Mission: Denim Directive

shopping 2

Shopping with preschoolers can be fun.  Shopping for clothing for myself accompanied by the girls, however, is more like a military operation than any kind of enjoyable experience.  It requires speed, agility, intelligence, and bribery.

Step one:  (while still in the car)  “We are here to buy jeans for Mama.  There will be NO touching of the items in the store.  You MUST stay with me.  If you behave, we will go see the puppies at the pet store.”  Firmness and bribery work wonders.

Step two:  Arrive at the store just as they are unlocking the door, so we are the only customers.  I refuse to have my kids ruin anyone else’ shopping experience.  Nobody wants my kids asking them why they want lacey underwear, or voicing their opinion on the color of bra they have picked out.

Step three:  I go directly to the wall of jeans, ignoring any and all other clothing displays.  This is no time to browse.  We are on a mission, people!  No, don’t look at the cute new tops in the center of the store.  Pretend you have blinders, woman, and go for the denim.

Step four:  With one hand holding on to Ellie’s hood, quickly scan the bootleg jeans’ tags for the size I think I am, repeating to Laurel that no, she can’t hide behind the dresses on the rack next to us.

Step five:  Loudly announce that we have to go back to the fitting rooms so I can try on my jeans, thus alerting the store employee and my children that we are moving into Phase Two.

Step six:  “You can use the handicapped room, ma’am.”  Thank you, kind salesperson.  You obviously have children of your own.  Now we have containment.

Step seven:  Encourage the girls to amuse themselves by looking in the three-way mirror while I try on the first pair of jeans.  They are too big.  Crap.

Step eight:  Lock the kids in the fitting room and run back out to the jeans wall in my socks, frantically scan the tags for a smaller size, and run back before Ellie realizes that she can crawl under the door and escape.  Too late.  Ellie is missing.  I hear her giggling from the next fitting room.  Which is locked.  I coax her back out with the promise of puppies later.  Listen to sales lady laugh at me.

Step nine:  Get my old jeans back on, look for my shoes.  Where the hell are my shoes?  Laurel, get back here!  Why are you wearing my shoes?  Where are YOUR shoes?  No, Ellie, get back in here!

Step ten:  Take my new jeans up the counter.  Yell at the girls to GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW while answering the nice sales lady’s questions.  Yes, I have a charge card.  Yes, I have a coupon.  No, I don’t want you to order another pair for me in the lighter color I really wanted.  I don’t have time for that.  No, I don’t want to spend five more dollars so I can save ten.  Nothing in this store costs only five dollars.  IF YOU TWO DON’T GET BACK HERE RIGHT THIS INSTANT WE ARE GOING STRAIGHT HOME.

shopping

Step eleven:  Push purse up to shoulder and shopping bag onto wrist.  Grab the girls’ hands, and head for the doors.  “Mama, I have to go potty!”  Of course you do.

Step twelve:  Beg sales person to let us use the employee-only bathroom.  Thank them profusely.  Pick up Ellie so she can’t run off while we wait for Laurel to go potty.  Hold her as she struggles and yells “DOWN” over and over.  Ask Laurel if she needs help.  No.  Try to get Ellie to calm down by dancing around and being silly.  Get smacked in the face.  Ask Laurel if she is done yet.  No.  Try swinging Ellie around in circles to amuse her.  “DOWN DOWN DOWN!”  Laurel, you need to be done now!  I need help!  Put Ellie down and try to keep ahold of her hand while propping the bathroom door open with my foot and reaching inside to push the soap dispenser for Laurel.  Lose grip on Ellie.

Step thirteen:  Catch Ellie before she can pull down an entire display of necklaces, grab Laurel’s hand, and head out to the car.  “Mama, what about the puppies?!”

Step fourteen:  Go to pet store and look at puppies.  Remember how much easier life was when we just had dogs.  Wonder if the store would take a trade.

puppy

Danger!

Laurel and I have been talking a lot recently about what to do in scary situations, like if she gets separated from me in various places, and about stranger danger. Now that she is getting older and more independent, she needs to know what to do in emergency situations, and I want her to be prepared so that she doesn’t have to think about her responses, she just does them.  So I’ve come up with some ground rules, and I thought I’d share them with you.  If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comment section!

What to do if…..

1.  You can’t find me at the mall/store.  Being separated at the mall is probably the most likely scenario that families run into.  The kid gets distracts and wanders away, or they are looking at something and mom turns the corner and keeps shopping, not realizing that junior has stayed behind.  Usually a few loud yells will bring the family together, but not always.   What I have told Laurel to do is sit down on the ground and ask the first mom of little kids that walks past her for help.  Because a kid wandering or even running through the mall won’t get your attention like a four year old sitting down on the floor by themselves.  When she’s older, I’ll tell her to find a store employee, but at the age of four (and a half), she can’t really tell the difference between most grown ups, and since we all know that all adults aren’t created equally, I want her to ask someone safe for help.  The safest demographic is moms of other small children, so that is who I want her to look for.

2.  You can’t find me in the woods. We do a lot of hiking in the summer, and it is entirely possible that at some point Chev and I will be distracted by Ellie or the dog and Laurel will wander off.  Similar to the mall, our plan is for her to sit down on the ground and yell as loud as you can.  Kids have a tendency to keep moving in the same direction when they are lost, sometimes walking for miles looking for their parents.  They don’t know how to double back or really search an area for their families.  The best thing a small child can do is stay in one place and yell until someone finds them.

3.  A stranger asks you to help them.  Stranger danger time!  Laurel knew right away that she shouldn’t go with anybody she doesn’t know, BUT, when I asked her what she would do if someone told her that they lost their puppy and needed help finding it, she automatically said she would help them look for it.  I had to really work with her to get her to understand that she couldn’t help the person right away.  She must come find me so I can help.  That way, we can look for the puppy together.  She didn’t understand that there might not be a puppy, so the best I could do was convince her that if I helped, the puppy would be found more easily.

4.  Someone you know asks you to come with them.  The fact of the matter is that 90% of child abductions are done by people the kids know.  Scary as it may seem, strangers aren’t the real danger.  Your neighbor, bus driver, grocery store clerk, or mailman is much more likely to steal your child than some random lunatic at the toy store.  So it is really important for Laurel to understand that she can’t go anywhere with someone, even she knows them, until she asks for the password.  We picked something that is easy enough for her to remember, but weird enough that no one would guess it.  We are going to have to really go over this one several more times, but she really likes the idea of s secret word, so there is hope.

5.  Someone grabs you and tries to put you in their car (front seat edition).  It isn’t likely, but kids should know what to do if this happens.  Our plan is for her to lock her arms around the steering wheel, thrash, scream, and generally freak out until you can get away.  You can’t abduct anyone if you can’t drive away, and you can’t drive away with a crazy child locked onto your steering wheel.  Yes, an adult would probably be able to pry her off after a few minutes, but in the mean time, she would be drawing a heck of a lot of unwanted attention to them.

6.  Someone grabs you and tries to put you in their car (trunk edition).  Again, drawing attention to herself is key, so we want her to scream, bite, kick, and claw her abductor, and if that doesn’t work, kick out the taillights from the trunk.  Granted, she’s pretty little, but I showed her where the lights were in the trunk of our car, and told her to kick the crap out of them if someone put her in their trunk.

7.  FIRE!  If the fire alarm goes off, the last thing you want your kid to do is hide from it.  Turn that sucker on and let them hear what it sounds like before they ever need to know.  Every family and every house will have a different plan, but since the girls’ bedroom connects to ours, we want them to come to us if the alarms go off at night.  Otherwise, they are to get out of the house any way they can and stand by the car or the back fence.  Either way, they will be far enough from danger, but still clearly visible.  I am also working on teaching Laurel to crawl under smoke and not to open doors that feel hot.  We will work on evacuating from the second floor when they are a bit older, but I think we are set for now.  We have also looked at pictures of firefighters in full uniform, so they aren’t scared of the masks and hoods.

8.  Mama is hurt!  This is a tough one.  After spending four years telling Laurel not to mess with the phone, I am  now trying to teach her to dial 911 if I get hurt.  I’m thinking of getting one of those silver Sharpies to write 911 on each of the phones, just in case.  I’m also making sure that Laurel knows how to completely unlock the front door, including the deadbolt.  I don’t want the EMTs to have to break it down, after all.  She also knows to tell them that Ellie is in the house, in case she is hiding.  I don’t want to wake up in the hospital to find that they only picked up one of my kids!  The only other things I want to teach her is to lock Foster in the laundry room (so he doesn’t eat the paramedics), and to grab my wallet out of my purse.

Thankfully, most of these plans will never have to be used, but if something DOES happen,  I want Laurel to know how to react.  In the case of abduction, the worst thing a child can do is nothing.  If they freeze, they are lost.  On the other hand, if she is separated from me, I WANT her to freeze.  Having a plan and talking about these scenarios with your kids makes them a lot less scary when they happen.  However much we hate to introduce our children to the idea that there are dangers in the world, it is so much worse to consider what could happen if we don’t prepare them.  Keep your kids safe, even when you aren’t around.  Make a plan!

Five Years

March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day, and I it occurred to me today that that means that it has been five years since I found out that our little Ellie Bean had Ds.  I was 18 weeks pregnant when we had the amnio done, and it was about a week until we had the results back, making March 21st pretty darn close to the day we found out that she had an extra chromosome.

We had our suspicions before-hand. The extra fluid on the back of her neck at the 12 week nuchal translucency test (when we also found out that we were having twins), combined with the particular heart defect that she had pointed at Down syndrome.

But it was still a shock to the system, holding the print outs of our (now confirmed) girls’ chromosomes in our hands and seeing the third copy of number 21 sitting there.  I remember calmly talking about what this all meant with a very nice genetic counselor, who tried really hard not to cringe when she told us that we still had the option of trying to selectively abort one baby, but that at this stage it was very possible that I would lose both in the process.  She was visibly relieved when we told her that abortion was out of the question.  We loved our girls, no matter how many chromosomes they each had.

Then I went home and cried.  A lot.  I’m not going to lie about it.  I was heartbroken.  Not at the thought of having a child with Down syndrome, per say.  I didn’t have much experience with people with Ds, but from what I had seen, they seemed like pretty happy, healthy folks.  I was the loss of all the things I had envisioned for my child that hurt so much.  She would never drive a car.  She would never go to college.  She would never get married and have babies of her own.  She would never be a famous writer or artist or doctor or dancer.  Would people make fun of her?  Would she sit in her room, crying, because her sister had a date to the prom, but no one had asked her?  Would she watch Laurel drive off to college and wisht that she could go, too?

After a couple of pregnancy-hormone fueled days of this, I hopped online and started doing some research, where I found that most of my fears were completely unfounded.  People with Down syndrome do all of the things I thought she wouldn’t.  I had an image of Ellie being shunted off to a dreary special ed room with the other “disabled” kids, like when I was young, but that isn’t how things are done any more.  Next year, when she starts kindergarten, Ellie will spend a decent part of the day in a regular classroom with the “typical” kids.  She’ll have extra help, of course, but it really isn’t like it use to be.  One day Ellie will go to the prom, and there are more and more colleges that are opening their doors to kids with special needs every year!  Our little Bunny’s future is pretty darn bright, and you had better believe that she isn’t one to feel sorry for herself.

A lot has changed in the past five years, but some of the biggest changes are happening right now.  For the first four years of Ellie’s life, she was, quite frankly, coddled by Chev and me.  She was our baby long after Laurel started to become her own little person.  The combination of Ellie’s developmental and speech delays made her more apt to sit in my lap and snuggle than to explore the world.  But something has changed.  Ellie is starting to talk, and that has made her bolder, more confident.  She has found her voice and at the same time she seems to be finding herself.  It is a fascinating thing to watch.  Just in the past few weeks, she has started to string words together into short sentences, and she can now hold a conversation with us about simple things.  She has NO problem giving her opinion, either, and woe betide the person who tries to ignore her when she wants their attention.  She is growing into her own person, and that person is pretty fantastic.

I can’t wait to see what she’ll be like in five more years.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about the college opportunities for people with Down syndrome, or are feeling generous, check out Ruby’s Rainbow and take their 3/21 pledge.  The Ellies of the world thank you.

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Mama

Picture 002

I love to cook.

The idea of creating something delicious out of a few random ingredients thrills me.  Cooking is my therapy, the kitchen is my happy place, baking is my zen.

Unless my kids decide to cook with me.

Then cooking takes longer, involves crying and fighting, and usually ratchets up my stress level to somewhere near that of a Wall Street investor on a bad day.

But I do it.  I let them cook with me every single time they ask.  Even though they make my eye twitch and my head hurt, I invite them into the kitchen and let them do as much as they can to help me.

Why?

Because I think that cooking is one of the most important skills kids can learn.  Not just because I think that everyone should know how to cook at least basic things, but for so many more reasons.

Cooking teaches kids about where food comes from.  They learn that things don’t just appear in front of them, whole and ready to eat.  While Laurel peels carrots (slowly), we talk about the carrots we grew last summer, and how cool it is that they grow underground.  While Ellie uses the egg slicer to cut mushrooms, I tell them how mushrooms are fungi, not vegetables, and that they grow in dark, wet places.  As I cut up chicken we talk about Grampy’s chickens, and how isn’t it neat how chickens and eggs taste so different?  They are learning  how things connect, and how they fit into the world.

Cooking improves fine motor coordination.  It is basically free occupational therapy for Ellie.  From holding a potato with one hand and working the peeler with the other, to learning how to use a whisk for the first time, cooking requires the girls to move their hands in new and different ways.  Laurel use to have a really hard time stirring a thick batter, but now she knows how to hold the spoon properly and she can mix up a mean batch of cookie dough.

Cooking teaches math and reading.  Laurel loves to count out how many ingredients a recipe requires.  I’ll give her the list and she’ll count them up, then check that we have the same number on the counter.  She is starting to understand fractions without even knowing it.  Two half cups make a whole cup, Mama!  I point out the steps we need to take while we cook, showing her the words, teaching her about doing things in the proper order.  When she is older, she’ll see how cooking is basically science you can eat.  Just wait until I break out the baking soda and vinegar.

Cooking forces kids to slow down.  It only takes one slip of the hand to learn that when holding a knife (even the relatively dull one that Laurel is allowed to use) it is prudent to pay attention to what you are doing.  The girls, who are usually whirlwinds of activity, know that when they are cooking they have to be careful.  Their frantic movements become purposeful.  Their fidgeting stops as they watch and try to imitate what I have shown them.  They love to watch me chop vegetables, and I talk to them about how I keep my fingers curled back on my holding hand, and how I don’t lift the tip of the knife from the board, so I have better control.

Tonight I allowed the girls to do the “hot stuff” for the first time while making dinner.  Laurel sauteed vegetables, using a long wooden spoon to stir them around in the bottom of the soup pot.  Ellie got to stir the soup as it simmered on the stove.  Cooking has taught them caution.  They may not listen to me the rest of the day, but when I told them that they could hold the spoon and touch the pot handle, but NOT the pot, because it was hot, they listened.  No preschoolers were burned during the making of our dinner.

Cooking teaches the value of work.  Kids are use to people just handing them things.  They don’t often have to work for what they get, simply because they are little and can’t do whatever needs to be done yet.  Cooking is a good way to start introducing kids to the idea of taking pride in their work.  It is a magical thing, the first time your child realizes that they can produce something tasty with their own two little hands.  I think that kids who understand the value of work are less likely to act like entitled little monsters.  And more likely to eat their dinners.

Finally, cooking teaches patience.  A large part of cooking, especially baking, is waiting.  We wait for the butter to melt, the onions to become translucent, the broth to boil, the bread to rise, the cake to bake.  In a world where everything seems to be available on demand, cooking teaches kids that sometimes we have to wait for the things we want.  Most of the time Laurel gets bored and runs off to play during the longer waits, but Ellie is a much more patient child.  She will happily stand on a chair, occasionally stirring a simmering pot of soup for twenty minutes, and yell if I try to get her to stop.  I think she’s going to take after me, finding her zen in the motion of a whisk.

So, let’s hear from you.  Hop down to the comment section, and tell me if you let your kids cook with you.  How old are they?  What are their favorite cooking tasks?  Or do you think kids should stay out of the kitchen?  Let me hear it!

The Eating Styles of the Cute and Picky

Ah, dinnertime.  That once-a-day ritual that I so looked forward to when I was pregnant, dreaming of the perfect little children I was growing in my tummy.  In my mind, lit with the warm glow of the chandelier, I could see Chev, myself, and the girls sitting around the table, eating a healthy, lovingly cooked meal, quietly talking about our day.  The girls would, of course, have amazing pallets, eating everything from steak to tilapia happily.  (You know, because I was going to start them out early, getting them to try exotic flavors as babies.)  We were smiling, even laughing.  There was no crying, screaming, or throwing of food.  Not at MY dinner table.

Oh, what a fool I was.

The reality of trying to feed two four-year-olds and two adults who all have very different tastes is a heck of a lot more difficult.  Despite my best efforts, and their early willingness to eat whatever I put in front of them, the girls have become two very picky eaters.  We often liken them to Jack Sprat and his wife.  When it comes to food, they are complete opposites, but put together they can usually polish off a meal.  Ellie will happily devour any kind of meat, except hamburger, often asking for more.  She will not, however, touch vegetables.  Laurel will eat a bite or two of meat, then scarf down all of the corn, peas, and potatoes on her plate.  Ellie likes all noodles equally, and will eat them no matter what you cover them with, from alfredo to pureed spinach.  Laurel will only eat spaghetti-shaped noodles, and only with marinara sauce or butter.  Ellie isn’t a sweet-eater, preferring pretzels and crackers over cookies and cakes.  We have to hide candy and baked-goods on top of the fridge, where Laurel can’t reach them.

So dinner time, instead of being a peaceful time to bond over reflections of our day, is now a stress-filled half hour full of cajoling and threatening the girls into eating at least three bites of each food on their plates.  Laurel, at least, can be reasoned with.  She will eat something she doesn’t want to eat, but she will make a face like it is going to kill her, and she has limits.  She will eat three bites of something, but that is IT.  Don’t even try to convince her that since she said she liked something that she should eat more of it.  The idea of eating ALL of something she doesn’t love makes her brain explode.  The explosion sounds a lot like whining.

Ellie won’t take a bite of something she doesn’t like the looks of.  Not even one bite.  It doesn’t matter how long we make her sit at the table or how many cookies we try to bribe her with.  It just isn’t happening.  I honestly think that if someone told her she had to eat a single pea to save my life, I would be quickly be meeting my maker.  You can sing Daniel Tiger’s song about trying new food until you turn blue; my stubborn little girl isn’t going to open her mouth.  If you really push the issue, Ellie will completely shut down, turning sideways in her booster seat and crying uncontrollably, thus ending any hope that we had of her eating even the foods on her plate that she does like.

I don’t want you to think we just let them get away with bad dinner behavior from the get-go.  We have tried everything we can think of to get the girls to eat: I’ve read all of the blogs, scoured Pinterest for cute ideas, talked to other moms.  And you know what?  None of that crap works.  I get Laurel involved in cooking dinner all the time, and she’ll tell me that she LOVES vegetable soup….until it is sitting in front of her at the dinner table.  We’ve tried making them sit at the table until they eat all of their food.  (We couldn’t take the crying after 45 minutes.)  We tried not letting them have anything else to eat all night.  (Ellie woke up crying in the wee hours of the morning, and Laurel woke up at 5am starving every single time.)  We tried bribery.  (Ellie doesn’t care about cake enough to eat three kernals of corn.)  We tried threats.  (No TV after dinner if you don’t eat = penalizing myself WAY too much.)  We’ve tried talking to them as if they were logical human beings.  (*snort*  Yeah, that didn’t work.)  The list goes on and on.

Really, the only part of my pregnancy daydream that has come true is the healthy, lovingly cooked meals I provide on a nightly basis.  Even the chandelier is a let-down, since there is always at least on bulb burned out.  (What is up with that, anyway??)  Basically we have resigned ourselves to not having a peaceful meal together for at least another five years.

And you know what?  I’m ok with that.

I know that one day they WILL eat what I put in front of them.  One day Laurel will ask me for seconds of chicken.  One day Ellie will ask for a second helping of roasted veggies.  One day they will be in college, eating mushy meatloaf, and they will think, “Man, I really miss mom’s cooking.”

I know because I was one of the pickiest kids to ever walk the Earth.  I spent an entire year of my life eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches.  No, really.  That’s it.  Peanut butter on white bread.  And now I’ll eat almost anything.  My dream vacation would be to eat my way across the globe.  I drool while watching cooking shows, and wish I could afford to go to high-end restaurants.  If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to weigh a million pounds.

So, if you have a picky kid, remember, it isn’t the end of the world.  Just go with what they WILL eat and keep trying.  Fight the good fight, my friends.

Carrying On

Today is a bitter-sweet day at our house.

Today I am saying goodbye to a faithful friend, one who has really lended me support over the past few years, one on whom Ellie has depended on many occasions.

I am, of course, talking about my Ergo baby carrier.

That’s right, after four solid years of use, Ellie has out-grown her Ergo.  I couldn’t have asked for a better carrier.  My only regret is that I didn’t get it when the girls were first born, because it would have really made those first few months a lot easier.  As it is, the Ergo enabled me to do things that would have been impossible without it, like hiking, going to the fair, and eating with both hands when Ellie was sick and refused to be put down.  I love my Ergo.

All good things must come to an end, however, and it is time to pack up my old friend and send it off to someone else, who I can only hope will appreciate it as much as I did.  While still technically under the weight limit, Ellie is simply too big to fit comfortably in the Ergo now, and it has been getting progressively less comfortable for me to wear her on my back over the past six months.  So farewell, old friend.  You will always be remembered as the single most useful baby item I ever owned.

“But wait,” you say, “You said today was bitter-sweet.  Where is the sweet part?”

Well, my friends, let me introduce you to the newest addition to our household…..

Picture 117The Beco toddler carrier.

Picture 125Holy crap is this thing awesome.

New to the relatively small market of toddler carriers, the Beco is all that I could wish for in a carrier.  Besides the considerable size difference between my baby Ergo, I am loving the way it is constructed.  The waist clip is adjustable from both sides, so it can be clipped right in the middle, which I find a lot more comfortable.  The shoulder straps are SO much cushier than the Ergo, and they are really easy to adjust.  I’m no longer getting strangled by the chest clip, either, which is a very nice change.  I can even wear her on my front, something I haven’t been able to do for a really long time in the Ergo.  There is a little pocket on the waist band, a snap-on zippered pouch, and an adjustable snap-on hood.  It also comes with a super cute little carrying bag, so there will be no more flailing straps in the back of my car.

Ergo Baby on top of Beco Toddler.  Note the size difference!

Ergo Baby on top of Beco Toddler. Note the size difference!

Look how thick the straps are, compared to my old Ergo!

Look how thick the straps are, compared to my old Ergo!

Where can you get this wonder?  Well, I snagged one from Lil Tulips, and it only took three days to get to my house.  You can’t beat that for service!  Now, I know they are pricey at $200, but I really think they are worth the money.  I am notoriously cheap, but I know that I am going to use this carrier for at least two more years, and some things are just worth investing in.

All packed up in the little storage bag.

All packed up in the little storage bag.

Especially when you have a child who has special needs.  Because while a toddler carrier may be a convenience item for most families, it is pretty much a necessity for us.  Ellie simply can’t walk for long on her own, and hiking is pretty much out of the question.  Add in her dislike for holding our hands and complete lack of stranger danger, and a carrier is a must.  I was really worried about what we were going to do when I realized that Ellie was going to outgrow her Ergo before she could walk really well.  Thank goodness for the all of the babywearing mamas out there who have spurred the carrier companies to create carriers for bigger kids!

Ready to hit the trail.  Or the mall.  Whatever comes first.

Ready to hit the trail. Or the mall. Whatever comes first.

So while we are sad to say goodbye to our friend, the Ergo, Ellie and I are very excited to start our Beco journey… one step at a time.

Someone was sad that this post wasnt about her.

Someone was sad that this post wasnt about her.

Food Snob

I'll cook anything for love

I’ll cook anything for love

It all started with a simple question.

A friend and I were discussing what we were making for dinner.  I told her that I was making meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  She then said, “Oo!  Meatloaf!  Can I have your recipe?!”  I don’t have a recipe for meatloaf, and I told her so.  She got a sort of miffed expression on her face and told me I didn’t have to be such a food snob.

A food snob?  Me?  I’m not talking about making duck a l’orange here.  I’m talking about meatloaf, one of the most basic staples of housewives for generations.  So I asked her to elaborate, and she told me that this isn’t the first time I’ve told her that I didn’t use a recipe for something I was cooking.  That in the past she has asked me for my recipe for something and I’ve just rattled off a list of ingredients and instructions to her, when she really just wanted me to email it to her later.  She said it made her feel like I was acting superior to her, because she didn’t memorize things so easily.

Whoa there, I told my friend.  I use recipes a LOT.  I’m always making new stuff, and thanks to Pinterest, my family never gets a chance to get bored with any of it before I find something new to make.  I have a folder stuffed with recipes that I’ve copied down from online, recipes I’ve ripped out to magazines, and recipes that I’ve collected from family members.  I have very few things memorized.

She scowled and said that making new stuff all the time makes me sound even snobbier.  She makes the same basic stuff all of the time “like a normal person.”  Apparently I make her feel like she’s not doing enough, like she’s a bad wife and mother.

Ok, hold up.  Is it me, or are you seeing this a lot lately?  Moms feeling like they are in competition with each other?  Or that they aren’t as “good” as other moms?  Me too.  And it needs to stop.

Look, I told my friend, just because I can make stuff without a recipe doesn’t mean that you aren’t as good of a mom as me.  It means we grew up differently and have different priorities.

I grew up in a house where most stuff was made from scratch.  We didn’t have a lot of convenience foods around.  I didn’t know that mac and cheese could come from a box until I was in high school, and didn’t actually taste it until I was in my twenties.  Take-out didn’t really exist yet, and nobody delivered to our farm.

I can remember my mom teaching me how to make meatloaf when I was a kid. I thought it was cool because I got to smush it with my hands.  I’m sure she was quite willing to pawn that job off on someone else.  My mom was (and still is) a pretty boring cook, and most meals consisted of meat, starch (usually potatoes), and (frozen) veggies.  Rice was exotic.  Spices didn’t move much beyond salt and pepper.  She was an awesome baker, however, and some of my fondest memories revolve around cookies, cakes, and pies.

From the time I was 14 to 17 my mom was the Camp Director at a Girl Scout camp, and she was only home every other weekend for the entire summer.  Since my dad worked all day, it fell to me to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry.  I still hate cleaning and laundry, but I really fell in love with cooking during this time.  My dad has a much more adventurous palate than my mother, keeping a cabinet full of things like Thai spices and lentil soup mixes that he cooked for himself on weekends.  Because of this, I felt that I could branch out from mom’s standard recipes into unknown territory.  I searched through cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun new things to try.  Sometimes I crashed and burned.  I remember when we decided to try making General Tso chicken at home.  It was so bad that we went out for pizza.  But most of what I made was really good.  I learned new techniques, and more importantly, I learned how to put together flavors.

In college I was the only one of my friends who lived in an apartment instead of the dorms.  The food on campus was….sad.  So I’d invite my friends over to my place and cook for them.  They would take turns asking for stuff they missed from home. (Non-mushy pasta was a theme.)  For the end of the year, I made five cornish game hens, each stuffed and seasoned with different stuff.  It was during college that I realized that food could bring joy and comfort.

Fast forward to the present, where I have a spouse and two kids to feed.  All three of them are pretty picky, so my cooking is limited to what I can actually convince them to eat.  (The girls are more persuadable than Chev, by the way.)  I don’t really cater to the girls’ tastes, because it is my opinion that four year olds don’t have the experience to tell me definitively what they do and do not like.  So I cook what the grown ups like, and if the kids don’t eat, well, then they don’t eat.  But I really like when I find a new recipe that all of us like, and I don’t want to fall into a rut, making the same handful of things all the time.  I cook for fun as well as for fuel.

And there is the difference between my friend and I.

I’m not really a food snob.  I just really, REALLY like to cook.  I’ve been cooking for twenty years.  I love combining new flavors, trying new spices, and figuring out delicious ways to get my family to eat things they all claim to hate.  If I were young and single, I’d be a food writer and eat my way across the globe.

My friend didn’t grow up cooking.  She just wasn’t interested in learning how to cook from her mom or grandmother.  She was in sports, choir, 4-H, and band.  She had practices every night of the week.  In college she lived in a dorm and lived off of Ramen noodles.  Now she is married and has the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen.  For the first time in her life, she has found herself to be the person in charge of putting food on the table every night, and while she has basic cooking knowledge, she is no master chef.  Cooking just isn’t her thing.

And you know what?

That is ok.

We all have our own strengths.  My friend is super active.  She takes her little guy to the park almost every day.  She runs, plays tennis, and sings in her church choir.  Her son is in karate and t-ball.  Her hubby just did his first half marathon.  Their Facebook photos all depict them doing fun things like hiking, swimming, and having epic snowball fights.

They make me feel bad about me.

The fact is that the only kind of marathon I’m interested in involves Doctor Who and a large tub of popcorn.  My kids watch too much TV.  Chev and I are much more on the sloth end of the activity spectrum than the cheetah end.  I have zero desire to hang out in the frozen tundra of our yard while Laurel chucks snowballs at me.  I fear that we are raising the next generation of couch potatoes.

I explained this to my friend, and she got very quiet for a few minutes.  Then she hugged me.  She told me that she was afraid that I thought she wasn’t a good mom because she would rather go for a run than bake cookies with her kids.  I laughed and told her that I figured she thought I was a bad mom because my kids watch so much television.  It was like a barrier had broken down between us.  We were no longer judging ourselves by how we thought other people saw us.

We were just moms, talking about what we were making for dinner.