Tag Archives: Relationships

Honesty and the Price of a Fish

Three fish darted frantically around the plastic bag squatting on the counter. The cashier punched in two codes, and then announced a total.

“You forgot a fish,” my son said, looking up at the woman. “There are three fish in the bag and you only rang up two.”

He was right. She had missed a $6 fish that he would be paying for with his own money. She rang it up, he paid, and we left.

“That was a nice thing you did in there,” my husband said. “Not many people would have pointed that out.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I would have pointed it out. I hadn’t even noticed the cashier had missed a fish. Maybe I would have figured it evens out with all the fish that die within a week and we never bring back.

Not a fish in my son's tank but one he'd like.

Not from my son’s tank but a fish we had to stare at for a long time.

My son is a fairly honest boy. He’s never been a good liar. Oh, he’s tried. But I can look at him and he caves. His guilty conscience gets him. Faulty cashiers aside, I have the guilty conscience of a hundred nuns. When I know I did something bad, my guilt eats away at me like a fleet of gnawing rats. I punish myself worse than anyone else ever could. I see this trait in my son. While I grew into it, he seems plagued by it now.

He follows rules. He gets antsy when he notices from the backseat that I’m going five miles over the speed limit. When left with his grandparents for an evening, he’ll remind his sister that they can’t have ice cream again because they already had some that day.

That is a trait he did not get from me. Sure, as a kid I knew what it meant to be reliable and I was scared to not follow rules, but I would have easily forgotten a little thing like extra ice cream. I would do anything to get something sweet. I stole a box of brown sugar from the kitchen and hid it in my room to eat whenever I wanted.

I learned the hard way that lies lead to more lies and that you get caught. I stole my parents’ checkbook and hid it in my doll cradle for some authentic play. I didn’t even fess up when I knew they were looking for it. Finally, I returned it when they closed the account.

I didn’t fear dishonesty the way my son does. My daughter seems to be experimenting with dishonesty right now, testing boundaries with little white lies. Her lies often grow out of competition, not wanting to be left behind. When we heard an owl in the middle of the night, she heard it too. She even saw it from her window. In the dark. Three different nights.

Sometimes being the youngest is hard. I remember. When her older brother describes a movie that’s too old for her, my daughter insists she’s seen it too. We all know she is lying.

“Who’s the main character then?” my son quizzes.

“I can’t remember his name.” Hmm, it is a boy.

“What does he look like?”

“Uh, brown hair.”

“Wrong! He has dark hair!”

“That’s what I said!”

The interrogation continues and so does my daughter’s stubborn will.

But when I least expect it, she shows that guilty conscience too. And honesty. After a normal afternoon, she’ll burst into tears and admit she got reprimanded hours earlier at school.

At some point, I know my son will tell me lies. And at some point, I know my daughter will stop. Honestly, it’s what kids do. One day I may even look out my daughter’s window in the middle of the night and see that owl.

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I’m a Person, Not a Convenience

I am not a coatrack. Or a bookshelf. Or anything else upon which you put things. My kids see my hands or lap as an invitation to hold their things. Yesterday my daughter stared me down, determined that I would hold her books in the doctor’s office. The chair next to her wouldn’t do. I stared back, determined not to hold her load. Sometimes it’s a matter of power. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of habit.

I am not a maid or a servant or any kind of hired help. But I fear the kids see me that way. When the kids were younger, I did things for them because they couldn’t. When they were old enough, I taught them. That’s the part we’ve had trouble with.

Sometimes my kids think my hands work better than theirs. My hands make quick work of putting away toys, cutting neater along the lines, and pouring without spilling. But my hands have had decades of practice.

While driving, I am expected to hold the steering wheel and juggle a wrapper someone threw in my direction, while wadding up a tissue and tossing it swiftly into the backseat. “Mom, you missed.”

“No, you missed,” I mutter under my breath. Can’t they move an inch?

When the kids were small, I didn’t mind taking their chewed sucker stick and disposing of it as I drove. Little did I know what monsters I was creating. At the time, I thought putting used gum away was better than finding it stuck to a seat somewhere.

Later my kids would bypass three trashcans in search of my hands and me. When they would find me, they offered me something—a bit of string, a used tissue. How many times can one be offered a booger? At ages when they want to be independent, my kids sure are fickle about it. My daughter has walked through the kitchen to hand me her dish to put away. At what point does it sink in that they can accomplish this task on their own? “Dishwasher,” I say.

My kids simply can’t multitask like I can, but I’m providing opportunity. Our van doesn’t have automatic doors. Someone has to actually take two seconds to close them. Every day after school, someone leaves that damn van door open. My hands may be filled with bags and keys and a water bottle, but my kids can’t seem to handle an extra task when their load is on their back. I’ve learned to hurry to the house, remind the last one out to close it.

Habits are hard to break, even for a mom who constantly tells her kids she isn’t the family maid.

The kids have come a long way in doing things for themselves. They still need reminders. When they do need me—for a hug or help or to tell me about their day—I’m open.

And every now and then, I still look down to find that I’m holding my daughter’s book, and I wonder how it got there.

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Lost in the Parking Lot, Parenting Realization Sinks In

As we walked away from the sea of cars and into an even bigger sea of people, I realized I hadn’t taken note of where we parked. Hmm. “We crossed over one grassy median and then up onto the sidewalk past another lot. We’ll find it,” I thought. And I figured we would find our van. When I’m alone, I rely on my memory to bail me out. For as much of a planner as I am, I can be remarkably spontaneous when it comes to finding my way.

After our day at the zoo, the kids and I made our way back into the parking lot. It was much more crowded than when we arrived. We made our way to where I was sure I had left our van, only it wasn’t there. My daughter piped up with her mental notes. “We walked four rows,” she said. “We’re not here. We’re over there.” While I still pondered why my vehicle wasn’t in the row I was sure I parked it in and began to wonder whether it had been stolen, my son had an obvious solution. “Just hit your remote button, Mom.” And that’s when I realized I can’t pass for a figure-things-out-as-you-go kind of mom if my kids are the ones figuring it all out.

We walked a few rows over and my daughter was right. Our van was across another median, four rows of cars.

I thought about this on the drive home. No wonder the kids roll their eyes at me, especially my son. When they’re young, the kids put us parents up on a pedestal. They think we know everything and I certainly never told them otherwise. If my son started asking about planets or primates, I regurgitated every random fact I knew. What I didn’t know, I Googled and told him later. I was a bit of a show-off. And then around third grade, my son started to doubt me. He started to think his teachers knew more about his favorite book characters. He didn’t believe I could help him with grammar, even though my job is correcting others’ mistakes. Then he started to believe his friends. He’d believe things that came out of their mouths over mine.

Now my kids see me do stupid things like forgetting where I parked the car. So they know I don’t have all the answers, I can live with that. But the time is near when they’ll think they know more than me. If you’ve ever heard a ten-year-old explain life at the dinner table, you know you can’t afford to lose that credibility.

While I thought I could redeem myself after the parking lot incident, I took the wrong road out of the zoo and ended up on some rural back roads. The kids would have never known, but while I was recalculating my kids’ perception of me, that cocky GPS navigator was loudly recalculating every wrong quarter mile–increment I sped away from her intended route.

My kids know I’m human. And I knew I couldn’t stay on the parenting pedestal forever. But I just can’t lose points in parking lots.

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Apparently, Growing Up Is Normal

I wasn’t going to write another post like this because too many are like this. But some days I look at my kids and I’m overcome. They’re taller. At 10 my son no longer looks like a little boy. He’s something in between now, and every day he amazes me with this new maturity, this new level of knowledge that allows me for thirty seconds to feel as if I’ve done something right in parenting. Then just as quickly he switches back to barely being contained in his own skin. I swear he’d jump out of it if he could. He’s still the boy I remember who wants hugs and plays with action figures and jumps on his bed. He still needs to be reminded to change his underwear. He still doesn’t listen when I tell him not to hang on the banister. And he still looks at me when I’m using my serious voice and lets out the kind of burp only a gaggle of ten-year-old boys can appreciate, then fans it away.

Sometimes seeing him walk across the yard with a longer mop on his head and broader shoulders, seeing him laughing with his friends, seeing him take rare initiative, it makes me realize how far we’ve come. He picked up litter from the yard and threw it away, without prompting. When he gets mad, he cools off in his room for ten seconds, this child who used to sink his teeth into me and not let go. His sister is two and half years younger and in second grade. It’s been a tough year for her. Second grade was a tough year for him. I remind him of that, tell him to be considerate of her feelings. “Yeah, second grade sucked.”

“Watch your mouth,” I say.

“It did.” He may not be able to pinpoint exactly why, but he’s certainly been able to console a moody sister. I’ve caught him just being there for her, sitting quietly with her, hand on her back. He gets it.

For her the first half of the year was rocky, just as I remember his second grade year was. Afternoons of crying and yelling and more crying and not many reasons why. I worried about how much she sat doing nothing. Couldn’t she do something? I walked on eggshells not knowing what would set her off. I remember feeling the same way with my son two years ago. Somehow I still didn’t have enough patience for her. I offered games to play, stories to read, but she never liked my ideas. Homework was an eight-letter word.

It feels like our rocky days are smoothing over now. No emotional bombs wait to go off. Suddenly my little helper is back. She’s smiling again, playing school and assessing my reading. She skips everywhere. She stops to kiss me before she runs up the stairs. She took the reins on a school project and she had really good ideas. And I look at her and still see a bit of little girl in her face, but she’s growing too. How did she get to be so big?

While I was so busy being annoyed and exhausted, dumbstruck and distraught over what’s been going on the past few months, my kids knew what they were doing. It’s all been normal. They were growing, inside and out.

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Some Days, ‘I Love You’ Must Be Enough

The morning game of getting dressed begins with a kiss, a smile, and quickly dissolves into tears, fussing, and a mad rush for the right pants. “What’s wrong with these pants or these?” I say, flinging pairs from my daughter’s drawer. Those pinch, those won’t stay up, never mind that she’s been wearing them for three months and chooses this morning with exactly 27 minutes until departure to boycott all of her clothes. She wants the dirty black pair from the laundry room. Fine. Wear stinky clothes. Anything. Come on, come on, come on!

Finally downstairs, the morning didn’t start like anyone intended. Over breakfast, we sneak a peek at each other. I wink—a truce. I won’t send her out into the world holding a grudge over pants.

Mornings aren’t always smooth in this house, but with raccoon eyes and cereal breath, I plant a kiss on the kids’ heads before they bury them in my soft robe, then run out the door.

After school isn’t much better. In two seconds they undo everything I’ve spent the day doing. They toss backpacks, jackets, and muddy shoes on the floor—and I just swept. The contents of their backpacks spill out, covering the entryway like debris from a natural disaster. “Where do our coats go? Please bring me your lunchboxes! Stop pushing your sister! We have three bathrooms! Stop fighting over that one!” Less than a minute in, I’m exhausted and cranky. I try to remedy it by asking about their day.

afterschool mess

Hurricane Kid, after school.

Every week it’s the same rut, never perfection.

I yell. When I’m busy, I only half listen and mm-hmm in all the right places when stories go on for ten minutes too long. Sometimes I’m the mean girl I want my kids to stay away from. I mention that that outfit doesn’t match or that habit of talking like a baby extremely annoys me. I don’t try to be hurtful. In the seconds after it slips from my lips, I wonder if that statement will be the one to give my child a complex for life. I apologize quickly.

After four farts at the dinner table, I’m not amused. Can’t we just eat for once? My dad and I had this same scenario thirty years ago. I excused myself and he hollered, “There ain’t no excuse for it!” I giggle at the story even now. One day my son will tell our stories and laugh at how they angered me. He’ll describe that instant when my face transformed from the sweet mother who tucked him in at night to mean mommy and back again. Why, when early morning around here is a free-for-all and my kids once dubbed me “Fart Powder” after a book they found?

When girl drama rears its ugly second-grade head, I have little patience. It takes me too long to realize hugs cure a lot. When hobbit adventures and Star Wars battles unfold for repeats, I’m quick to interrupt and fast-forward to the ending. I slam cabinet doors when I’ve had enough bickering. Some days I’m just a terrible mother. Some days start out well enough, but in an instant, I ruin it.

I’m not a perfect mother. My list of flaws could cover our driveway written in tiny childlike script. If mothers were required to fill out applications, I’m not sure I ever would have been qualified. So many others seem to do it better. But the one thing I do get right, always, is letting my kids know I love them no matter what ugly thing may go down. A bad day is just a bad day.

Whether we argue over homework or wearing shorts when it’s 30 degrees out, I still hug my kids, kiss their cheek, and tell them I love them because they should know there is nothing they could do that would ever make me not. I just hope they’ll always love me back. And if they happen to be too cold, well, that’s their own damn fault.

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As a Mom, I’ve Had to Rethink Confidence

A friend of mine turned 40 a few months ago. Wanting to know what I have to look forward to, I joked and asked whether she felt any different. Of course she said no. You don’t go to bed 39 and wake up 40 feeling joint pain with a gray streak and crow’s feet. You’re still you. But she said something that stuck with me: “I don’t care as much about what people think of me.”

Those few little words sounded so liberating to me, not caring what other people think. It’s always been the one thing I could never get over. My whole life I’ve worried about looking stupid or incompetent in others’ eyes. I still worry sometimes about not being good enough or offending others. When she said that to me, I literally thought for a moment, “That’s an option? I can just not care?”

Though my tastes may change like a three-year-old switches best friends, my beliefs have mostly held strong. I just haven’t always backed them with confidence. Why wait till 40? For much of my life I was so swept up in what little Susie thought of my new shoes or what my college roommates thought of my music choices that it took me ages to figure out what I liked and to not just follow the crowd.

In fourth grade I picked out a bright green purse I wanted for Christmas. Everyone else liked pink and purple. My sister told me green meant I was horny. I didn’t even know what that meant until my aunt explained it. Ew. But I never carried that purse because I was too afraid people would make fun of me.

As a mom you want your kids to be proud of who they are. It’s important that you get out there and glow in your own sense of self. I struggled for a long time and finally started to figure it out. I bought vintage things because I liked them. But then motherhood came along and I realized I was being judged for more than my identity. I was being judged on virtue, competence, and so much more: not being able to nurse, having a child who is a picky eater, letting my kids read Harry Potter and listen to rock music. The list goes on.

So now I find myself teaching two kids that it’s OK to be yourself while I’m still trying to navigate the waters. Remarkably, it’s my kids who have taught me the most. Seeing them on the court despite their ability, watching them flaunt a Punky Brewster outfit, it gives me courage.

On a recent shopping trip, my daughter picked out a floor-sweeping dress covered with psychedelic flowers. I would never have the guts now—or thirty years ago—to wear something so eye-popping. My daughter jumped, squealed, and begged for it. I saw it as a waste of money, too long to wear to school, and feared she’d never have the courage to wear it. My husband told her if she wanted it, she could help pay for it. She did. She wears that dress every chance she gets.

My parenting will never please everyone. There will always be a mom who disagrees with my tactics, my conduct, my values, my shoes. But I’m learning to care less what she thinks. There are more important opinions to consider.

Having confidence means having a lot more fun.

Having confidence means having a lot more fun.

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Bedtime Books I Wish I Could Read to My Kids

When my kids are at their worst, it’s hard to take the high road. But I do my job, doling out punishments like a lunch lady serving stale bread. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t seem to get the point across. A teensy part of me would like to say what I’m really thinking, like “I told you so” or “Duh.” Sometimes I just want to tell my kids how their silly fears are driving me nuts, to just put some stupid clothes on already—any clothes—to end the tears, or that I’m going to throw all of their toys away if they can’t clean them up. Would I be a bad mother if I told my kids that burping at the table causes warts on their tongue? Wouldn’t that put an end to naughty behavior, make my kids finally listen? What if I read them books about it instead?

Bedtime books I wish I could read to my kids:

• A boy who always pulls the shower curtain back before he’ll use the bathroom one day really does find a bad guy hiding there.

• The girl who throws a fit over what to wear is sentenced to a month of wearing her brother’s stinky socks and underwear that he has worn for an entire week. Pee-ew!

• The child who never sleeps is given chores to do all night while the rest of his family snoozes soundly in their beds. Even when he finally tries to lie down, he finds he can no longer sleep. His hands turn to sponges and his feet into mops.

• The kid who picks his nose all the time gets his finger stuck in his nostril. His mom has to sew special clothes for him. He can’t play baseball. And he always fears he will get his other finger stuck. Yes, little Timmy cannot learn his lesson.

• The girl who throws fits suddenly starts talking in that high-pitched squeal all the time and can no longer walk but only stomp and thrash her fists. The only thing that will cure it is a thick, bubbling, stinking concoction of frog’s guts and squid tentacles taken in huge gulps.

• Kids who don’t clean their rooms wake up tied down and taken hostage by their own toys. Barbies build Lego racks to torture their owners. Minifigure armies pull and twist hair. Robots shoot Nerf darts at the kids’ noses. Dolls scribble on walls and the kids will be blamed.

• Kids who talk back to their parents are rewarded with pet birds that never shut up and whisper creepy things that no one else can hear, like, “Don’t go to sleep, Mildred.”

Think it will work?

robot

Get ready, kids. The toys take over when left out too long.

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Home Movies Reveal Second Child Woes

After a full day of watching home movies of a decade of my children’s lives, I’ve come away with more than I expected. For one, my husband needs some new clothes. He kept saying, “I still have that shirt” or even, “Look, I’m wearing that one.” I’ve gone through a dozen wardrobes in a decade. For another, I began to see that no matter my efforts, second children simply don’t get all the fuss that first kids do.

After three videos of her brother, my patient daughter wondered when she would make an appearance. Only one more videotape and then the next two were of her, my husband informed her. “What? There are FOUR of him and only TWO of me?” she cried.

My heart sank. It was true. There had been a lot of video of my son. Too many minutes of us anxious new parents hovering and waiting for a smile, a laugh, any sign of fun in our upside-down world. We used that video camera for proof that we weren’t just seeing things in the bleary-eyed haze of sleeplessness. Our new tiny sweetheart by day, insomniac-bloodcurdling-screamer by night did in fact smile, coo, show some sign that he liked us. We needed to record it in case he never did it again.

And so for every new skill, we readied our camera and waited. Ten minutes of video of a staring baby, five minutes of him teetering on wambly legs—not good drama. We realized this as time went on. We got better. But still every other day our son did something cute, like “reading” a book. How could we forget we had recorded that three times before?

When my daughter came along, scenes of her nearly always include big brother. We didn’t hover over her crib waiting for a coo or a gassy smirk. As the parents of two small children, we were quick and to the point.

We created second child syndrome without even realizing it. To our daughter’s eyes, it may look as if our son steals the show in every scene. He’s always there. But the truth is, we never had to wait as long for her smiles or giggles. We didn’t have to choreograph a show with baby talk and rattles to get a second of cute out of her like we did for him. Her brother did all the work for us. We just hit record and watched the action unfold. He could throw a ball in the air and she acted like Elmo had just eaten a banana while standing on his head. She laughed so hard she got hiccups, every single time. At five months old, this was their daily routine.

Our videos revealed that my son had my daughter’s white wicker furniture first, the shelf that hangs in her room, and the plastic Kewpie dolls that were mine as a child. “Why does he have my dresser?”

kewpie dolls

A hand-me-down from Mom to son to sister. She doesn’t know it yet, but Mom is sentimental.

I’m a second child. I know the feeling. Everything looks different when you are always second in line, always waiting your turn, waiting to be old enough. You want videos featuring just you with the same ten minutes of parental torture. You want everything to be the exact same. You keep score even if your parents don’t.

As a survivor of second childhood, I know now things aren’t always what they seem. When I got older, I knew my parents loved me and my sister just like I knew it was possible for me to love both of my parents. That was all I needed to know. Now that I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to feel so full of love in every way possible for two completely different beings. No amount of video or photos can quantify that. But I still make sure her firsts are just as important. I still completed her baby book and wrote down every date.

I don’t want second child syndrome to be part of my daughter’s life, but I know no matter what I do, it will. For now, I hope she’ll be happy with the discovery of two more videotapes…of her. Whew.

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What Do I Have to Show for a Year as a Mom?

My husband decided to begin the New Year by watching a slideshow of the past year so the kids could see what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve been, how they’ve grown.

The year’s opportunities, adventures, and stories did not disappoint: beach trips, a 40th birthday, the Atlanta aquarium, zoos, camping, Hershey Park, the Amish countryside, horseback riding.

stingray

The Atlanta Aquarium

The scariest moment? On a bike trip, I watched my speeding son fly over his handlebars. Motherly instinct set in, the one that told me not to panic, to not gag when I saw a bloody mess under his shirt, to be strong when the bandage later became one with his scab.

Our year was filled with many small moments and firsts that added up to big things for our young kids: a better basketball season, an overnight trip without us parents, new glasses, lost teeth, spelling bee success, slumber parties, acing spelling tests.

As I watched a year of their young lives flicker by—baby faces transform even more into those of kids masking bigger problems, deeper emotions—I saw glimpses into unknown futures that I dreamed of when my children were nothing more than strange movements in my round belly.

But for all of the joys, victories, and triumphs of the year, I also saw something missing. Me. As my kids get older and do things on their own merit, how does a mother measure up? Most days, I’m the cheerleader, the coach, the teacher, the pusher, but my kids do all the work. From year to year, what is there to show for what I’ve done? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, the loads of laundry, clean toilets, nightly meals, and clean sheets don’t make the cut into the year’s highlights. After-school meltdowns, sex talks, and the truth about Santa don’t quite have heartwarming memories to fill slideshows.

Sure, pictures of the birthday table show off my confetti sandwich cookies. The Lord of the Rings Halloween costume my husband and I made for my son—that I swore he wouldn’t wear at the last minute—did meet his expectations. Of course, I had to make Gimli’s beard twice.

But as a person, I don’t have much to show from 2012. Some pay stubs from freelance work. A house where the cleanliness ebbs and flows like the tide on any given day. Stacks of magazines still wait to be riffled through, just like last January when I swore I’d get to them. I’ve added new recipes to our repertoire, but they haven’t made mealtimes any smoother or the family any more agreeable.magstack

It’s hard as a parent sometimes to not have a team to make or a test grade to show your worth. I get no job performance reviews each year, and the feedback I do get often comes in shouts of anger followed by a slammed door. When my kids hurt and come to me, they still hurt when the crying is over but maybe a little less. I can’t solve my kids’ problems the way I could solve a client’s. If I make a suggestion, it’s the sure route not taken. The fine line between manipulation and real pain is hard for me to gauge sometimes, so I dangerously let myself get pulled across it. Many days, I don’t know where I stand in my parenting job but I know at the end of the day, I just want a drink or a chocolate or to climb into bed and hide hoping I’ll get it right tomorrow.

I guess as a parent you trudge along from year to year and never really know how you’re doing, but you do it anyway. As a mom, I never quite know where mothering ends and I begin. In time, I guess we’ve become the same person.

The only thing I am certain of is that mothering is somehow the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s not measured in time. One hug or smile, one simple moment makes being the mom behind it all worth it.

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Gifts That Fill You Up

I remember my husband, boyfriend at the time, opening the package shipped from his grandmother. Inside sat neatly packed metal tins decorated with winter scenes and holly. My husband knew the gloriousness hiding within the cold round boxes. I had no idea. I stood next to him, craning my neck to get a good peek at his special gifts. He opened them one by one and offered me something unexpected: a Christmas cookie. Each tin held goodies more delectable than the last: butter cookies sprinkled with colored jimmies, almond crescents dusted with powdered sugar, and something called springerle, a German anise-flavored cookie imprinted with flowers and like nothing I’d ever tasted. The flavor still makes me swoon.

Baked springerle, showing typical "foot&q...

Springerle with typical foot after baking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia, Andreas Bauerle)

I immediately knew two things: I had to stay in that relationship long enough to get the recipes, and I had to get him out of the room so I could have more of those cookies that he had quickly put aside.

Every year while my husband was a bachelor, Grandma sent him tins of Christmas cookies. When she died, we got the recipes and the tradition was up to us. The springerle were a bit of a legend in the family. As a child, his grandfather used to spend 30 minutes of vigorous beating by hand to get the eggs to just the right pale yellow. I’m a bit spoiled with my kitchen gadgetry now. I make my stand mixer do all the work, mainly because my arms resemble vermicelli more than an anatomical structure.

Every Christmas, we make at least one of Grandma’s cookies and we’ve added our own through the years. The cookies don’t come from Grandma anymore, but they’re her legacy, still her gift.

springerle board

Grandma’s springerle board, a well-loved heirloom.

When my husband set out on his own, his mother gave him copies of the recipes she made when he was young, along with some of the basics. During the rest of the year, we use those recipes too: Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Barbecue Meat Loaf, cinnamon toast. “I don’t know why she thought I didn’t know how to make that,” he said. But two duplicate cards sit in his recipe box. I guess she worried.

Some recipes have been a bit more elusive, but still a gift nonetheless. When I was a kid, everyone spent a day at my grandparents’ house making tamales. No one knew the recipe when my grandmother died so my grandfather tried to replicate it. I spent a day with him mixing masa and filling corn husks. Though it was trial and error, I wrote it down. When he died months later, I was so grateful to have that recipe.

Recipes tell the timeline of your life. When my husband and I first married, we had a repertoire of entrees we liked to cook together. We eventually grew tired of them. We reminisce about them now, but we still don’t cook them. Our tastes have changed. I’ll never throw those recipes away because when I see them, they remind me of less chaotic evenings cooking with him in our first house, talking about our day without the interruption of squawking children.

Those recipes are all gifts to me. They have provided more memories and more smiles than any store-bought present. You know the saying: The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. I can tell you, my heart is always full.

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