Friday Photo: Grown Don’t Mean A Thing

L and C 2015

“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”

~ from Beloved

by Toni Morrison

Life changes when one of your children moves out of the house. Yes, the obvious things sting at first: an empty seat at the table, a bedroom that looks more like a hotel room, and a serious reduction in the laundry load. Over time, I’m finding, it’s the little things that get under my skin, that erupt when I least expect it and I find myself grasping for anything to hold onto – anything to feel safe and ‘normal’ again.

The holidays felt like that – a fleeting, ephemeral run of moments in which my heart would palpitate with the idea that things might be different this year, that our traditions and joys and moments we look forward to might be vanishing into distant memories.

I’m not ready for that quite yet.

It was an exercise in holding on and letting go, an endeavor of wills to choose from what was, what is, and what the ‘new normal’ will be. I struggled to figure out how to find a moment when the four of us could be together to decorate the Christmas tree. I waited to make the treats we love until she was back under our roof. We never did find time to hang the outside lights, drive around at night to view the neighborhood decorations, or do a full fledged day of Christmas shopping.

Thanks to my talented sister, though, we managed to get a Christmas card photo. That’s something that in normal circumstances is challenging at best, but when one child is 650 miles away, it becomes nearly impossible. In all the turmoil, excitement and confusion of the holidays, this photo is my greatest gift. My children. Bigger? Yes, definitely. But grown? Not really. Not yet.

I’ve got one more day with my girl before she leaves to her new home. She’s grown, moved away, and is creating her own version “normal”, but that doesn’t really mean a thing to me. In my heart, she’ll always be my first baby, my girl, the one who introduced me to motherhood. He’ll always be the little one. Moments strung together, like a tangled mess of discarded Christmas tree lights, cement their place in my heart. Flashes of what was, what is, and what will be light my way through the darkness.

No, grown don’t mean a thing.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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It’s A Different Kind of Christmas

I’m sitting cross legged on the couch, recently rearranged to directly face the six foot high Douglass fir that stands regally in our front window. at this hour of the morning the house is blissfully quiet, the only audible sound being the ticking of the kitchen clock and the occasional hum of the refrigerator to remind me that I’m not entirely stuck inside my mind.

On the low wooden coffee table sitting between me and the tree a candle flickers and casts a subtle shimmer of light against the funky mirrored cone shaped trees, the chess set a scramble of mislaid figures waits nearby for nimble fingers and cunning minds to bring it to life. The fireplace is cold beneath the twinkle of white lights and the four handmade stockings hanging in anticipation of tomorrow night.

retro SantaThe retro Santa collection graces the table to my right, a mish mash of a collection from grandparents savvy enough to keep Christmas collectibles from their younger days-they make me smile. To my left, the piano top holds ‘the white house’, so named by my husband’s grandmother, a handmade wooden structure complete with a removable chimney for Santa to hover over the top of as he gazes down on original 1940s-style miniature plastic versions of Christmas trees.

In other words, as I sit here in the silence, sipping my coffee with cream and wondering how in the world Christmas Eve can be tomorrow, my house looks festive. Except for one thing: the undecorated tree.

Yes, the hundreds of white lights warmly twinkle on its branches, casting a festive glow out the window to passers by. I even managed to plug in the electric Santa on the front porch in my festive attempt at making everything seem normal this year. But the truth is, it’s a different kind of Christmas around here this year, and frankly, it’s been hard.

In other years, Christmas carries the wave of anticipation and excitement common with most families of young children. Shortly after Thanksgiving we trek to pick out the perfect tree, make an evening of decorating in front of the fire complete with Christmas carols and exclamations of surprise and delight as each little ornament is removed from the box and hung with great contemplation, and sometimes a bit of bickering. Ah, the sounds of Christmas.

And in other years, we even had two trees, so over-the-top did our love for the season go. We simply wanted to have Christmas in every room of our home, hoping to prolong the season the best we could. My early December birthday was always a measure of the countdown; advent calendars would be in full force, lights would be twinkling from both stories of our house, and our son’s mile long Christmas list/letter to Santa would be taped to the fireplace.

But not this year. It’s a different kind of Christmas around here right now.

I’ve been wondering if this is what it will be like when we’re empty-nesters; that hesitancy to take Christmas full tilt when it’s just the two of us with no kids around. I wonder if this is some sort of inspiration for Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’ that I purposely have avoided hearing this year. I wonder if this is what so many people experience during the holiday season when they’re remembering Christmases long gone, children grown and on their own, creating their new memories in new places with new people. I just never figured it would be happening this year.

And every time I’ve walked through the door this month, I’ve plugged in the lights and sighed. I just can’t do it. The boxes of ornaments are still stacked in the dining room, unopened. And it’s December 23. This has never happened before. And I can’t blame it on holiday business, too many parties or anything else-except for one thing.

On Saturday night, after I had picked him up from his dorm, brought him back to the cabin, fed him until his belly cried for mercy and my eyes drooped from fatigue, he curled up on the couch and asked me for some paper. For the next hour, he quietly wrote, erased and drew while I prepared for the next morning’s early ski race departure. I noticed him tuck his paper in his backpack, and asked what he had been doing.

“Writing my Christmas list, ” he replied, his fourteen-year-old face tipped up to smile at me.

“Can I take a look?” I asked, knowing that there was no time left for shopping, and hoping that at least I had gotten that part right this year.

“Nope,” he smiled back, zipping up his backpack. “I just can’t wait for Christmas.”

“Really?” I mused. I secretly hoped that the decorations at home would be enough, and wishing I had at least wrapped a few presents to stick under the tree.

“Yeah, I can’t wait. I love sitting by the fire, you and Grandma drinking your coffee, Lily grumpy that I woke her up too early, and finding my stocking. And Dad-yeah, he’s just sitting there, but it’s great having everyone home.”

And then it hit me. I felt an unexplained release of bottled up anxiety, fear, sadness, and worry shiver down my neck, and suddenly I felt better. He was right. It is great having everyone home. It will be great to have everyone home, even for a few days.

This year, it’s a different kind of Christmas. But it will be just fine. Perhaps, even festive.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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When Life Doesn’t Turn Out The Way It’s Supposed To

We met when we were only eighteen and nineteen; I, a three-semester college girl, he a high school graduate.  It was love at first sight. Our parents were thrilled we had found someone that would love us, piercings, dyed hair, dreadlocks and all.

Nine and a half years later, we married.  Probably one of the wiser decisions we ever made-no teenage elopement or early pregnancy.  College graduates, employed, and homeowners when we finally took our vows, but edging closer to that magic number: 30.wedding photo

After dating for so long, my goal was to be 30, married and pregnant.

Despite my non-conformist lifestyle, something inside me knew that I needed to make this milestone.  My twenties were chaotic at best, but eventually had smoothed out and created a life path that I had planned: marriage and motherhood.  I was of the generation growing up after the women’s movement, but before many of our mothers followed an nontraditional path. I knew how it was supposed to go.

I made my goal, and after that, nothing went as expected.

Turns out, working and mothering are an excruciatingly hard combination.  What I thought I could handle ended up rocking my world upside down and sideways.  Navigating an infant, a breast pump, a husband and a classroom full of fifth graders proved to be…challenging.  Full time motherhood and full time teaching didn’t seem to be a great fit. I wanted them both. I felt my dreams crumbling away.

jen and lily in kitchenThe next year I took a chance and changed jobs, thinking that 80% employment would be better.  I was right; working with my more familiar middle school aged kids allowed me to focus less on the curriculum and more on my baby, but…there was still no free time, no long nap times to get papers graded, and the household responsibilities were still there, waiting.  The 12:30 baby handoff allowed us to escape childcare, but our couple time disintegrated into late-night dinners and frantic eye-contact while trying to rock the baby to sleep.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I grew frustrated that I couldn’t handle it all: job, marriage, motherhood.  Didn’t I have exactly what I’d always dreamed of?

Sixteen years and one more child later, I’m learning that actually, it went exactly as it was supposed to.  That’s how life is.  I learned I am living out my dreams.  I have what I wanted, and actually, much more. But more importantly, I’m learning that women like me, all throughout history, have and continue to walk this line of confusion in the search for their ideal life.

While we share the same desires and dreams for the milestones in their worlds – love, family, success, fulfillment, and comfort – today’s women face challenges like never before.  The centuries of liberation which benefited women have come with a price, and today’s we’re charting a new course. We have more options, more choices, and more demands than ever.  We try to balance it all, while maintaining that sense of what women are supposed to do with what we know we need to do.  Our mothers and grandmothers had no idea what a blessed curse they were bestowing on their daughters and granddaughters as they fought for equal rights, and with them, the absolute blossoming that would come decades and centuries later.

Today’s women push non-conformity in interesting, dynamic ways, all the while grapping with what happens to women who bend today’s rules of propriety and customary behavior? We wonder how we will have to pay for blurring the lines between what is expected of us as wives, mothers, and women and the urge to have it all, to do it all, and to blossom into what we were meant to be? Can we chart the course for our own daughters, who themselves will be past the image of stay-at-home moms as the norm?

Sixteen years ago, I had no idea this is what life had in store for me.  Sixteen years from now, will my baby girl blossom into a kind of woman I could never imagine?

I certainly hope so.

This post was inspired by Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman. After being kicked out of her widow support group for being too young, Becky creates her own support group with an unusual twist. Join From Left to Write on February 14 as we discuss Saturday Night Widows. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. Click here to purchase your copy of Saturday Night Widows at Amazon.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Christmas Tree Traditions: Another way kids rocked my world

I used to be a freaky mom.  Sixteen years ago, when I had my first child, I thought I could do it all.  Control it all.  Be the perfect parent.  I certainly had seen enough examples of what I considered ‘bad parenting’ – those kinds of adults who would make excuses for their kids, send them to school without their homework, and blame their teachers and the school for everything wrong in the world – plus some.

I waited to have a child.  I had a husband, had finished college, had a career I loved, and we even bought a house.  American dream, huh?  And then she came along and rocked my world.
She was a summer baby.  Sweet and tender and absolutely perfect.  She kicked and rolled furiously for the last five months of pregnancy-I should have known it would be a battle for dominance.  According to her father she was an angel; never cried, never fussed.  I believe otherwise.
After six months of bliss (no sleep, aching limbs from carrying her ‘just so’, and a complete refusal to eat according to my schedule), we entered the holiday season.  Our favorite time of year, really – we loved the traditions, the music, the crisp change in the air….and couldn’t wait to share it with our baby.
Enter the Christmas tree tradition.  With visions of how it is supposed to be, we strapped baby into a backpack and headed out.  The first problem arose when we realized that in central California, Christmas trees don’t grow the way the look in the movies.  Here, our 100+ degree summers produce scraggly, misshapen and downright ugly pine trees.  At least the ones we saw.
Humbled, muddy and on our last nerve, we loaded back into the car and headed for Target.  The price was right, and the Christmas carols over the speaker system did add a certain festive charm.  If Charlie Brown could do it, so could we.  It would look better with decorations, we decided.  30 minutes later we shoved the tree in the car and headed home.  Mission accomplished.
Year after year, we tried it all.  Not ready to give up on our Norman Rockwell vision, we lugged both babies (eventually #2 joined the quest), confident we would ultimately find the perfect tree and the perfect tradition for our family.  Each year, we managed to bring evergreen home, struggle with burned out lightbulbs, and smile with satisfaction as we gently and carefully placed each ornament of  our growing collection onto our tree.  We started ornament collections for each child and ourselves, adding specially chosen symbols of the previous year.
Somehow, we finally realized that Home Depot was our spot.  No mud to trek through, no saws to negotiate, no tromping around with crying babies, hungry toddlers, or frustrated parents.  My dreams of a traditional Christmas tree expedition had shifted just a bit.  Instead of hiking in the hills, we were tossing the Nerf ball in the parking lot, unwrapping tree after tree, spinning them around and tripping over ourselves to find the perfect  one.  We were laughing, smiling, posing for photos and breathing in the fresh pine scent.  We were just doing it on asphalt, not a mountain top.  We began worrying less and less about how it happened, and more and more about the hours we would spend together once we got it home.
I realized then that so much of parenting is not about hanging on, but letting go.  Step by step, we navigate the path together, no guidebook to tell us where to go or how long it will be before we get there.  We plan, we prepare, and we persist in creating the dreams we’ve held since we first became parents, but we do so gently, cautiously, and oh so carefully – for it’s not the exact replication of the mind’s picture of the ‘perfect’ moment, but the creation of the moment that means the most.  We might not do it the way other families do, but we do it the way our family does.
And so our tradition continues.  Each year we load up in the car, blast the Christmas music on the radio and merrily sing our way to the Christmas tree lot –this year, with my newly licensed driver behind the wheel.  We bundle up, pile out, and this year we agreed on the very first tree we set our eyes on.  My kids smiled.  They giggled.  We high-fived our speedy decision-making process, headed inside to pay, and loaded back up in record time.
An added bonus?  We bought lights, a gingerbread house kit and a tree, finishing in an hour-all the more time to spend together at home, where Christmas traditions really matter the most.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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baking with mamawolfe: Lily’s Apple Tart

I guess by some people’s standards I have a large family.  Three sisters, two brothers – some with different moms, but all the same dad.  Four of us have our own children, three have spouses, and all have dogs.  Throw in a few miscellaneous relatives that typically show up for holiday gatherings (occasionally including my mom, long divorced from my dad) and we end up with quite a crew.
We all anticipate different parts of the gathering, but aside from seeing siblings and those relatives coming in from out of town, one of my most looked forward to parts of the holidays is baking dessert with my daughter.  Spending the day in the kitchen with her is incomparable; we talk, laugh, strategize and sometimes even sing – anything Taylor Swift being our favorite baking accompaniment.
This year, we decided to go simple yet elegant, and adapt a recipe from one of our favorites, Ina Garten.  Her apple tart just seemed like the perfect complement to a heavy dinner: sweet apples, flaky crust, and a tang of apricot jam make this simple dessert one you’ll want to try for any holiday gathering.  So grab your favorite baking partner, crank up the tunes, and have some fun!
You’ll need:
For the pastry:
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, diced
1/2 c. ice water
For the apples:
4-5 Granny Smith apples
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 stick cold butter, diced
1/2 c. apricot jam
2 T. water
Steps:
To make the pastry, put flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.
Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas.
With motor running, pour ice water down feed tube and pulse just until dough sticks together-not too long or the pastry will be tough.
Knead into a ball on a floured board.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll the dough approximately 10×14 inches.  Trim the edges-it’s a rustic tart, so no need to be perfect.  Refrigerate the dough while preparing the apples.
To make the apples, peel and cut them in half through the stem.  Be sure to remove stem and any leftover peel.
Use a melon baller to scoop the core – it leaves the apples in a pretty shape.
Slice apples crosswise in about 1/4 inch slices.  Try to be uniform.
Lay apple slices diagonally down the center of the pastry first, then fill in the sides until it is covered.
Sprinkle with combination of sugar and cinnamon.  Dot with butter.
Bake about 45 minutes until pastry is browned, and edges of apples start to brown.  Rotate after 20 minutes.    Watch carefully – if it starts to drip in the oven, place another sheet below to catch the mess.
When baked, heat the apricot jam with water and spread completely over the top.
Loosen tart so it doesn’t stick.  When cool, slice in squares.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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