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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Worth the Wait

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Thank you all for your responses to Friday’s post.  I really appreciated your concern and advice.  In situations like these it’s hard to separate yourself from the issue at hand and get an objective grasp on whether or not you’re overreacting.  I did end up calling a non-emergency police number and requesting a welfare check at the address I had on file for Amy.  Unfortunately, she provided that address a couple of years ago and the current tenants have only been there since late last year.  So, it’s not a valid address for her anymore.  At this point I think there really is nothing left for me to do.  I’m hoping that it’s all been some huge misunderstanding and that we’ll get some good news soon, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I will certainly keep you all posted.  Now, for some lighter fare.

For the most part I don’t consider myself an impatient person.  However, every now and then I get anxious for something that is weeks or months or years away.  In these moments I try to remind myself of all the things in my life that have been worth the wait.  I’m feeling a little impatient about something lately, so I thought I’d go through this little exercise today.

  1. A marriage proposal from GAP.
  2. The ending of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
  3. Our two-week vacation to Italy in 2006.
  4. The release of the seventh Harry Potter book.
  5. My first trip to New York (when I was 28).
  6. The purchase of our first house.
  7. The ending of “Gone with the Wind.”
  8. Meeting my sister’s new baby (only a week after she was born, but it felt like much longer).
  9. My first trip abroad (to the UK when I was 19).
  10. The birth of IEP.

That last one is particularly salient to me right now, because it is another impending birth that has me eagerly anticipating the future.  To put a finer point on it, we are expecting our second child.  I’m about four months along now, and am due in early November.

In the first few months of a pregnancy the anticipation takes a back seat to many other feelings – exhaustion and nausea to name a couple.  But as I’ve started to feel more like myself, and as I’ve started to feel ever-so-tiny flutters, the abstract becomes tangible and my patience begins to wane.  Nevertheless, I don’t want to meet my baby a moment before we cross the threshold into November.  So in the meantime, I will have to be content with tiny kicks and blurry ultrasound images.

Cupcake Wars

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I’m keeping it light today, folks.  My job has been a bear lately.  GAP’s job has really been a bear lately.  And sometimes (like now) my brain just loses its capacity to do anything worthwhile.  Please, indulge me or forgive me as you find appropriate.

Tis the season of friendly competition.  March Madness just wrapped up and we’ve all spent the past few weeks ribbing each other about unforeseen upsets (“bracket busters” in pool parlance) and whose team was going all the way.  Admittedly, I had less fun with March Madness this year because I picked Pitt to win it all and, well, that didn’t quite turn out.  But I can take heart, not only because my whole pool’s brackets were crappy this year, but because there is a new competition on the horizon: Cupcake Wars!

A bit of background for you…

GAP’s family is competitive.  They are a family of eight.  Six kids, two parents, and split evenly between boys and girls.  Whether it be a friendly game of Bridge or a full season of fantasy football, the competitive streak never fails to come out.  If you didn’t grow up in this kind of family (I didn’t…) it takes a bit of getting used to.  But I have grown to really love it.  There are some competitions where I am a strong contender (Trivial Pursuit), and some where I am not (anything relating to football).  However, since this family is an equal opportunity score keeper, everyone has their moment to shine.

I’ve been a part of GAP’s family for nearly 12 years now and in that time we’ve all grown very close.  Much of that closeness came from shared beach vacations, shared childbirth experiences, shared holidays, and, lately, shared e-mail threads of our favorite Charlie Sheen quotes.  But some of it came from our little competitions.  We boast about our skills and gravitas.  We taunt and trash talk.  And, with the exception of a couple of white elephant style trophies, we only play for bragging rights.  At some point in time we’ve all been victorious and we’ve all been humbled.  There’s something very equalizing about it.

We will be gathering the whole group together over Memorial Day weekend to have portraits taken of the whole gang – all 19 of us.  It will be fun and relaxing and with any luck at all the little kids will cooperate with the photographer.  My mother-in-law couldn’t leave well enough alone, though.  She has instituted our family’s first ever Cupcake Wars, complete with rules and regulations:  There will be two divisions – sweet and savory.  One entry per person.  Submissions will be anonymous.  Last minute finishing touches will be allowed.  Scoring will be based on appearance (25%), creativity (25%), and taste (50%).  It’s going to be intense!

Even though general exhaustion around here has prevented me from relentless recipe testing these past few weeks, I’m really looking forward to it.  Because no matter what kind of showing I make, I am assured of a few things.  1) We will all have stomach aches by the end of it.  2) We will all laugh a lot.  3) The whole thing will be memorable.

I guess what I’m driving at here (at the risk of getting a little saccharine) is that “friendly competition” doesn’t tell the whole story.  More than being a fun diversion, over time, it builds memories and forges bonds.  At some level, at the end of the day, we all win.  So, I may not turn out my best work (my sweet tooth has been on hiatus lately), but I’ll have my game face on nonetheless.

I Will Wear Red

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Tomorrow morning I will gather with the rest of GAP’s family for his grandmother’s memorial service.  GME (her initials, in keeping with my naming conventions on this blog) passed away last Friday and it was sad, but also a blessing.  After 93 beautiful years here she has gone home – to a place where her frail body can no longer limit her and where she has joined her husband for the first time in seven years.

GME was one of the most honest, curious, and lovely people I have ever known.  She is a testament to what this blog is about, and was a role model for me as I transitioned from a late-blooming adolescent into a grown woman.  And so it is that today I dedicate this post to her, and just a few of the reasons she will be so dearly missed.

She raised five kind and generous children, one of whom is my mother-in-law, who in turn raised six kind and generous children, one of whom is my beloved husband.

She had a passion for music and raised a family of carolers.  In keeping with their tradition that was founded back in the ’50s and ’60s her kids take their own children caroling to nursing homes (a massive group of nearly 30 now) every Christmas.

She was a reader.  Any time we visited her she asked GAP what he’d been reading (inevitably something political and challenging) and would ask to borrow it.  In turn, she would make margin notes in anything she read and would pass it along to GAP when she finished so they could discuss it.

She loved rain.  As a farmer’s wife she loved looking out the window to see darkening skies because it meant that her hardworking husband  could not go out into the fields and would instead be at home with her.

She was stubborn and humble.  In her later years as many of her grandchildren were getting married she was unable to walk down the aisle as part of the formal processional without the aid of a wheelchair or walker.  So she made sure that she was seated before the ceremony started so as not to draw attention to herself.

After September 11th she was curious about Islamic extremism and how it evolved.  Rather than plunge into day over day of cable news she ordered a copy of the Koran and read it to gain a better understanding of the religion itself and what might have prompted those men to do what they did.

She had eyes that sparkled with life.  No matter how many years her skin betrayed, her eyes were young until the very end.

And, all she wanted out of life was for the people she loved to be happy.  She hated all manner of sadness and was not one to indulge in it under nearly any circumstances.  And so it is that tomorrow’s service comes with strict instructions.  It is to be short.  It is not to be sad.  Men are not to wear suits.  We are all to wear bright colors.  And there is to be pizza afterwards.

GME was not perfect.  But she came awfully close.  Between life and death she chose the better option, but she will still be acutely missed for a long time.  I am thankful that I will live the rest of my life as a member of the family she raised.  Her life and beliefs will be imprinted on my own for the rest of my life, and I am better for it.

I was reminded of this last night.  We arrived at my in-laws’ house late in the evening.  After sleeping in the car IEP was eager to play for a bit prior to being put down.  Our bedtime routine includes a handful of books each night, followed by IEP curling up in GAP’s or my lap, rocking in the glider, and being sung to for a few minutes.  Last night my mother-in-law (E, for those who are frequent readers of comments here) was up to bat for bedtime duties.  As I listened on the monitor I heard her sing “Bless this House” to my baby.  It was the song that her family ended all of their caroling stops with so many years ago.  And it is the song that the entire family will sing together at her memorial service tomorrow.  It was late, she was singing quietly, and her typically strong voice cracked in a few places.  But I could hear GME coming through loud and clear.  And I was thankful, once again, for this woman whose life is now intertwined with mine forever.

Let Us Break Bread Together

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Throughout my childhood my family ate two meals together every day.  We sat down to breakfast as a family and reconvened for supper at the end of the day.  There were exceptions here and there – sleepovers, evening sports games when Anne and I were a bit older, and so on – but by and large we ate together every day.  I’m fairly certain that I didn’t recognize the value and importance of this at the time.  I’m completely certain I didn’t recognize the amount of effort put forth by my mother to pull this feat off day after day.  And as I look into the future of my own family I wonder how I will manage to bring my family together every evening.

It’s fairly common knowledge that there is a distinct positive correlation between the absence of family meals and the presence of a myriad of behavioral problems in kids.  This article by Kari Henley cites a 10-year study done by Columbia University which found that kids whose families eat dinner together fewer than three times per week had significantly increased likelihood of tobacco and marijuana use, eating disorders, and depression.  I don’t take these statistics lightly.*  And I want to be sure that our weeknight routine is one that facilitates awareness and conversation and involvement in each other’s lives.

So where does that put my family?  IEP is nearly two years old.  He eats his supper earlier than GAP and I do, and we eat together after he’s asleep.  Our days are fairly regimented.  We have a nanny schedule, a dog-walking schedule, a workout schedule, etc.  We’ve found a routine that works for us, but I wonder at what point it will cease to work for us.  Or more importantly, when will it cease to work for IEP?  Before too long we will need to eat dinner as a family, which will, in turn, up-end our existing weeknight routine.  I certainly value my evening workouts (regular exercise keeps me sane), but if my kids need me at the dinner table each night, I may have to sacrifice some of my gym time.  (Yet I also care about setting an example of physical health and fitness, and so where does this figure back in?)

The other thing that scares me a bit about the family dinner is my role as a working mom.  My own mother quit her job when she was pregnant with me and never looked back.  I’ve taken a different path and the wonderful example that was set for me as a child may not work for me as an adult.  I will need to find ways to make sure that we all sit down to a home-cooked meal each evening, even on days when I’m in the office until 5:30 or later.  I’m sure this will involve conscientious menu planning and Sunday afternoon prep work.  And knowing myself I’m relatively confident that I’ll pull it off most of the time.  But that doesn’t mean that the whole premise doesn’t still overwhelm me. 

As I write this I remind myself that parenting isn’t for the faint hearted.  I made it through the first six months of overnight feedings.  I made it through teething.  I’m currently surviving increasing two-year-old tantrums.  I suspect I will also survive all of the unknown challenges that await me.  I just hope that I manage to get dinner on the table in the process.     

*I do think it is important to point out that one misnomer regarding these types of studies is correlation versus causality.  Family dinners are correlated with more stable and well-behaved kids and teens.  They do not cause that improved behavior.  Rather, families who eat dinner together regularly are more likely to experience fewer behavioral problems because family dinners are symptomatic of parents who are actively involved in their kids’ lives.

A Flurry of Activity

Monday, October 4th, 2010

I love my weekends with GAP.  They take on all sorts of flavors.  There is the household-projects weekend wherein we tackle various and sundry tasks in a whirlwind of productivity.  There is the lazy-on-the-couchweekend wherein we watch football, movies, and Tivo’d episodes of Tosh.0.  There is the our-dance-card-is-fullweekend wherein we have an assortment of plans (and were able to find a sitter) and flit about the town being social butterflies.  There is the obligatory I-have-to-get-some-work-done weekend of telecommuting.  And finally there is the last variety of weekend when one of us flies solo because the other one is out of town; the I’m-on-my-own-and-loving-it weekend.

GAP and I both not-so-secretly love the solo weekend.  There is something utterly luxurious about having the house to yourself.  No negotiating over dinner plans, household chores, or what to watch on TV.  No waiting for the other person to be ready before you can leave the house.  No sacrificing your own intentions for the weekend because they don’t coincide with his/hers.  I don’t mean to confuse the issue – there are drawbacks.  No snuggling on the couch.  No shared experiences.  No intense conversation or inside jokes.  Nevertheless, a weekend to yourself and with your own agenda is, from time to time, an absolute gift.  

This past weekend was one such gift as GAP was out of town for a friend’s bachelor party.  (I will pause here to clarify that I was more spoiled by these weekends alone pre-kids.  There was another little person in the house with me this weekend, but as long as there are graham crackers nearby he’s pretty much up for anything.)  And with a weekend to myself on the horizon I made a long list of plans.  Not lunch dates or spa outings, but a collection of things I wanted to get done!  My list included:

Walk dogs (twice/day)
Bathe dogs
Go to gym
Get hair cut
Touch up paint on bedroom walls
Brush dogs (they shed a lot after a bath)
Catch up on laundry (approx 5 loads)
Hang family photos
Go to church
Go to grocery store
Volunteer at the hospital
Go for a run
Sweep/vacuum as needed (based on immense quantities of shedding)

As I entered the weekend I was a little bit skeptical that I’d piled too many things onto the list.  (In the interest of full disclosure I did have to get a sitter for the haircut and the volunteering.)  But as the weekend drew to a close I was amazed and delighted to have gotten it all done.  I was actually quite proud of myself.  Even amidst such a flurry of activity I had some wonderful times with Isaac.  He loves to “help” with projects, of which we had many.  And we read extra books before bed each night because I thought he deserved some spoiling too. 

With the weekend now behind me I’m rather confident that had GAP been in town I would have been less productive, not more.  There were moments when an extra set of hands might have been helpful, but being on my own this weekend meant that I was free to plow forward at my own pace.  As I reflect back it’s not that having GAP around impedes my productivity; he can be every bit as goal-oriented as I.  It’s just that when we are together (which is much more on weekends than during the week) we want to steal away moments just to be together.  And those moments come at the expense of my to-do list.

We seem to have a decent balance in this department.  We’re each away without the other a small handful of times throughout the year.  We relish in the return to single-dom with its greater autonomy and fewer compromises.  But at the end of the weekend we are happy to be back in the same house and making plans for the following weekend which we’ll spend together. 

I suppose my point here is to remind myself that I am an individual, apart from my husband.  It’s nice to be reminded of that every now and then, and to be forced to engage with it by setting out into a weekend whose path is charted by myself alone.  This particular weekend was one of productivity.  Others are characterized by old black and white movies and extra long pedicures.  Either way, I get to choose.  And that is luxury indeed.

A Blessing and a Curse

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Or perhaps, rather, a curse and a blessing.  For in this situation it seems that the blessing arrives eventually, but only once the curse has run its course.  A little background…

GAP and I have long wanted to adopt.  He has a brother and sister who were adopted and it was only a few months after we started dating that he confessed to me his desire to also adopt one day.  It had never occurred to me until then, and it wasn’t something for which I shared his passion initially.  But as I got to know his family; as I watched the video of his brother and sister joining their new family for the first time; and as they became my own family I grew to share GAP’s passion for adoption.  Since we got married our tentative family plan has always included two biological children and two adopted children.  That plan has also included children who are adopted outside of their infancy, since GAP’s brother and sister were older when they were adopted and he has a particular soft spot for kids he believes might otherwise be overlooked.  We believe – strongly – that adoption is one of the best things we can do.

Given all of this, you must imagine the sucker-punched feeling that developed in my stomach as I read this blog post over at NYT’s Motherlode.  It discusses one book and one documentary which speak some painful truths about this act which we like to believe is unilaterally positive.  Of course I understand that expanding your family via adoption carries with it some very different and pronounced growing pains.  But in all of my visions of a future with adopted children I’ve never played any role but the good guy.

However, adoptive parents (particularly in the world of international adoptions where the kids tend to be a bit older – just the kind of adoption we intend to enter into) are not always seen by their adopted children as the good guys.  As it turns out many of these children no longer hail from orphanages, but from foster homes.  They may spend the first two or three years of their life with a single set of foster parents, who, by the time they are adopted, are the only family they’ve ever known.  I know a lot of two- and three-year-olds.  They know exactly who their parents are.  They know exactly what “home” is.  They know when things feel strange, and unfamiliar, and frightening.  I cannot imagine the traumatic horror that must ensue every time a little [insert nationality here: Chinese, Russian, etc] child is yanked away from their whole known world just because some nice white lady in the States will be able to provide him orthodontia send him to a four-year undergraduate program.  And yet, that is exactly what I plan to do.

Yes, that last sentence is probably a bit dramatic.  In the long run most internationally adopted children are far better off in their adopted homes (with health care, safe housing, education, and a constant, supportive family) than they ever would have been as a product of the foster care system.*  But as a mother I can only imagine what my son would experience if he were handed over to another set of parents on another continent merely because their ability to provide for him surpassed my own.

I’m struggling with this.  I do not have a tidy conclusion for you.  I believe that adoption is a good thing.  I believe that I am a good person trying to help make someone’s life better.  But I cannot yet reconcile the fact that for me to do this thing I believe is good, I must first do this thing I believe is horrible.

If any of you has any experience in this realm (I’m looking at you, Jane!) I hope you’ll see fit to offer it here.  I’m really feeling quite lost at the moment.

*I mean no disrespect to foster parents.  Most of them are saints, doing hard work in imperfect circumstances.  I mean only to assert that the stability of a permanent family is almost always preferable to the uncertainty of most foster programs.

Family Traditions

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend thinking about traditions.  Specifically, I wondered what my own family’s traditions will be.  It was an assortment of hot air balloons that sent me on this mental tangent.

Every year our city hosts a hot air balloon race.  The race is always held on a Saturday.  And on the night before they have what’s called the Balloon Glow.  All of the balloons are inflated, but tethered to the ground.  After the sun sets the inflated balloons synchronize their flames so that they all glow in unison.  It’s really pretty amazing.

Many families take blankets, camp chairs, picnic suppers, and make an evening of it.  Even if we’d had the forethought to plan such an evening, IEP’s bedtime would have cut us short.  But as I watched children running around, parents sitting back watching them, and a backdrop of glowing hot air balloons I thought ahead to next year.  IEP will be nearly three and I wonder if we might be one of those families relaxed on blankets enjoying a perfect autumn evening.  And I wonder if we’ll go every year; if the Balloon Glow will become one of our family’s traditions.

I look back to my own childhood and think fondly of some of our traditions:  Sour cream coffee cake and scrambled eggs on Christmas morning.  Playing miniature golf during vacations to Colorado.  “Going around the table” during dinner after church every Sunday and contributing our own responses to a common question. 

As I think about these things I’m struck by the fact that I have no idea how or why or when each one originated.  I’m quite confident that my parents didn’t set out to make them traditions.  They evolved organically – threads in the fabric of our family that emerged into a pattern over time.

So, back to today, and back to my family.  Here is my question:  Must traditions evolved organically?  Or can we be proactive about creating them?  And if they come about on purpose, are they cheapened by that genesis in any way?

I suppose, more than anything, I hope that my family has traditions.  I hope that we will have quirks and idiosyncrasies that are enduring and beloved.  I hope that our traditions are remembered affectionately by my children when they are grown.  I imagine that every family has traditions of some kind, and that ours will be no exception.  But we are still a young family and most (if not all) of our family traditions are still to be born.  So I am left to wonder what they will be and where they will come from.  My mind could go in a thousand directions with a topic like this.  But I suspect I will be best serve by letting our traditions develop on their own.

Forging Through Favoritism

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

I have a favorite child: IEP.  He is my smartest, funniest, cutest, and most affectionate child.  He is the most obedient and the most eager to please.  He is the most intuitive and the most insightful.  He is the most articulate.  He gives the best hugs and kisses.  He is my favorite child.

He is also my only child.

While I assume that the moment that Baby #2 arrives (no time soon, for those keeping score…) I will no longer have a favorite child.  I will have two children whom I love differently, but equally.  Always equally.  Right?  Not necessarily.

According to Dr. Ellen Libby, author of The Favorite Child, it is actually quite common for parents to favor one child over another.  The conclusions she draws in this article are not surprising: specifically that favoritism can cause depression in both the favored and unfavored child, and that favoritism in general affects the entire family. 

What the article doesn’t address (perhaps the book does, but I haven’t read it so I can’t comment) is what causes such favoritism in the first place.  What is the catalyst for favoritism?  And how early does it start?  Does it begin when a child adopts hobbies and outlooks that are similar to the parent’s and helps the parent to relate to that child?  Does it begin when a child is a colicky baby and the frustration the parent feels during that phase is sustained over time?  Is the same child always the favored child?  Or does it vary over time?

These questions fascinate me.  I wonder how many parents will admit to anyone, or even to themselves, that the decks in their hearts are not stacked equally.  It must be a gut wrenching reality to face.  But I suspect that facing it is the only way to keep it from poisoning your entire family.  I also suspect that dealing with such psychological undercurrents is a major task.  Libby offers some tactical pointers, but while they may be valid I find her proposed antidotes to be trite:

  • Listen to each other. 
  • Respect different viewpoints. 
  • Strive to accept the truth of different perceptions. 
  • Work deliberately at not being defensive. 
  • Feel safe to express words of personal truth. 

“Feel safe to express words of personal truth”???  Really??  I have to believe that handing down that little gem to a 13-year-old sitting on the “unfavored” side of the equation is probably as valuable as telling him to “harness his inner calm and stay tuned to his feelings of worth” or some such nonsense.  Wholly abstract and completely impossible to interpret.  

I don’t know what Baby #2 will be like.  I have no idea how my feelings for my children will differ.  I like to believe that I will love and care for them equally, and that the burden of favoritism will not exist in our family.  I cannot be so arrogant, however, as to assume that such biases could never happen to me.  And I hope that such awareness (and, if I’m being honest, a bit of fear) will help me to identify and address such preferences the moment they surface.  I am not a perfect parent (news flash: “Goodnight Goon” scares the bejeezus out of toddlers…) but I hope that in admitting my imperfections I can mitigate the damage they cause.

A Heritage, Abridged

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

I am from three shelves of family photo albums whose pages have grown brittle and yellow with time, a set of brass and wrought iron fireplace tools that were handed down and are worn from use, and a red and green leather bound set of the complete works of Charles Dickens.

I am from a single story ranch style home with two fireplaces, a broad deck, and an extra bedroom with blue carpet where my mother watched us in the back yard as she ironed, learning to parallel park between coffee cans on the riding lawnmower, and the sounds of the high school marching band floating through my open windows in early September.

I am from zinnias and marigolds and phlox, giant elm trees that split down the middle during the biggest ice storm of my childhood, and azaleas that flush hot pink for a fraction of a moment each spring.

I am from family vacations filled with silly putty, mint flavored Chapstick, endless games of travel bingo, and stops at every historical marker, Sunday dinners of roast chicken and mashed potatoes and “at least one green vegetable”, and unflappable precision in the matters of grammar and usage.

I am from a cultural polyglot, from operas and rodeos, minor league baseball and Broadway musicals, roadside motels and historic B&B’s.

I am from casseroles and whole wheat bread and after school snacks, bedtimes and phone curfews, and weekly chores for your weekly allowance. 

I am from the belief that life is a banquet table from which I may choose, that you address your friends’ parents as Mr. and Mrs. unless they tell you otherwise, that you don’t have to like it but you have to try it, and that maintaining relationships with family over distance is always hard and always worth it. 

I am from a childhood on horseback, fitted breeches and tall dress boots and banded collars, fringed leather chaps and size 6 7/8 hats, the number 477 pinned to my back and ribbons pinned to my bedroom wall, strong legs and a graceful torso, and greater confidence astride a mare than on solid ground.

I am from Sunday school and the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, a large steel cross that loomed over my head in the sanctuary and whose replica sits on my nightstand, red choir robes with white stoles, and silver trays that were passed down the pews on Communion Sunday.

I am from weekend outings to tiny rural towns, chicken fried steak and cherry cobbler from rusty diners with linoleum tile floors, and the news from Lake Wobegon.

I am from a Catholic prep school with magnificently pitched roofs and a three-story tower with a spiral staircase, pep rallies for Friday night football games, unparalleled teachers, and unreasonable levels of peer competition.

I am from a small private college where everyone knows your hometown and your major, chatty sorority chapter meetings and raucous fraternity parties, and professors who were known to call your dorm room if you overslept for a final.

I am from Bob and Rosemary and Jack and Frances and Jeff and Jan, from hand-stitched quilts and homemade pie pastry, from handwritten letters, hugs and I love yous. 

I am from a family that is not perfect but whom I love, the need to carry them in my heart, and the willingness to try things my own way.

With my entire family arriving shortly for the holiday weekend, I have thoughts of heritage on the brain.  In that vein this post was inspired, with permission, by Lindsey’s poem at A Design So Vast.  As a related aside, I will be taking Friday and Monday off from blogging to spend time with my family, and I will see you back here next Wednesday.  I hope you all have a lovely holiday.

The Long Arm of the Coconut Macaroon

Friday, August 27th, 2010

This is the story of two blogs and a cookie. 

A couple of weeks ago fellow blogger Jane reposted a piece she wrote last winter about a Random Act of Kindness.  The second time around WordPress picked it up and featured it, driving huge numbers of readers to Jane’s site and leaving their own RAOK stories.  It was really inspiring.

I wanted desperately to jump on this do-gooder bandwagon, but the deck seemed stacked against me.  I simply couldn’t find the right opportunity to inject my goodness into the world.  I saw an old woman walking home from the grocery store on an especially hot day and offered her a ride.  She gave me the sign of the cross and said, “Bless you” in heavily accented English, but turned me down.  I rarely go through drive-thru windows where I might pay for someone’s order.  I didn’t see elderly people needing help crossing the street.  I was striking out left and right.  I decided to stop obsessing.

Then last week my sister Anne wrote an impassioned post about how a simple coconut macaroon helped her through an especially difficult year of graduate school.  I was moved by her post and decided that I needed to make my own batch of macaroons.  Later that day I got an e-mail from Anne which was a forwarded message from my 90-year-old grandfather.  A reader of her blog, he thought her macaroons sounded delicious and asked for the recipe.  Having made them myself I recognized that this was slightly more complicated than your average cookie recipe and potentially out of the culinary reach of a man who has probably never cooked anything more complicated than a bowl of oatmeal.

And then it hit me!

The recipe made nearly 30 cookies.  GAP is not a coconut lover and had no interest in the macaroons.  I have no business eating 30 cookies by myself.  And I could only in good conscience allow IEP (who, it turns out, is a coconut lover) to eat little bites here and there.  The answer?  A care package.

I transferred several macaroons to a Ziplock bag, wrote an accompanying note, and went to the UPS Store.  A couple of days later a truck pulled up in front of Granddaddy’s house and handed him a box that he was not at all expecting. 

That evening I received an e-mail from my grandfather which said, in part, “I couldn’t imagine what it could be as it wasn’t Xmas or my birthday and I hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon.” (As an aside, I just love that my 90-year-old grandfather e-mails and shops online.) “Imagine my surprise to open it and find it was a macaroon package from my oldest grandchild.  I had one for dessert and it was delicious.  In fact I had to make a big decision whether to eat another or not – so they would last a little longer.  Thank you so much.  I think this is the nicest ‘unexpected’ present I have ever received.”

It wasn’t anonymous.  It wasn’t for a stranger.  It wasn’t even entirely random.  But I think it captured the spirit of the little movement that Jane started.  Thanks, Jane, for providing me with such inspiration.  And thanks, Anne, for speaking directly to my sweet tooth.  You were both unwitting accomplices in making an old man very happy.