When I was little, my mom always made me a homemade birthday cake. I never had a store bought cake and therefore decided in my own mind that they were somehow inferior. Now, that I have my own kids, it has always been an unspoken rule that I would make all of their birthday cakes. I take great pride in planning, baking, decorating and serving my homemade cakes (sometimes I cheat and use mixes, but I always decorate them myself). They never look professional and they always have little finger marks in them, but they are my creations and they always reflect the theme of the party. Although I am sure the kids remember the jumpy houses and the ponies and dancing the limbo, the cakes have become some of the fondest memories of my kids’ birthdays for me.
I clearly remember sobbing at 10 pm the night before my son’s 2nd birthday because I could not get his train cake out of the pan. I baked that one 3 times before I actually got one that didn’t break. I remember the first time I worked with fondant, the tons of decorated cupcakes that outnumbered the guests at my littlest daughter’s 2nd birthday and the replica of Wrigley Field that required my husband’s help (what is an outfield?). I remember the bird cookies that had to accompany the bird cake and decorating them to look realistic because my 7 year old would know the difference. I remember begging my husband to help me squish pink and white gumdrops together to mold small shrimp for the top of my daughter’s “Sushi” cake.
So, tonight I am staying up late trying to figure out what kind of cake to make for my soon to be 5 year old. She is having a gymnastics party and I have lots of ideas, but very little time. Maybe this year will be the year I finally buy a store bought cake. Yeah, probabably not.
I taught my 6 year old son to knit today. He is home on Winter Break from school and was bouncing off the walls. I was trying to tune out the kids fighting, running, yelling, and generally being kids so I plopped on the couch with a new knitting project and tried to focus. Within minutes, “my overly active, never sit still, can make any furniture a trampoline” son sat down next to me and asked me to teach him. I was reluctant at first. There was no way he could do this without getting frustrated and waving my knitting needles wildly. This was going to end in another trip to the Emergency Department. Besides, I was not going to let him practice on my very expensive fancy yarn that we got on our “date weekend” to New Orleans a few months ago (http://www.pagewoodfarm.com/flora-fina.htm). But, he insisted. So, I had to find him a set of needles (they were in the computer desk, of course) and some spare yarn (skeins of yarn for hundreds of unfinished or more likely never started projects are stashed in every drawer and every closet around here). I did not think he would have the patience to wait for me to gather what we needed and cast on enough stitches to start a scarf and then wait for me to be able to show him what to do.
I was WRONG. He not only waited patiently, he watched over my shoulder as I carefully cast on 20 stitches and then knitted the first 2 rows. When I tried to sit behind him and take the needles in both of our hands, but he said “I got it, Mom. I watched you”. (Really? It took me weeks to get the hang of knitting.) I knew he was capable of focusing on something he is excited about (usually a new toy or a superhero movie that I have finally agreed to let him watch). I also knew he was good at spatial relations (like his father, the architect) and figuring out complicated diagrams (like Legos). What I did not expect was that he would make mistakes (only a few) and ask for help without getting frustrated and that he would stick with it most of the day. He even asked to take it to the library and sat with me knitting while the girls picked out books.
An added benefit was that as he was knitting, he was talking to me. He rarely talks to me. I mean he asks for food, and snuggles occasionally and refuses to go to bed and tattles on his sisters and says he loves me (usually when he wants something). But, he doesn’t talk to me about anything important very often and if I try to initiate a conversation he gets embarrassed or too silly to talk. The knitting changed all of that in a way that even the focus of building Legos cannot. Today, I heard all about the kids at school, his teacher and her dog. I heard about his favorite songs from music class. I heard about his fears that his friends might tease him for learning to knit because “they do not know how fun it is and they might think it is only for girls ” (not sure how this could be my kid). I heard about his future dreams “he wants to live at home forever” (ugh!). I also heard about how he thinks about people who are homeless a lot and wants to donate his warm scarf once it is finished.
The other thing I heard that I have not heard in a while is a calm, silent, focused, happy boy.
Lots of people post about holiday stress. They list all the things you can do to make a picture perfect Martha Stewart holiday for your family without going broke, getting divorced or killing your alcoholic famly members. I do not have that kind of stress during the holidays. I have a wonderful husband, a happy extended family (although some would say we are crazy) and I gave up having a perfectly decorated home long ago. Lots of blogs talk about the meaning of the holidays and how to avoid fighting over toys at the big box stores and how to get free shipping. I have yet to read a blog about my kind of holiday stress.
My stress comes from celebrating Jewish holidays in a Christian dominated country. Channukah is a relatively unimportant holiday in Judaism, but the differences are really highlighted during this time of the year. It is not just the Christmas music piped throughout the stores beginning shortly after Halloween. I know all the harmonies to all the Christmas carols and I love to sing along. It is not the beautiful lights and decorations on the houses or the streetlights. Although it is hard to explain to my kids why we do not have a Christmas tree or lighted snowmen covering our front yard. It is not having a Catholic husband who has all but given up his traditions to honor mine. I try to encourage him to incorporate his traditions with the ones we have created in our home. It is not just having to proudly display all the Santa and Christmas tree coloring projects from my kids’s classrooms (this year they did do a menorah!).
My stress is less about the details and more about the big picture. It is about being tolerated, but not having the support that people who celebrate Christmas have come to expect. The world does not stop for my holiday. I am expected to cook, decorate, and celebrate without having time off from work or the kids home from school. Homework is due, projects have deadlines and classes activities continue. So, my stress is more about struggling to get homework done, put a holiday meal on the table, light the menorah, give out gifts on a school night and then shuffle the kids to bed on time (oh and take a quick trip to the Emergency room for good measure last night). There is little time to enjoy the holiday and the kids feel robbed of time to play with their brand new toys. I would love a holiday season that was less rushed and had less stress where we could all just be together and relax and my kids could learn my traditions peacefully.
I lost it yesterday. Do not get me wrong, As a mom with three young kids, I pretty much lose it every single day. But, yesterday I lost it worse than usual. Part of it is that I have been sick with a flu that made me miss Thanksgiving and seems to be coming back as a hacking cough, earache and possible bronchitis. Part of it is that my kids are often a real pain in the neck and seem to only get worse when I am not 100%. Part of it is that my adorable, loving, handsome husband does not worry about the same things that I think are important after all these years. He is my laid back, fun loving, Yin to my stressed out, uptight, Yang.
So, I lost it and yelled at him. In front of the kids. I feel terrible. Especially because he didn’t really do anything wrong. He just did it differently than I would have. And his way was just fine. In fact, better than fine. Besides, he works crazy hours everyday and then comes home every night and puts the kids to bed so I can veg on the couch. When he finishes with the kids he brings me ice cream and rubs my feet. He also does all of our laundry, deals with anything related to Legos, and is not afraid to paint my girls’ (and his own) toes with pink polish.
Sometimes when I am angry at him I go back and read the journals he has given me over the years. I have one from the first home we bought together with sketches of how we were going to decorate it (of course we never did), I have one from our honeymoon with watercolor sketches of our adventures. The one he wrote the first time I had a miscarriage makes me sob. He wrote a journal entry everyday on the train to work during my pregnancy and then when it was all over he printed it for me in a little book with a ribbon tie. I like the tie. Somehow it made it less accessible and allowed me to read it when I was ready (10 years later and I still can’t really get through it).
So, he is a good guy who has the right to do things his way (sometimes). He deserves an apology and a break. I deserve another sick day.