When I was pregnant with MJ, I watched Food Network quite a bit. Not only did I have lots of different food cravings, but I also craved watching the preparation and discussion of food. Kath quite enjoyed this part of my pregnancy with MJ (although she still reminds me of the good old days when she was an only child) and started watching Food Network Challenge. Together Kath and I would watch four chefs battle it out to build a perfect cake or dessert display. The chefs would work in perfect unison with their sous chefs to present a cake that may or may not topple over into oblivion. While I never understood why you make cake for a competition if you aren’t going to eat the said cake, I always watched in amazement at shows like Iron Chef or Down Home with the Neelys where chefs would work together to cook something appetizing as well as edible. One reason I watch in said wonder is that cooking with my different children is quite a different experience from any of these shows. Frankly, we will never be asked to appear on a Food Network television show.
My daughter Kath was so impressed with Food Network Challenge that for a little while, she wanted to be a pastry chef. I kept reminding her that with her food allergy to walnuts and pecans as well as food sensitivities to kiwi and pickles that another field may be a better fit. While she has moved onto other career ambitions which will be a subject for a future blog, she still likes the idea of cooking. Cooking just doesn’t like the idea of Kath. I was making some dessert and gave her the task of melting chocolate. She burned the chocolate. I didn’t know it was possible to burn chocolate before that, but she did. Once she tried to microwave popcorn. When she took the corn muffins out of the microwave (I had made corn muffins the night before and stored the leftovers in the microwave), she didn’t see that one had fallen out of the bowl. She burned the corn muffin when she made the microwave popcorn. The black charred remnants of the corn muffin went into the trash, but my wonderful hubby could still smell the aftereffects when he got home from work seven hours later. At age 14, she and her friends are starting to discuss colleges and careers. Her friends have sampled her cooking. They have told her if she rooms with them, she is in charge of anything but the cooking. I keep telling her she has to keep at it. After all, my dad still teases me about making a cheesecake that never set and was more like cheese soup. To her credit, she made snickerdoodles this week. She had to bring cookies to school. The teacher requested that the students bring in homemade desserts rather than storebought ones. Kath was the only one who brought in a homemade dessert. She brought it home as well. Cupcake and Chunk were ecstatic. They liked Kath’s cookies and were excited to get more. Truthfully, they were the best cookies she has ever made, but it is sort of a sad statement when kids go for the storebought food first rather than the food people made by hand.
Cupcake and Chunk are now noticing that they can help with cooking. Having twins help with food preparation is totally different from having my other children help. Kath is 14, MJ is 9 and Cupcake and Chunk are 2. Cupcake and Chunk love scrambled eggs whereas Kath and MJ do not. Yesterday while Kath and MJ were at school, I decided to make scrambled eggs. Sounds simple. What could go wrong? Cupcake has deemed herself mommy’s little helper. She has to turn off the TV for Mommy, close the door for Mommy, and help Mommy unload the dishwasher. Sounds great, but sometimes they both want to be Mommy’s helper. Cupcake was in the room while I cracked the eggs. She wanted to help whisk the eggs. She stood on the footstool. At age 2, she needed help to whisk, but she did not want Mommy’s help. I had to help or I would still be cleaning up egg. Then Chunk arrived and wanted to help. Cupcake yelled no. I then helped Cupcake whisk ten times and then helped her off the footstool, installed Chunk on the footstool and helped him whisk the eggs ten times. You couldn’t hear me count the ten turns of the whisk because Cupcake was howling exactly in the place where I had placed her to put Chunk on the footstool. Then I put her back on the footstool followed by ten turns of the whisk and ten seconds of Chunk cries and I reversed it to the same effect one more time. Cupcake and Chunk both want to help cook, but they want to be the only helper at the time. The joy of twins.
So if you’re keeping track, Kath tends to burn things, Cupcake and Chunk tend to negate each other as helpers, so where does that leave MJ? This past weekend, he made his favorite food with wonderful hubby’s help. His favorite food is lemon cream cheese pound cake. It came out perfect. The top was perfectly crisp around the edges, the inside was moist and melted in your mouth. It was the first thing he had wanted to make other than toast with peanut butter or peanut butter crackers or sliced apples with peanut butter or a peanut butter sandwich. I guess if Food Network wanted to make a show about the thousand and one uses for peanut butter, MJ would be the perfect host. Still all of us will keep cooking together with our unique flair. After all, you can wipe up spilled egg, remelt chocolate and buy peanut butter in bulk and except for the burnt chocolate you can still eat most culinary mistakes. I think.

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What expression does your child show when you give your significant other a PDA? Some of you might be thinking that you are fortunate that your precious bundle of joy is asleep in his or her crib and cannot show negative emotions yet let alone when you give your significant other a smooch. Some of you, however, may have children who are old enough to hope they were conceived in a petri dish because they can’t stand to see their parents publicly showing PDAs to the other parent (although they may secretly be slightly relieved because they know deep down that means their parents love each other). Regardless of the child’s age, however, most balk at the sight of parents getting ready for date night. Whether it’s separation anxiety or “eww that’s gross” anxiety, most kids would prefer their parents to stay home with them and cater to their every whim. I think it’s very important for parents to have that one on one time out with each other. It’s very important to have dates with your significant other.
I’m very fortunate and blessed to have met my wonderful hubby in college. Dates were relatively cheap, which was a good thing because neither of us had much money to spend on dates. We were members of our campus’s film club so we got into movies for free. We were able to go to a local ice cream shop that sold ice cream cones for 25 cents each (yes you read that right-one quarter bought a full size one scoop ice cream cone and I graduated college in the 90s). Life was good.
We married while we were in college and continued to go on dates, although now they often revolved around my burning the dinner or not following the recipe properly for a Crockpot meal.
We graduated and for a little while, we were extravagant. We went to a full price movie in the middle of the week. Let’s hear those oohs and ahhs. Yes, we paid full price to see Michael, Phenomenon and As Good As It Gets. We would also splurge on restaurants every once in a while. (Hey, we had student loans and made it a priority to pay them back).
Then we had children. Our first daughter, Kath, was born in 1998. Both sets of grandparents lived nearby and this was both set’s first grandchild. We went out to dinner at least once a month and yes, I worried over that first dinner date. Someone once told me you shouldn’t discuss your children at all during a date. We tried that and it worked for the first couple, but then we slid a little and never looked back.
Our first son, MJ, was born in 2003. It became a little trickier. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to have occasional weekends to ourselves including one trip to North Carolina and one trip to Charleston until after MJ was born. By then, he was one of five grandchildren on one side and let’s just write that my parents were divorced in 2005. It became harder to find babysitters who would be able to deal with a relatively wide age gap (5 years) and who didn’t charge a fortune. We started lunch dates where we could drop off MJ at wonderful hubby’s mother’s house and Kath was in school. We continued our lunch dates throughout MJ’s time in preschool.
Then along came Cupcake and Chunk, my twins. If we thought it was hard to get a babysitter for two kids, imagine trying to find one for four, although our oldest doesn’t need a babysitter. Good luck on that one. Now my oldest is old enough to babysit, but Kath and MJ make the Hatfield-McCoy feud look mild in comparison to their squabbles.
But it is very important to continue going on dates so proceed with plans we must. I am finally getting to the point of this blog. We have been fortunate to have two dates in the past two months. We are on a tight budget now that there are six people in our family so the dates were extra special treats. On the first of these two dates, my dad and stepmother stepped up to the plate. Now if you have read any of my previous blogs, you know my kids become Tasmanian devils around my dad. I don’t understand it. They are normal, active kids, but whenever I’m on the phone with him, they become banshees. Fortunately, my stepmother is a former Marine (I’ve learned there is no such thing as an ex-Marine) and she keeps them lovingly in order. So I felt no qualms about leaving the four of them in very capable and caring hands. Since they were doing it gratis, my wonderful hubby and I decided to splurge a little and go to a Japanese restaurant. I love hibachi style cooking, both the food as well as the show.
My wonderful hubby and I arrive and are seated in a big room with two hibachi grills. The other table’s show is almost finished, but we are able to witness the “Japanese” volcano with the onions stacked in a ring. I’m excited now: I get to hold hands with my wonderfully hubby, I get to see the end of one hibachi grill show as well as our entire meal being prepared in front of us, and I get to eat the food. What else could there possibly to write? In this case, plenty. When we were seated, we were placed at a table with a mom and her two daughters, one of whom was about 13 or 14 and the other about 9 or 10. The older daughter was texting throughout the whole meal. The mom was talking on the phone the whole time except when she was interrupted by the waiter who was there to take her order. The younger daughter was even in on the texting bit. Come on! You’re at a Japanese restaurant. You’re with your family. Give up the cell phone for a couple of minutes. Leave them in the car. Enjoy each other’s company. What is so important on Facebook that you can’t wait half an hour? When the salads came, the mom put her hand over the cell phone to complain that she had ordered the dressing on the side. Really, are you sure? She had been talking and texting throughout the entire ordering process so how could she be sure what she said to the waitress? There was another mom and daughter seated at the table after we were seated. This daughter was younger, probably about 6 or 7. The hibachi chef teased her with just the right amount of tongue in cheek. He did a great job because you could tell the texting was bothering him a bit as well.
I learned two lessons that night: one was that it is important to squeeze out a little money out of our budget to go on dates and the other was how important it is to enjoy dinner with your family as a family. If you’re on a transplant list, yes, you absolutely have to keep your cell phone with you at dinnertime. Otherwise, as parents, I think it’s important for family members to communicate with each other and break bread with each other. Put down the cell phones and enjoy each other’s company. I enjoy my wonderful hubby’s company and look forward to a lot more dates with him. And yes, all four can be embarrassed by the PDAs. That’s just fine with me.

In my previous post, I wrote that in a moment of weakness or four mouths all talking at once that I agreed to two things that should have required more thought on my part let alone the simple word no. I already detailed my 9 year old son’s slumber (or rather lack of slumber) party. So what promise did my 14 year old daughter extract from me?
It all started when she began eighth grade. She announced her 8th grade team would be going to a great Southern city made even more popular by Forrest Gump and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I went to the team meeting outlining student responsibilities and trip cost. I dozed during the part of the meeting that discussed chaperones. I have four children, including twin two year olds. There was no way I would be able to go so I ignored that part of the meeting.
I told my wonderful hubby about the meeting. Kath then chimed in that chaperone’s daughters received the right to pick out their roommates. Having zoned out during that part of the meeting, I nodded. Kath kept repeating how awesome it would be to be able to go on the field trip knowing that she was friends with her roommates. I kept on nodding as Cupcake and Chunk clamored to be picked up and MJ showed me his newest paper airplane.
Over the next week, Kath talked to my wonderful hubby about the trip. I continued to think I would stay at home because the trip was expensive and did I mention I have three other children, including twin two year olds? Wonderful hubby and I looked at our budget. We decided that we could use the amount we didn’t spend on our last vacation as the main payment for the trip. My Christmas gift from my in-laws as well as a good chunk of my weekly spending money went for the rest of the cost. After a background check and three “easy” payments, I was signed up to be a chaperone. Kath kept thanking me because now she would be able to choose her roommates.
The three day trip occurred in late April. My rear end has finally stopped vibrating from the bus ride. I calculated that I spent more time on the bus than I did in the hotel room. At first I worried about my other three children, but wonderful hubby prepared them well. The whole week before I left Cupcake and Chunk would go around the house repeating, “Mommy go out of town. We party.” When I called the house the first day, wonderful hubby told me he had a sneezing attack while he was watching Cupcake and Chunk take their bath and that Chunk replied, “It’s OK, Daddy. Mommy comes home on Friday.”
So there I was on a chartered bus along with forty girls, six other chaperones, two teachers and the tour guide. Let me preface the next part with the declaration that my four girls were wonderful on the trip: they were polite and well behaved. I started referring to them as “my girls” even though each one has her own unique personality and three of them have other parents.
I wish I had similarly wonderful things to say about the other thirty-six girls. Our group’s first stop was at a POW museum/National Park/Civil War cemetery in Andersonville, GA. It’s a very somber, eye awakening experience. Before this trip, I was a Justin Bieber virgin, meaning I had never heard a Justin Bieber song in its entirety. I want my former status back. A group of girls sang Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Taylor Swift songs at the top of their lungs. When we pulled into the National Park entrance, they didn’t hold back. They continued singing even when the tour guide stepped on the bus. It took her three attempts to quiet them down. Here we are at a National Park honoring fallen soldiers and POWs and this group is singing pop music.
Similarly after a riverboat cruise when we were headed back to our hotel room at 11:30 at night, these same girls once again sang so loudly I was crying from the headache they caused.
I had so much fun with my daughter and her friends that I dislike complaining about a group of spoiled girls who were inconsiderate of others. I enjoyed walking down River Street with them and enjoyed watching the four of them dance together on the riverboat. I loved seeing their reaction to the Atlantic Ocean and enjoyed eating with them at a picnic lunch. When we got home, my daughter thanked me for chaperoning so that she was able to room with her friends rather than the other girls, the ones that were singing when they weren’t sleeping or playing truth or dare. I’m reading between the lines to only hope that she enjoyed having me on the trip. Even with those singing girls, I would gladly be her chaperone again, but first and foremost, I’m glad I’m her mother and MJ’s mother and Cupcake’s mother and Chunk’s mother. I’m also glad Kath listens to Nirvana and Death Cab for Cutie rather than Justin Bieber and Rihanna. But the important thing is that Kath is my daughter and I love her. That’s why I endured singing girls for her. I would do it again for her.

I think I watched too much tennis while I was pregnant with my twins, Cupcake and Chunk. Before you say that you can never get enough of the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams, my two year old daughter’s favorite saying is “Come On.” Just the way Lleyton Hewitt yells it at pivotal moments in his matches. Did I add that we are not Australian but that she still says it exactly like Lleyton Hewitt does?
“Come on” seems to be the catchphrase around here. As the pushover parent, I’m the one the kids ask for favors. They know Daddy will automatically say no and hand them the minivacuum to clean the carpeted staircase so they come to me. It usually means I have four kids all clamoring for things at the same time. In such a moment, I agreed to two things that looking back were moments when the insanity bug must have bitten me. The first one I will cover this time; the second one next time.
I naively thought that nine year old boys ate and sleep and slept and ate. At age nine, most of them still think girls have cooties so they are not thinking of girls. Yet. So when my now nine year old, MJ, came to me and asked about a birthday party, I thought that since nine year old boys eat and sleep and sleep and eat, why not have a slumber party? We’ve had them many times for my fourteen year old daughter, Kath. All the girls we’ve hosted are still alive. I figured let’s have a sleepover for MJ and his friends.
Nine year old boys do not eat and sleep and sleep and eat. They make noise, more so than my daughter and her friends ever did. We had both sets of grandparents over for the cake cutting part of the party. Four of the boys were boisterous and running all over the house. The fifth was quiet, polite and sat down to eat his cake while the other four wanted to run and didn’t even eat the cake. My mother-in-law turned to me and said, “This is the one who is going home tonight?” Yes, the fifth one had to go home so he could go to early church. The one who was quiet and unassuming. The one who kept the others in check.
This all proved too much for my oldest daughter Kath. Earlier that week, I offered to call her grandparents to see if they would let her spend the night. She said no, that she could handle twin two year olds so what were five 9 year old boys. During the party, she broke a cardinal rule: if you want a 9 year old boy to do something, tell him he can’t do it. The boys had invaded her room which is next to MJs. Shortly thereafter she called them all together in the kitchen and made a big deal about how her room was off limits. Before I could interject, all five of them headed to her room. As soon as the first grandparent arrived, she asked if she could be liberated for the night. I agreed and after dinner, Kath left with her grandparents to spend the night in peace and quiet.
After the quiet boy went home, we started showing movies. I figured the remaining four would conk out soon seeing how they had run relay races outside for a good half hour to hour. Two of them finally went to sleep around one only because one of them reminded the other one that the other one was having his birthday party at a bowling alley later that day. MJ and the fourth boy stayed awake all but about forty-five minutes of the night. MJ was exhausted the next day. He fell asleep on the way to church, during church and on the way to the aforementioned boy’s birthday party. He fell asleep at my dad’s birthday party (it was a busy weekend for birthday parties in our household that weekend). The good news is that the fourth boy is having a birthday sleepover this weekend. The really good news for his mother is that MJ learned his lesson. He says he will never stay up all night again.
We all survived the sleepover. The boys had a good time and survived. I think I got even with the moms. I put kazoos in the goody bags.

Have you ever seen the movie, Yours, Mine and Ours? The original 1960s version, that is. There’s a great scene where Lucille Ball’s character Helen is trying to explain to a man in whom she is interested that she has eight children. I love the scene in which she tells Frank, played by Henry Fonda, that little tidbit because he returns the favor and lets her know he has ten children. My family isn’t quite as big as either of those families, but I consider myself to be the mom of a large family as I have four children.
It’s quite a feat now taking them all out to a restaurant. To be truthful, it doesn’t happen as often as it once did. Kath is our oldest. She’s 14 and remembers quite vividly being an only chuld. Her brother MJ didn’t show up until she was 5 years old. She loves remembering how we would go out to eat quite often. Daddy worked late, out to dinner we would go. The one thing she did especially like about my pregnancy with MJ was my cravings. I had a cheesesteak craving period, a milkshake craving month, and more. If I wanted a Philly cheesesteak, I would just buckle Kath into her booster seat and travel to the nearest food court or restaurant that served cheesesteak sandwiches. She especially liked the milkshake trips.
When MJ arrived, we still went out to eat quite a bit. Perhaps I should have realized this when his preschool class created paper bouquets one Thanksgiving with notes outlining the things for which they were thankful. Parents had a chance to see all the bouquets when they picked up their precious bundle. Oohs and ahhs were heard az the parents passed the different offerings. Moms. dads, grandparents, siblings, pets and friends’s names were on the first several offerings. I immediately knew MJ’s offering. Here are two of the three exactly as they appeared on the card: “I am thankful for Johnny’s (a pizza chain near where we live)” and “I am thankful for Schlotzsky’s (a sandwich chain near us).”.

No matter what anybody says, most people judge other people. Whether it’s a first glance at clothing, hairstyle, car, purse or dwelling, most people pass judgment on other people. It’s bad enough to be categorized based on one of those aforementioned traits, but when people say things about your parenting style, it tends to be an even touchier subject. For example, in the past week alone, I’ve been called both a marshmallow and a super strict parent (hence the title you think I’m a what parent).
Yes, that’s right, within a twenty-four hour period, I’ve heard myself referred to both as a super softie squishie candy as well as a super strict parent. I don’t think of myself as either, but it’s a little enlightening and a little scary to think of how others view me as a parent.
A family member referred to me as a marshmallow. This person has been to my house which can often be described as a disaster zone as I’m not the best housekeeper in the world (notice I’m blogging rather than cleaning right now). She has also been around me for the past six years during which I’ve had twins (Cupcake and Chunk) who are now two as well as seen the development of my nine year old and fourteen year old. OK, I am a marshmallow in some ways like I give lots of hugs and kisses to my kids. I’m not an affectionate person with the rest of the world, but I love to give my kids a kiss on the cheek or a quick hug when I pass one of them in the kitchen. I’m also a marshmallow in other ways including forgetting to remind MJ to take out the recyclables or not getting onto Kath about cleaning the books off her bedroom floor. My wonderful hubby is the more strict parent and the kids often do whatever he asks the second he asks. We are a great balancing team in that he gets them to do positive actions around the house and I give them lots of affection and attention.
On the other hand, I am going to be a chaperone for Kath’s three day school field trip. Since I’m a chaperone, Kath got to choose which three of her friends that are in her school section get to room with her and hang out with her on the trip. When the parent of one of these friends found out that I was her chaperone, she reportedly apologized to her daughter for her daughter getting stuck with the super strict parent and chaperone. Apparently she saw me explain the rules at Kath’s scavenger hunt birthday party and immediately thought martinet, drill sergeant, the eye of Sauron. When I thought about it, though, if I weren’t able to go on this trip, I would want my daughter’s chaperone to be super strict rather than a marshmallow.
So, what parent am I? Am I Mommie Dearest or Nannie Gee? The strict disciplinarian or lovey-dovey marshmallow? I sort of like to think I’m the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man you see at the end of Ghostbusters. I can look all soft and gooey and act soft and gooey at times, but I also have the capability of kicking butt (not literally only figuratively) when I need to do so. So if I’m a marshmallow, I’ll just keep on making sure I’m the Ghostbusters Marshmallow able to ensure a good touch of parenting mayhem upon my four kids.

Perhaps I’m old fashioned. When I was pregnant with my children, I always envisioned family dinners as those where we gathered around the dining room table which would be properly set with tablecloths, place mats, napkins, silverware and dinnerware. We would discuss lofty ideas or news events. History, politics, art and the like would be analyzed and discussed. Manners would be in evidence. I’m sure there are families where this does happen, but there’s always our house.
On Sunday, we invited my dad over to dinner. My stepmother is presently visiting her children and grandchildren in California. Our subdivision was having a very small Easter egg hunt and I thought he might like watching his four grandchildren hunt for Easter eggs followed by having a nice family dinner and get together.
For some reason, I don’t know why, my four children have never felt the urge to treat their grandfather with awe and respect. They are always completely themselves around him. Perhaps this is a good thing. They love him and want to act naturally around him. No stuffiness here. Whenever he calls, however, they inevitably have a fight or scream when I am talking. They don’t do this when I talk to other people (usually), just my dad.
This should have given me some indication then of how this dinner would proceed. Let me start with the Easter egg hunt. Chunk, my youngest and the boy twin, was chomping at the bit. He saw eggs on the ground and immediately went into retrieve mode. We had to literally pick him up so he would stop going to collect the eggs before time started. My oldest daughter, who heretofore has not been named so we will call her Kath, is 14. Kath decided that she is too old to collect Easter eggs in front of strangers and that she would help the twins, Cupcake and Chunk. This meant picking the eggs up and placing them in baskets. When my dad suggested she show them how to do it rather than doing for them, I think I heard a harrumph, but I’m not sure.
Fast forward to dinner and my main point. We all sat down. I have two tablecloths that fit our table. One is our formal holiday tablecloth. I should have used it, but instead I used the one that has stains and no matching place mats. In fact, I didn’t have five matching placemats (Cupcake and Chunk were in their high chairs). So I used three “Let It Snow” placemats (it was in the eighties outside) and three tropical colored striped placemats. We had some plates from one type of place setting, bowls from another, and the twins had colorful plastic plates.
During dinner, my kids outdid themselves. After two bites of food, Chunk, who had seen the pound cake my husband had made for dessert, started shouting “Cake!” My 8 year old son MJ started telling jokes that he made up right there on the spot. Kath, not to be outdone, started telling jokes that her male middle school friends had told in the cafeteria. When she reached the part with the vomit and bodily functions, I asked her if she thought that was appropriate for dinner. She came back with a loud “Oops.” Cupcake was actually pretty good except she’s going through a phase where she has to eat on my lap. So I had to pull her out of her highchair and let her finish her dinner on my lap as we listened to jokes involving all sorts of fluid. My dad did tell a story about the news that he had seen that morning, but that was it as far as intellectual discussion. Instead, Chunk was still yelling “Cake,” Cupcake was eating on my lap and Kath and MJ were playing dueling jokes, the grosser the better.
Well, the best thing I can say is that they were completely themselves around Dad. At least they only discussed the food fights they’ve seen at school instead of demonstrating them.
It’s my Dad’s birthday today. Before she left, my stepmother asked us to make sure we had him over for dinner so he wouldn’t be alone for his birthday dinner. I’ll let you know whether he decided to brave it or not.