My lap is full, the kitchen sink is full, and these two are just the best.
Fall seems to finally be arriving here in South Bend, and every day I feel more like the mother of two toddlers instead of a toddler and a baby. We are soaking up the all the breezes, turning leaves, and time together. Here are some of my favorite things from this week:
- John Henry says “ouch” every time he hears any sort of sound like a bump. When we are listening to Mozart and he hears the drums, there’s an “ouch!” from the backseat. When Edith drops a book on the floor, “ouch!” Even when he takes a tumble, if it isn’t tear-worthy, there’s always an “ouch!” The best part is he very carefully pronounces each sound, dividing the word into two syllables. “Ou-chshhhh!”
- The way Edith internalizes books and stories these days is pretty remarkable. She told me the other day she didn’t want to get toothpaste in her hair because it would be sticky. (One Morning in Maine) She also found a puzzle piece we had been missing and said, “It was in your [my] belly. But you [I] got it out!” (Curious George Goes to the Hospital) It is pretty amazing to discover just how much power literature and reading has in forming a child. The books she read are literally giving her a vocabulary for her life. That’s crazy, and quite the responsibility.
- We’ve been listening to Classical Kid’s and Edith loves Mozart’s Magic Flute. She walks around the house all day talking about “Prince Tamino” as if he is one of her close friends.
- More from The Magic Flute: Edith answered my question of where angels live with “in the darkness” and she told me we would have to go take a nap when the “darkness covers the sun,” both phrases from Mozart.
- When Edith learns a word for something she hasn’t encountered before, she often uses a word that she knows instead. Two recent examples: apple cider became apple spider and apple crisp, apple Christmas.
- John Henry thinks he can say far more words than he actually can and it’s so cute to hear him making lots of different sounds, as if he’s clearly communicating all day.
- And one last treat from this week: I made an inaugural trip to IKEA and found the cutest little chair in the clearance section that makes both my living room and our grad-school budget both happy. Win.
If I don’t do it, it won’t be done.
Too often those words run through my head. And too often, the tone accompanying them is annoyance, frustration, and certainly a bit of exhaustion. My list of things to do seems nearly endless, and I never complete everything on it.
My bathroom rarely gets a good scrub. I vacuum far less than my home needs. I haven’t washed a mirror or a window in probably a year.
It’s more than just chores, though, that prompt this train of thought.
When my babies wake up impatiently and don’t want to wait another minute in their beds: If I don’t get them up, no one will.
When I’d rather take a nap than make dinner: If I don’t make us something to eat, no one will.
When yet another diaper needs to be changed. When the laundry needs to be folded. When mouths need to be wiped, blocks picked up, bumps kissed, and peanut butter and jellies prepared.
If I don’t do this, no one else will.
I’m ashamed to admit this is a complaint. Ashamed to think it, ashamed that I can sometimes resent this position in life, these days of small tasks.
We all have these moments, right? Whether we stay home with children, or go to an office full-time, or attend school. We all are faced with tasks that require us—and sometimes only us—to actually do them. These tasks ask us to have humility and a willingness to accept them and resolve to simply apply ourself to what is given. They are usually the small, unglamorous, dirty tasks like washing the extra coffee cups piled in the sink at the office, or cleaning the toothpaste off the vanity, or letting another car move in front of us in traffic.
If I don’t do this, who will?
I don’t want to stop thinking this. These words can be the opposite of a complaint. I want to think them and to realize the position I am in as I say these words.
These words present me, each time, with a beautiful opportunity.
These words indicate the greatest, most important tasks that are given to me. Truly, the tasks that I alone have been asked to do, the tasks that go overlooked or undervalued or forgotten altogether, are those that are richest with meaning. And the saints are those who fully accepted and embraced these exact moments.
Oscar Romero spoke out against poverty, injustice, and oppression. If he had not spoken, who would have?
Maximillian Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of a stranger in Auschwitz. If he had not volunteered, who would have?
Mother Teresa went to the Indian slums and offered its people love, and care. If she had not gone, who would have?
These acts of the saints sound like great acts, but in each moment, I am sure they were simply what must be done. If they didn’t meet the need they saw, who would?
If I don’t do this, who will?
That is a unique position, indeed. Even something as seemingly insignificant as changing a diaper offers the chance for me to meet the need of another human being. Making dinner, cleaning up toys, offering understanding and patience to my children. These are all small, daily moments, yes, but they are privileges that require me to accept them and embrace them with all that I am. For, indeed, I was made for these moments.
I must do this, for if I don’t, what else would I do?
This week has been full of many toddler emotions, which always leads to a great deal of bewilderment on my part, and the hottest days of the year so I am happy to see it go. Despite all of that, here are some of the happy moments from our week.
I was inspired by my friend, Geena‘s, lists of recorded memories, and want to be better about collecting and writing down moments in our day that I want to remember. This stage in life is so full and busy—not busy meaning that our calendar is overflowing, but busy because there are so many needs and so many wants…and so. many. feelings. Even so, I want to remember all of this:
- the way John Henry charges to the stairs, looks over at me with a big grin and says, “No no. No no.”
- Edith and I always come up with something she can tell her dad when he gets home from school, and the minute she hears the door open, she starts repeating it over and over again. The other day was “when you a baby, you say kaka. That means you want water.” (You being I.)
- when Edith and I were discussing a friend’s pregnancy, I asked if she is having a baby girl or a baby boy. Edith, in a correcting tone, says, “No. She’s having a baby.”
- after I sneeze, completely unprompted, Edith says, “Bless you, Mama.”
- my little whirlwind, Edith, somehow can sit happily and perfectly content in her brother’s high chair, playing with beads for hours on end. She sorts them and looks at them and puts them in a bowl, all while listening to Curious George on tape. It is amazing to watch.
- when we came in from playing outside, Travis asked Edith what she was doing and she said, “singing to the leaves.” (Really, she was. #hearteyes)
“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”
“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
(A.A. Milne, The Complete Tales of Pooh)
This ending to Winnie the Pooh tugs at my heart every time I think about it and hear it on the 45-minute adaptation on Spotify that Edith listens to every day.
I think about how beautiful it is, that my children can do nothing with their days and nothing with their time, and that this nothing is a good and right and beautiful thing for them to do. I think about how never again in their lives will they be encouraged to do nothing, never again will it be a positive thing.
Most days, I feel like I did “nothing,” but I am learning that it is actually a good thing. I am guarding their ability to do nothing. I am protecting their days of playing and reading and exploring, for truly they will be gone, as one day they must be.
One day they will have classes and worksheets and assignments and schedules and logs and calendars and everything else. But not now.
For now, their nothing is everything.
Look, they’re not all from Smitten Kitchen!
Pork chops with citrus dressing
These chops were nice and moist with great flavor. I served them with couscous on the side, which soaked up all of that delicious juice and dressing.
Chimichurri chicken (pictured)
Fine Cooking calls for oven-roasting these chicken legs, but I used chicken quarters and put them on the grill. The flavor was amazing, and I don’t know why I don’t make chimichurri more often.
Tomato and bread salad (also pictured)
I served the chimichurri chicken with Basic Tomato and Bread Salad, also from Fine Cooking. It was the perfect accompaniment and I even drizzled some chimichurri on my salad, too. Yum.
Smashed potatoes and peas with lemon and dill
I served this side with more pork chops and some green vegetables. I got fresh peas from the market, which were so sweet and delicious, but I don’t find frozen peas really taste much different than fresh. My babies love peas, so this was a hit.
Quick cherry crunch
And for our favorite summer dessert: a sour cherry crisp. The recipe is originally from The Joy of Cooking, and I grew up making it in my mom’s kitchen often. The recipe linked calls for canned cherries, which probably wouldn’t taste half as good. I used fresh-picked sour cherries, which I also froze to use for this dessert. When they’re fresh, or thawed, you can squeeze plenty of juice out of them to make the tapioca mixture. I like lots of crumb on my crisp, so I usually do one and a half the recipe of the crumble. Serve this with homemade vanilla ice cream, and it is summer in a bowl. I could eat this every day.