by, Callie Feyen
One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to bake something once a week. It doesn’t have to be anything tricky, in fact, even if the first step is to open a JIFFY cornbread muffin box, that’s OK. At this point in the year, I’m not concerned with measuring, sifting, special ingredients and stuff like that. I want to use my favorite wooden spoon to stir, pour batter into pretty muffin cups, or pat crust into my cherry red pie plate with the crimped edges. I want to smell sugar and butter and maybe some cinnamon and chocolate baking in the oven. This time of year, the recipes don’t have to be grand, they’re just yummy reminders that I’m establishing a practice.
So far, I’ve made cupcakes (Hadley and Harper would tell you they were princess cupcakes because they’ve been bitten by the Cindersnowbellabug, and also, the cupcakes had pink frosting on them), and two batches of donuts – all from mixes. I think this “sort of” baking in some way has eased me back into the school year after the break.
The morning in January the girls were supposed to go back to school, Harper was sound asleep at 8am. We need to leave for school close to 8:30. That morning, when I peeked in on her sleeping, I thought about calling her in sick. Just once, I thought, and we can spend the day doing whatever we want. For longer than a moment – in all honesty the feeling lingers as I write this – I wanted to be facing a day when Hadley and Harper were too young for school: when going to Target, or Barnes and Noble to play at the train table was on tap before lunch and naps. And when they woke up, and walked into the living room, holding on to blankets and stuffed animals and pacifiers, they would sit with me for a moment and we’d think about going to a park or maybe the library.
I didn’t call Harper in sick. I know that as much as they love hanging out with me, my girls love school. Plus, there was another kiddo I needed to pick up that day and I didn’t want to affect the schedule simply because I was feeling uneasy about stepping into a new year. Like my easy bake recipes at the beginning of the year, carpool is a simple task that helps me establish a practice. I learn through the laughter shared between moms, the confident clicks as I buckle kids in, the swift coasting down Germantown road, that I can do this. So I woke up Harper and a few minutes later we were out the door, stepping into the 2013 part of the school year.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m sitting in the dentist’s office while my husband is getting all four of his wisdom teeth pulled. As I wait, I listen in on a conversation between two older men who are discussing their grandchildren. Both discuss sporting events and birthday parties, babysitting so they’re kids can enjoy an evening out. Both confirm that being close to their grandchildren is the best. And then one of the men says, “I can’t imagine being away from those kiddos. It would break my heart.” I plunge my nose deeper into the book I brought and try to focus on what it is I am reading. But the truth is, I’m thinking of the distance between Hadley and Harper’s grandparents and Washington DC. It would be nice if they could come to sporting events and birthday parties and the like. And while waiting for your husband as he comes out of very minor surgery is not a big deal, I was lonely and a little scared sitting in the waiting room. For some reason or another, this felt hard and scary.
I should’ve been, but wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of directions I was getting from a couple of nurses and the dentist as I stood in the room my husband was recovering in. My husband, who is the most rational person in the world, was not rational at this particular moment. So while he was acting a little like a frat boy, I was trying my hardest to concentrate on which pain killers I was to get, what he should be eating, how to help him out to the car.
We made our way out to the main office, and, as I put my jacket on I noticed the two men who were talking about their grandchildren earlier, were watching the scene with my husband being somewhat supported by two nurses. This made me angry. I wanted to tell those guys that we have two daughters and their grandparents are nowhere near a hop, skip, and a jump away. I wanted to say that instead of staring maybe they could at least send a smile my way. That’s what my dad would’ve done. My dad would’ve smiled, gotten up and opened the door for us.
Instead, when we got in the car, I looked at the time and texted the mother I carpool with to tell her we would not be home in time when Harper arrived. I told her I still needed to get pain relievers and antibiotics from Target and it might be a while. “I’m so sorry,” I texted. “I feel terrible dumping my kid off at your place!” She told me to relax. She told me she’d feed Harper lunch. She told me to do a little shopping at Target while I waited for the prescription to fill. “I know that’s your happy place,” she texted. She did exactly what my mom would’ve done.
In a SAPA meeting in August, I remember Brooke Carroll saying that she hoped what would happen this school year is that parents would find their “people” – their friends, their circle, folks we not only share the responsibility of child rearing with, but folks we laugh with, too. I liked that sentiment, but I know it doesn’t happen immediately. I wonder, though, if the “easy tasks” like carpool, help us draw that circle around us. Sort of like starting to bake from a mix. Maybe you practice with the easy stuff until you’re ready to venture out with a more difficult recipe.
While my husband was recovering that afternoon, Harper and I made salted caramel brownies from scratch. We made the caramel, stirring the sugar until it browned, pouring in butter and cream. We poured it onto a plate covered with wax paper and stuck it in the freezer. We melted Dutch chocolate left over from Christmas (a traditional Christmas gift from my husband’s parents) and stirred in more butter, flour, vanilla, and sugar to make the brownies. When the caramel hardened, we broke it into pieces and folded it gently into the batter. Harper turned the oven light on and watched patiently as the brownies cooked and our home filled with the smell of vanilla, sugar, and chocolate.
The caramel didn’t crack as easily as I expected, so it probably needed to be in the freezer a bit longer. And I hoped to cut the brownies into little hearts, but that didn’t work out. They were sticky and gooey and calling the shapes I cut them into “squares” would be a generous statement. But they were pretty good. And I’m glad I attempted a more difficult (for me anyway) recipe. I will remember to save some for my friend who I carpool with, as well as tell my mom about this recipe. She will be proud of me for baking them from scratch, but she will be more proud of me that I am starting to find my circle of friends.
That’s the next best thing to having her here.