year-old boys do you know who need nunchucks?

The tools of baking are rounded and soft, providing a calming effect on the testosterone-inclined. Later, when he is 34, in order to cook on his own, my son will have to learn how to chop things without losing an appendage (something my husband has a passing knowledge of–more in a later post). But baking is attainable early on.

4. Baking has a built-in element of delayed gratification. If you bake stuff yourself, there’s the mixing bowl, of course. But the real results of your labor come later, after 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or even 45. And then they have to cool. And maybe you have to ice them. I figure I’m just saving the world here… Teen pregnancy prevention idea #429: baking. Just kidding. Kind of.

While we were waiting for the cupcakes to bake, I taught him how to do the rainbow. You know, like when you’re shuffling cards? And then you bend them up, and they flutter gracefully down from their arc? I can do it, because I have played some cards in my day. But trying to figure out how I did it and how to teach it to an 11-year-old was pretty silly. By the end, he knew how to do the rainbow. And there were cupcakes. Cool.

5. You have to clean the kitchen anyway. A couple of weekends ago, I came downstairs in the middle of another cupcake-making marathon, and a pile of brown stuff was all over the kitchen floor. My husband was crouching over it with the vacuum cleaner. Half a bottle of cinnamon–gone. Luckily for my son, I tend to buy cinnamon the way some people buy milk before a snowstorm. Cinnamon? Hmmm. I bet we’re getting low. Let me buy some more. Seriously. Check with me if you run out. I probably have some you can borrow.

With boys (or me), you must approach baking as a messy, Jekyll (during baking) and Hyde (post-clean-up) science experiment. There is no wiping up each minor spill as you go along. Our kitchen looks like it got hit by the Flour Fairy after every baking escapade. But I’ve heard it helps preserve the life of tile floors. Or that’s what I tell my husband, anyway.

Stay tuned tomorrow when I reveal all the secrets to the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World.