An Irish Blessing for my Future Daughter-in-Law

Once upon a time, I decided that we should celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day by making some festive cookies.

My son started it. Well, really, VeggieTales did. Their Sumo of the Opera DVD features an entertaining but informative story — featuring actual people (okay, they’re animated, but they’re not vegetables) — describing the life and work of Ireland’s Patron Saint. From the first time we saw it, my boy declared Saint Patrick’s Day to be his third favorite holiday…behind Christmas and Thanksgiving, but ahead of Easter, Independence Day, and even Halloween.

Because Saint Patrick really was a stellar character, and, moreover, because I love seeing my kids get enthusiastic about an honest-to-goodness learning opportunity, I opted to run with it.

As it turns out, having children limits one’s options regarding the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. At the price of meat these days, I wasn’t prepared to buy a pound of corned beef only to discover that they hated it. I know my son well enough to be confident that he would detest Irish potatoes. As for the customary pint of Guinness…well…not just yet, anyway.

Where else does one turn when tradition fails? Cookies, of course. Green-frosted cookies shaped like shamrocks. Easy-peasy, right? Problem solved!

As it turns out, you really need to plan ahead if you want to make shamrock-shaped cookies. By which I mean, you should have shamrock-shaped cookie cutters in your house, and you shouldn’t wait until March 17th to confirm that, actually, you don’t.

I needn’t spell out for you whether or not I had any on March 17th.

Fortunately, I recalled seeing some instructions in The Joy of Cooking for people in my exact situation, and I found the page straightaway. It’s very simple, the book told me. Cut out a piece of cardboard in the shape you want for your cookies, lay it on your rolled-out cookie dough, and cut around it. Repeat indefinitely. As long as you grease your cutout from time to time, it won’t stick to the dough, and in no time you’ll have beautiful custom-made cookies!

As it turns out, the authors of The Joy of Cooking are more competent than I am. Or maybe they have higher-quality cardboard, or greasier butter, or more flour in their dough. Regardless, let’s just say that I did not experience the success promised by the cookbook. Despite prodigious greasing of the cardboard — and yes, I even used the shiny side — I was unable to use my cutout for a single shamrock beyond the first one. So I presently gave up and just freestyled some shamrocks with my paring knife. Which was harder than I expected, despite my not-abysmal drawing skills. Once I had about eight shamrocks that would get me blocked for life if I ever tried posting them on Pinterest, I decided I had a St. Patrick’s Day quorum.

“Hey kids, do you want to help make cookies?” I called. (They had lost interest long ago). “You can use any shape we have!”

We soon had two excited children and a festive assortment of shamrocks, hearts, butterflies, fish, and sailboats ready for the oven. All that remained was to cool and frost them…

I had briefly considered buying green icing, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After all, it doesn’t take that much longer to make it from scratch, and it sure is cheaper! In fact…see, I was out of confectioner’s sugar, but I’d read before that you could replace it with granulated sugar blended with cornstarch…well, I didn’t even buy confectioner’s sugar. In a burst of misplaced confidence, I opted to make the sugar from scratch as well as the icing. Look how resourceful I am!

As it turns out…the store-bought kind just has that certain je ne sais quoi that can’t be perfectly replicated at home. Not by me, and not on that day, anyway. Yes, I did make icing, using a recipe specifically entitled “icing for cookies,” but it wasn’t friendly. It dripped and spread out and generally didn’t behave as icing should behave when one hopes to frost variously-shaped cookies so that it comes out in just the right shape but with an even centimeter between the frosting and the perimeter of each and every blasted cookie.

(Wondering about the cookies under the cooling rack? Or the stemless shamrocks?  Don't ask...)

(Wondering about the cookies under the cooling rack? Or the stemless shamrocks? Don’t ask…)

You know what, though? The kids didn’t seem the least bit disappointed with the finished product (and given the fact that they ARE kids, they wouldn’t have attempted to hide any disappointment they did feel). They were eager to identify the cookies they had cut out, and to eat them while we watched the St. Patrick video again. And, despite some frustration with uncooperative baking products, I concluded I wasn’t disappointed either.

Just amused. Maybe slightly wiser. And not perfect.

But hey, I’d accepted my imperfection long before. And that day, it occurred to me that, really, my son shouldn’t have a perfect mother. What he should have — with time — is the ability to greet life with all of its flaws, its idiosyncracies, and its unmet expectations, and celebrate anyway…and, even more importantly, to accept the imperfections of other people and to celebrate them anyway.

Besides, someday he will probably get married. When that happens, I don’t want a daughter-in-law who constantly feels the burden of being compared with her mother-in-law…who dreads our times together because they remind her of how inadequate she feels compared with the “perfect mom” she keeps hearing about. Instead, I want her to feel welcome in our home, and comfortable having me and my husband in their home.

And when, inevitably, cookies burn, projects go awry, and plans fall through, I want my boy to hug his wife and say, “Sweetie, nobody’s perfect, but you’re perfect for me and that’s why I love you. Did my mom ever tell you about her Saint Patrick’s Day cookies?…”

Experience Necessary? Call a Mom!

A few years ago, I was having lunch with a good friend (and one toddler, which isn’t bad considering that our combined children equal five), and we got to talking about the future — when our kids would be a little more self-sufficient, and we’d finally be able to leave the house more often.

“The thing is, I don’t even know what I can do,” my friend lamented. “What are my skills? I don’t have a college degree, and I’ll have nothing to show but who-knows-how-many years of being a homemaker. Who would want to hire me?”

Leaving aside the facts that (a) this friend is brilliant and sanguine and eminently hire-able, and (b) plenty of highly successful people never graduated college, here’s what I have to say about that:

Stay-at-Home Moms of the World, YOU’VE GOT THIS.

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By the time Junior can wipe his own nose and fix his own lunch and dress himself completely unassisted, you’ll have so many MORE skills than you already did pre-motherhood that you could have employers fighting duels just for the privilege of hiring you. Don’t believe me? Well, if I prepared an exhaustive résumé, the options would completely overwhelm you, so I’ll just give you a brief sampling of the things you can do — and actually get paid for! — once you’ve raised children.

Chef

How many meals have you prepared over the past who-knows-how-many years? How many special orders? And in your sleep, no less! You not only have what it takes to cook like a pro; you also know how to work long hours and deal with difficult customers. Plus — bonus! — it’s your restaurant, so your menu can include stuff you gave up on making when your kids came along. Imagine the possibilities…

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Cruise Director

“Mom, I don’t know what to dooooo!

Sound familiar? Even if you’ve done better than I have at teaching your kids to proactively occupy their free time, you’ve nonetheless spent years organizing schedules, planning activities, and figuring out what people will need at different times of the day…right down to the Goldfish crackers they will snack on and the books they can look at while driving anywhere farther away than an hour. You will rock this cruise-director thing…plus, I’m pretty sure you won’t have to cook.

Nurse

Second shift? Been there, done that. Knowing the difference between Susie’s “ear infection” cry and her “I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school-and-oh-yeah-I-think-maybe-my-tummy-hurts-(or-maybe-my-throat)” cry? You’re an expert. With more than a decade of first-aid experience under your belt, you will ACE those nursing classes with your hands tied behind your back. Not to mention the wonderful bedside manner you probably have, and let’s face it, some nurses have it and some nurses…don’t.

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Life coach

People will pay big bucks to get some insight into how to manage their lives. Except, of course, for your offspring. From dealing with bullies to recovering from a breakup to choosing a career, you’ve provided sage advice — pro bono — far longer than any paid professional. So when your last fledgling leaves the nest, and you’ve reassured yourself that you didn’t totally ruin your little brood, just slide right in there with the pros and finally earn a salary for what you already do brilliantly.

Foreign Diplomat

Technically, you may need to learn a different language for this, but even if you failed high-school Spanish, you were probably a highly proficient translator by the time your first kid turned three. I mean, if Mom can’t figure out what the little peanut is trying to say, then I guarantee you nobody else does.

In addition to possessing these newly-developed foreign-language skills, you spend the bulk of each day reconciling hostile parties, at least if you have more than one kid. My exhaustive research on foreign diplomacy indicates that you are more than qualified to follow this exciting career path…and that you will actually be able to wear nice clothes and do professional-looking stuff with your hair, which sounds fabulous to me as I sit typing away with my hair in a ponytail and no makeup on.

Actor

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For a trip to the in-laws’ a while ago, I borrowed a CD set of Dr. Seuss books read aloud by actors such as Billy Crystal, Kelsey Grammer, and John Lithgow. As we enjoyed it in the car, I thought to myself, “Man, these guys are fantastic…wait a second…hey, I could do this!” After all, I’ve developed quite a range of voices myself, from Aslan to Ramona to the Once-ler. My British and French accents (among others) aren’t too shabby either. If you love books and try to make them come alive when reading them aloud to your kids, you could easily have a future in audiobooks…and that could just lead to your first big break.

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So next time you’re concerned about your future employability, homemakers, chin up! You rock. And if you need a reference, give me a call. I’ve totally got your back.

Six Easy Fitness Tips Every Mom Can Use

Moms often complain that having children has made it almost impossible to maintain their girlish figures. First came pregnancy, which led to a bunch of confusing extra poundage and droopiness of all sorts…then came nursing, which turns every lactating mom into a ravenous monster whose appetite only grows larger each time it’s appeased…then came parenting, a never-ending project that leaves us moms with just enough energy at the end of each day to choose a TV show to fall asleep to on Netflix. Sure, exercise and nutritious food sound fantastic, but each day has only 24 hours and you’d like to spend some of them sleeping.

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Well, ladies, here’s what I say to that: Quit your whining! There are LOTS of ways you can reclaim that statuesque figure you had in college, and it won’t take ANY time out of your day! All you have to do is incorporate these simple fitness measures into your normal routine, then watch those love handles float away!

1. Cardio in the Kitchen

How many calories do you burn while you’re cooking dinner? I mean, you’re just standing there, right? So….why not try jogging in place while you’re preparing the family meal? Or perhaps some jumping lunges? If the average meal takes about 30 minutes, imagine how many calories you’ll burn this way! No more wasted time just standing at the counter. Oh, and this will not at ALL interfere with your ability to sauté onions, chop carrots, or measure out the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.

2. Playground Time is Gym Time!

When your kids were toddlers, you probably got some mild aerobic activity following them like bloodhounds from one piece of equipment to the next, but if they’re preschool age or older, I’ll bet you just sit on the bench and watch them exercise, right? Well, get off your butts and go join them! Try doing chin-ups on the jungle gym, or doing squats under the slide. You will feel great, and there’s not the slightest possibility that other children will point and laugh, or that their parents will back away slowly, keeping their cell phones even closer than usual in case they decide to call 911 to report the creepy sweaty lady who’s doing weird contortionist moves on the playground equipment instead of watching her kids.

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3. Train Your Body while Training Their Minds!

Admit it: reading to your kids is a pretty sedentary activity. Not to knock it or anything, but hey, while you’re planted in one spot, might as well do some core work! Imagine how toned your core would be if you read all your kids’ bedtime stories in a plank position! This will TOTALLY communicate to them the value of reading, and it won’t be the least bit distracting for anybody to watch you perspiring onto the book while you determinedly try to beat your last time by holding your plank until the very end of Horton Hears a Who.

4. Food Substitutions FTW

Mindless snacking is one of the most insidious ways to sabotage that girlish physique, right? Well, tell those cravings who’s boss by choosing snacks that are just as quick and every bit as satisfying! For example, next time the house is a mess and the baby’s crying and you’re tempted to drown your sorrows in ice cream, try some fat-free plain yogurt topped with fresh berries and a quarter-teaspoon of maple syrup drizzled on top. You won’t even notice the difference! Or, if the kids have been fighting nonstop and you’re yearning to soothe yourself with chocolate, just count out seven almonds, sprinkle them with a tiny pinch of unsweetened cocoa, and indulge! You’ll be full for seventeen hours because of the protein, and you won’t even miss Godiva. I promise.

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Oh, and remember: most of the times when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty, and all you really need is a nice big glass of water. (If you still “feel hungry,” just pour yourself another glass. Okay, maybe a third. Keep drinking…)

5. Turn Housework into…Houseworkout!

Even if you’re lackadaisical about housekeeping, some chores — laundry, washing dishes, unloading groceries, mopping up puke — are unavoidable. Instead of plodding through your routine, make it fun by burning some calories! Turn on some music and dance while you’re mopping the floor. I’m sure it will get just as clean and not take any longer than when you do it systematically. Or, if your laundry room and bedrooms are on different floors of your house, try returning clothes to the proper rooms one item at a time so you can make multiple trips on the stairs. This won’t take any longer if you go real fast, and you’ll really get your heart rate going! Yay!!!

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6. Morning Time is Me Time

The best way to get some exercise into your day is to make some time for it when everybody else is sleeping. You might be thinking, “Hey, you said these tips wouldn’t take ANY time out of my day!”…but if you’ve ever read any advice on how to improve your life, you know that morning hours don’t count. Want to spend some quiet time reading your Bible and praying? Do it in the morning before the household is abuzz and the kids need your attention. Trying to get organized? Wake up before the rest of the family so you can get a headstart on your day by unloading the dishwasher and starting the laundry and cleaning the toilet. Looking for an artistic outlet? Those quiet morning hours are the best time to write, paint, compose, or otherwise express your creativity.

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All I’m saying is, you’re probably doing all these things already, so what’s an extra thirty minutes to work out and shower and get dressed? Nothing. In fact, you will probably feel MORE awake after you do this, and you won’t be any more tired than usual for the rest of the day. Seriously. I’m sure of it.

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And there you have it – six simple steps toward guaranteed awesomeness! Why let yourself go when looking as good as Jillian Michaels requires no time or effort or weirdness whatsoever? Yes, my friend: You, too, CAN be Supermom. You go, girl!!!