Sunday, August 19, 2018

she will fall and fly




For eight years I stood at the classroom door eagerly greeting my darling first graders as they approached our room. I imagine my smile was over-the-top, but I can assure you, it was genuine. Like so many teachers, I'd spent weeks preparing every nook and cranny of my room - mailboxes were labeled, bulletin boards were decorated, books were organized. This kind of extreme devotion was easy because I had no other responsibilities at home; a kid-free home meant all the time in the world to give to my first graders, and I was happy to do it.

"Hi there! I'm Mrs. Becker!" I'd say as I bent down to meet their nervous eyes. "I'm so glad you're here!"

Most of them came with their parents, but to tell you the truth, I don't remember the parents. I didn't notice if a parent was nervous or hesitant or fighting back tears. I never considered that dropping their child off at my door for a new school year was anything more than an item on the to-do list for that day. It didn't occur to me that these moms and dads would be worried about their child being picked on or left out or sitting alone in the lunchroom. Were they nervous their child would learn something on the playground they were "too young to know about?" I didn't realize they were entrusting me with such a precious gift, assuming I would teach their child to read and write, but mostly hoping I'd teach them to be kind and brave and confident.

Parents surrounded me, bombarding me with questions and information regarding their child's allergies and bathroom schedule and who they should or shouldn't sit near.

"He can't eat mangoes. Are you planning any activities with mangoes?"

"Will you help her find the afternoon bus? She's never been on the bus before."

"Sometimes her stomach hurts when she's nervous."

"He's been doing puzzles since he was 9 months. I think he might be gifted." 

"Every other Tuesday his Nana will pick him up. That's Nana - not Grandma. Grandma should never pick him up. If she tries to, you need to call me right away. Oh, and on the third Friday of the month, our neighbor will pick him up."

"Please let her go to the bathroom whenever she asks."

"He is pretty shy. Who will he sit by?"

"Will you call me if he cries?"

"What's the first math unit? Will there be homework?"

I'd chuckle at the parent who needed one more hug, and I'd roll my eyes at the one who needed to tell me again to let her daughter go to the bathroom whenever she asked. And eventually, I grew frustrated with the ones who just wouldn't leave. I was relieved when our principal came on the intercom, inviting parents to say their final good-byes and head to the library for a PTO sponsored coffee break.

We would be fine, and I was excited to get started. I had been at this long enough to know we'd all find the bus and the lunchroom and that our room full of strangers would soon become friends. I knew the nervous butterflies would be gone by the time we gathered on the rug to vote for a class mascot. I knew that bumps along the way would build character and problem-solving skills in my little six-year-olds. I wasn't worried; they'd all be great. In fact, I thought I had the hard job. I was the one about to be left alone with 24 children. All mom and dad had to do was wave good-bye. Weren't they celebrating the freedom? Perhaps heading out to brunch and clinking mimosa glasses?

I was such a fool.

*****

Tomorrow morning, Stephen and I will walk Charlotte to her classroom. She's been there three times already and knows exactly where to go; she'll probably lead the way. We will watch as her sweet smiling teacher greets her and tells her it is going to be a great year. I know her teacher will have a hundred things on her mind so I'll fight the urge to tell her that Charlotte loves to draw and will want to know where the blank paper is right away. I know this isn't the time for questions, so I'll hold my tongue instead of asking if they have snack time. Wait, was I supposed to pack a snack? Charlotte ate breakfast at 7, and lunch isn't until 12:30. That's a really long time. Charlotte will probably get cranky. I didn't read anything about snack time. Did I miss it?

I wonder if her sweet teacher will notice I'm fighting back tears. Does she know that for years we've been able to get up and go to the zoo any morning we want to? What if we want to eat pancakes in our pjs and read books all morning? Surely there's a park we still need to explore or a play date we might miss. The thought of life now dictated by a school schedule makes me want to grab Charlotte's little hand and run out of there. School? Sorry, maybe next year. We have a story time at the library to get to.

I know Charlotte will love it. In fact, I'm confident she won't even look back. She won't need one more hug, and she won't have any interest in taking another picture. She'll adore her teacher, make friends quickly, and soak in knowledge like a thirsty little sponge. But school is a long time. Did you know that after kindergarten they go to first grade? And then second grade? And they keep going. FOREVER. There really is no way to back up and do it again.

I am such a fan of school. I loved it as a child and even more as a teacher. But I know kids can and will be brutal, and there are times when she'll be left out and put down. Even worse, she will do her own share of leaving out and putting down. School will likely be where she learns her first cuss word, and I'm practicing my "stay calm" face for the day she comes home asking about sex. School is her first glimpse into a broken world - a world ready to lie to her, saying she isn't good enough, or thin enough, or pretty enough. School will expose weaknesses, causing her to doubt herself and her abilities. But school will also reveal her strengths, not just academically, but also in character. She will be constantly presented with opportunities to love fiercely in word and in deed. To be brave enough to speak truth when it is easier to stay silent. To care more what God thinks than what others think.

School will become her life, and in my rational grown-up moments I know that life is a mix of cruelty and beauty. I know she will fall and fly just like my students did, and I don't actually want her to stay little forever. I want her to follow her curiosity and find her passions. I want her to struggle through the challenges of school because it will teach her to do hard things. I want her to be face-to-face with hatred and choose kindness instead. I want her to discovery the thrill of following Jesus. 

But I also want to go to the zoo on Tuesdays and eat pancakes in our pjs til 10 in the morning.




Wednesday, August 15, 2018

lemonade for sale


 *****

Earlier this summer Charlotte decided to set up a table at the end of our driveway to display her shell and rock collection. She carefully spread out a couple dozen rocks, gems, and shells including a few unique standouts, but mostly dirty stones found in our backyard. I helped her make a sign that read Please Don't Take - Just Look, and she raided the pantry for candy to create a small bowl of goodies for her visitors.


I watched from the window as she stood by her table waiting for a passerby to attend her "Rock Festival." Unfortunately, attendance started off pretty slow. Charlotte attempted to engage a dog walker who quickly brushed her off saying she didn't have any money. Cars rushed by without tapping the brakes, and even a bike rider pretended not to hear her calling, "Would you like to see my rock collection?" My mama heart was feeling bad for her, hoping at least one person would take pity and pause to look.

Eventually a pair of sweet power walkers stopped. These ladies were probably in their sixties and took to Charlotte right away, asking questions about each rock and admiring the ones that really sparkled. These first attendees motivated Charlotte to continue her festival into the afternoon hours. She even recruited Andrew to help wave down cars, and much to my surprise, the Rock Festival had anywhere from five to ten visitors throughout the day. One lady pulled her car over and came out with a change purse.

"Oh, I thought you were selling lemonade," she said to Charlotte.

And this, my friends, was the start of the lemonade stand.

*****

"Can we have a lemonade stand tonight?" they asked as they barged through the screen door just after 5:00 pm. This group of neighborhood playmates, ranging in ages two to ten, had asked me three evenings in a row if they could have a lemonade stand. I again explained to them that the best lemonade stands take a few days for planning. They needed signs, maybe balloons, and more importantly, a parent willing to make the lemonade. Plus, there was Stephen Becker to consider. This man lives for social opportunities to go above and beyond. Neighborhood lemonade stand? I knew he would not want to miss this. 

"Not tonight," I said to the kitchen full of disappointed darlings. "But I will text all your moms right now, and we can set a date."


The week leading up to Sunday, August 5 was exhilarating. Charlotte, our budding artist, happily took over the responsibility of flyer making. Stephen made 100 copies. Did I mention he likes to go big? Days before the lemonade stand, Stephen took the children around the neighborhood to pass out flyers. They rehearsed  a script that included a polite introduction and invitation. You can imagine how the baby boomers swooned.


Stephen and our neighbor divvied up the adult responsibilities. We'd get the lemonade; she'd get the ice. We'd get the poster boards; she'd get the balloons. It all seemed simple enough until Stephen started talking about streamers and banners and disconnecting the play store from our basement wall to bring outside. I rolled my eyes when he started texting links to lemon costumes, and I had to step in and say no when he found a bright yellow spandex bodysuit. 


Sunday morning felt like a holiday; the anticipation of the special day had us all feeling extra happy. Charlotte and Andrew brought flyers to church to spread the word past the confounds of our neighborhood. After a quick lunch, we set out again to deliver one final round of flyers. The kids put in a strong last effort, but after 45 minutes, the 90 degree sun baked us into exhaustion, and we had to come home and rest up before the grand opening at 3:00.

It was just after 2:00, and I was upstairs feeding Milo. I heard Stephen open the front door and yell, "Customers! We already have our first customers!"

It was true. Despite the 3-6 pm time frame that was clearly written on the flyer, people starting coming by the moment we began setting up. Apparently the signs, balloons, and colorful awning really did the trick. We all rushed around setting up the final details and instructing the children on the importance of quality customer service.

"Be sure to greet each customer with a smile."

"Explain their options - regular lemonade, pink lemonade, and limeade."

"You can never touch the ice with your dirty hands."

"Don't lick your fingers."

"Ask if they would like a garnish." (Did I mention Stephen cut up lemon and lime slices for a garnish?)

"Say thank you."

"Say have a nice day."

"Say thank you again."

"Don't touch the ice!"

"Smile!"





By the official start time, half the lemonade was already gone.

A few minutes later Stephen started laughing and said, "Look down the street!" Those hand delivered flyers were the magic touch because at that very moment, at least four separate families were walking up the street. The lemonade stand was drawing out the masses. We sent Stephen to the store for more lemonade at just about the time an Amazon delivery truck stopped in the middle of the road and bought two glasses. Stephen came back with eighteen cans of lemonade and a box of Lemonheads for an additional garnish. (No comment.) I am not being overly dramatic when I say there was a line of people backing out into the street. Cars were stopping in the middle of the road for window service; people were coming back for refills. One man even paid extra to have Andrew deliver a cup to a neighbor up the road. It was amazing and crazy all at once.






The children were working at full speed and with top notch customer service. They learned to quickly scoop the ice, fill the cup, add a garnish, and deliver with a smile. Andrew was especially impressive, displaying early bartending skills that made us proud. His chubby three-year-old hands figured out how to use the tongs to pick up a lemon slice, and it was downright adorable. Granted he ate 27 Lemonheads in the process, but who wouldn't? Our sweet neighbors were overly generous, and the tiny IKEA cash register was soon overflowing.




I snuck inside for a few minutes to lay Milo down for a nap. As I walked back outside, I had to stop to watch and take in the moment. Our driveway was filled with children and strollers and wagons and neighbors and dogs - some meeting for the first time and some catching up with friends - all standing around drinking lemonade. Our little family had helped create this moment - this memory. I complain about our house all the time and often wish we lived somewhere else. But as I watched our kids experience the ultimate childhood summer memory, I was so thankful for our home, our neighborhood, our neighbors, and my little team.



We all crashed by 6:00. Stephen grilled burgers and hot dogs as the neighbors all celebrated the success of childhood. We left the lemonade out as a free self-serve stand, and the kids sat around with dirty feet and sticky faces as they counted piles of quarters.

It was a great success of summer done right.




P.S. Sending Stephen to the store for more lemonade was a mistake. We currently have thirteen cans of frozen lemonade (and limeade! and pink lemonade! and raspberry lemonade!) left over in our freezer. God love him.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

mama wisdom & faithful instruction


This morning I snuck downstairs before any of the darlings were awake. I sat on our living room rug, hot coffee next to me, and my Bible open in front of me. I found my way to Proverbs 31 where verse 26 tells me this proverbial wonder woman "speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue."

Oof.
Wisdom.
Faithful instruction.

I stopped right there and asked God to fill my words with wisdom and faithful instruction. I asked that my words be a blessing to my children, pointing them to Jesus.

So beautiful. So inspiring.

And ten minutes later, those darlings woke up...

*****

Good morning, darlings.
Go use the potty.
Everyone needs to go potty when they wake up.
Because.
Yes, you need to wear pants.
Stand still.
Let me help you.
No, you can do it yourself.
Sit down.
Hands to self.
Ask me again in a different way.
Take your plate to the kitchen.
Stop it.
Let's go.
Spit spot.
Put your shoes on.
Grab a coat.
Get in your seat.
Try to buckle yourself.
Quiet down.
Speak up.
I can't hear you, sweetie.
Respect the no.
Hold my hand.
Look both ways.
Walking feet.
Obey quickly, please.
Speak truth and love.
I can see you're feeling frustrated.
Slow down.
Hurry up.
Stop running.
Give him space.
Take off your shoes.
Did you wipe?
And flush?
Wash your hands.
Let's pause to thank God.
Please use your spoon.
Here, eat a carrot.
No, you can't have another treat.
You have enough ketchup.
Don't say "stupid."
Stop provoking your sister.
Yes, you may be excused.
Go play.
Stop bugging me.
Turn that down.
Gentle hands.
Remember, brothers and sisters are for life.
Apologize.
You need to play in separate rooms.
Now.
Mommy is feeling frustrated.
Pick that up.
Wipe that up.
Carry that up.
Take that up, too.
Stop.
Don't.
Please respond when I ask you something.
Be gentle.
Wait a minute.
Give me a moment.
Oh my darlings.
Look at me.
I'm sorry I yelled.
What is that?
Where did you get that?
Put that back.
Oh good grief.
Keep the worms outside.
Look for a chance to show love.
What do you say when someone gives you something?
Not right now.
Go back outside.
The snow shovel is not a toy.
No, you can't have another snack.
Where'd you get that Popsicle?
Dinner will be ready soon.
Oh look, Dad's home!
Go ask your Dad.
Talk to Dad about it.
Show Dad.
Go find your Dad.
Wash up.
Let's pause to thank God.
Please use your fork.
No, you can't have another treat.
You don't need ketchup.
Head upstairs.
And carry something up.
Put your dirty clothes in the basket.
Pick a book.
No, a shorter book.
Let's pray.
Ok, but this is the last song.
Give me a kiss.
And hug.
Tighter.
I love you, too.
See you in the morning.
Go to sleep, darling.
Stop yelling "mom."
Go back to your own bed.
I mean it.
Get back in your bed.
Now.
I love you.

*****

Surely there's some wisdom and faithful instruction in there somewhere.
Yes?




Thursday, June 21, 2018

Edible Is A Requirement: The Mexican Brownie Disaster

Photo courtesy of Her View From Home


Even as a teenage I remember browsing through my mom's cookbooks, marking recipes that peeked my interest, but rarely seeing any through to fruition. In part, this was due to my mother's love-hate relationship with the kitchen. Love because she believed strongly in family dinnertime and was happy to open our home and table to guests. Hate because she didn't actually enjoy cooking and certainly wasn't looking for opportunities to mix, chop, roast, or blend more than absolutely necessary.  Market Day Chicken Stir Fry was a go-to and family favorite.

I, on the other hand, thought it might be exciting to try something new and create something delicious, so 16-year-old Joy eagerly volunteered to bring a dessert to a Fourth of July lake house celebration. I'd torn out this recipe from my mother's Good Housekeeping magazine, and the fact that the brownies were made from more than a box, an egg, water, and oil was already pushing me into uncharted culinary territory. 

The recipe for mocha cinnamon frosting required a foreign ingredient to be brought into my parents' house: coffee. Neither of my parents are coffee drinkers, so we rarely ventured down the coffee aisle in the grocery story. I'm pretty sure the small container of instant coffee we purchased for these brownies in 1999 is still in my mother's cabinet. 

It was with great enthusiasm that I set out to create these brownies, reading and rereading as I meticulously followed each step.  The 9x13 pan of brownies was cooling on the table as I began the frosting - dissolving coffee, melting multiple chocolates, stirring, and whisking.  I was so close.

The last step. 

"Stir in confectioners sugar until well blended and smooth."

I scooped up that cup of sugar, poured it into my mocha goodness and stirred. 

Smooth never came.

My inexperienced baking skills mindlessly skipped over the word confectioners, never even pausing to question what that word might mean. All I saw was sugar, and all I was left with was a grainy, sand-like frosting, filled with granulated sugar.  

In case you know even less about baking than I did and are totally confused at this point, allow me to clarify, lest you replicate by mistake. 

Confectioners sugar=powdered sugar=yummy, smooth frosting=total win 

Granulated sugar=regular sugar=grainy, sand-like frosting=big oops for Joy

Oh, but wait.  It gets better.

I served them. 

To people. 

I poured that gritty frosting onto my cinnamon spiced brownies, packed them in a cooler for the lake house and served them to my friends. 

There is a lesson to be learned here: when it comes to food, perfection is a lofty standard, but edible is a requirement. Many disasters can be stomached and might even turn out surprisingly delicious - see Orange Chocolate Cake. However, you need to know when those imperfections have gone too far, resulting in pity bites and leaving your friends smiling to your face and spitting crunchy brownies out behind your back. 

Know when to call it quits. There can be dignity in dumping a pan of brownies into the trash.

Make it again, make something new, or stop by a bakery, but please don't serve every disaster - even if you spent money on unusual ingredients - even if you spent your entire Saturday afternoon cooking - even if it was going perfectly until the very last step. (Insert heavy sigh.) 

Although my dad and brother will never let me forget the day I served the grainy Mexican Brownies, I have since made these with confectioners sugar multiple times, and they are divine. 

Mexican Brownies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (That's the regular sugar!)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 TB vanilla
Mocha Frosting
  • 1 tsp. instant coffee (I have also used espresso or strong brewed coffee, and both work fine.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 
  • 1 bar (3.5 oz) milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 TB milk
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (That's the powdered sugar!)

Prepare Brownies:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan. Line the pan with foil, extending the foil over the rim, and grease the foil.  Yes, I know this is a lot of greasing and lining, but you'll thank me later.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in granulated sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla.

Slowly add the flour mixture, and stir until well blended.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan.

Bake about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool brownies completely in the pan on a wire rack.


Make the Frosting:

* Note* This frosting is more of a glaze to pour on the brownies rather than a thick frosting to smear.  
In a small bowl, dissolve the instant coffee in vanilla.  If you are using espresso or strong coffee, just stir in the vanilla.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, butter, cinnamon, and salt.  Heat on medium-low until chocolates are melted. Stir occasionally.

Remove from the heat, and use a whisk to stir in the coffee mixture and milk.

Stir in confectioners powdered sugar until well blended and smooth.

Spread warm frosting over cooled brownies.  Let stand for at least 20 minutes for the frosting to set.

When the frosting has set, use the foil edges to lift the brownies out of the pan. Peel away foil from the sides and cut brownies.



Betcha can't eat just one....


A similar essay was first published on Her View From Home.