My Life With A Celebrity Chef (Age 5)

March 8, 2012 at 1:06 am , by

“If you speak to me disrespectfully one more time, you will not be allowed to cook for a week,” I told my son in my best dispassionate, Dirty Harry “Go ahead, make my day” voice. His babysitter, who was on the way out the door, shot me a “WTF” look. I was threatening a 5-year-old with the terrible punishment of not being allowed to cook dinner for a week? Were we in Bizarro World?

Um, I guess so. I don’t know—it’s just the way things are these days at my house. My kindergartner has always loved to cook (check out the video of him making pancakes at age 1 and my blog post about his surprisingly good radish soup), but lately he’s become downright obsessed. And more than that, Scott’s suffering from, shall we say, a slight overabundance of self-esteem? It’s like I’ve suddenly become Bill Buford, author of the wonderful memoir Heat, which is about spending a year working in Mario Batali’s kitchen, getting schooled—and yelled at—by the famous chef. Scott, of course, is Batali.

“Most kids my age don’t know how to cook, but I’ve practiced a lot so I can,” he’ll say proudly. “That’s right,” I’ll reply, watching as he expertly cracks and scrambles eggs or slices up some potatoes with a disposable plastic knife and sautées them in olive oil with garlic, fresh herbs and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. (His idea.) But then I’ll come up against his inner Batali. I’ll give him some basic guidance or I’ll hand him an ingredient, and he’ll rebuke me: “Mom. I’M THE CHEF. Chefs don’t have people helping them!” Oh my goodness, the tone! I tell him that real chefs actually DO have lots of people helping them. And that he is not to speak that way to his mother. What I don’t tell him is that real chefs often have the same imperious attitude. They’re just a little older and wield a lot more financial power over their kitchen companions.

Night before last he had a bit of a come-uppance. Read more

They Really Do Grow Up Too Soon

December 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm , by

When my son was a newborn, I had moments—usually when I was feeling particularly happy and in love with my boy—when sadness would rush through my body, instant and palpable, like a jolt of adrenaline, and my eyes would fill with tears. It wasn’t the baby blues. It was the realization that life is short and fast and finite, and that these moments that were giving me such joy were fleeting, never to be recaptured. I’m guessing that my age—I was 43 when Scott was born—had a lot to do with it. I’ll bet 25-year-old moms are a lot less likely to draw a straight line between Goodnight Moon and mortality.

I’m able to stay more solidly in the present since those first days—no more wallowing in the poignancy of it all—but I have to say, it really does go by way too fast, just like the cliché says. In our September issue, we ran an essay on this fleeting nature of childhood called “The Long Goodbye.” It really struck a chord with readers, staying on our “Most Popular” list for many weeks. I’m not surprised: What parent can’t relate? And it’s a beautiful piece. If you missed it—or if you’re one of the many readers who loved it—here’s a video of writer Melissa T. Shultz reading it, with lots of adorable photos of her son. Get your tissues, sit back and enjoy. If you’re in the throes of holiday shopping and stress, this ought to help you get back to the spirit of the season.


Teach Your Children Well (because your words may come right back at you!)

November 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm , by

“No, I don’t wanna have radish soup, it sounds yucky!”

I’m sorry to report that was me, talking to my five-year-old son—not vice-versa.

Granted, I was a bit tired. It was the end of the day on a Sunday, after a weekend that was nonstop activity. Our last outing had been to a healthy food event at a local public school. My friend Jen is a big advocate of local and sustainable food, and she’d invited us to join her and her kids to the event, featuring a performance by her uncle Tom Chapin, a singer who was debuting his new kids’ album, Give Peas a Chance, all about healthy eating. There would be exhibitions about making veggie smoothies, composting and raising chickens in your backyard.  I figured it would be a fun outing with good music (it was), the boys would have fun playing, and maybe Scott would learn stuff. But me? I’m already an adventurous eater, well-versed in healthy options, I thought. I read “Chick Lit,” this month’s LHJ article on backyard chickens. My mom’s been composting forever. I had nothing to learn.

Enter the radishes. (For more of the story and an easy recipe, read on.)

Read more

Is Recess a Waste of Time?

October 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm , by

I have what is known in the parenting business as an “active boy.” Let me break it down for you in layman’s terms. It’s Sunday morning. You’re sick as a dog. Your 5-year-old son is delightful and well-behaved, showing much concern for your well-being, even asking if a kiss would help. Fast-forward to after he’s been sitting quietly for four hours, watching videos and playing with trucks while you sneeze miserably into your pillow, and your well-behaved young man is starting to turn into… Satan. He can’t behave, can’t focus; his mood goes to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. So you scrape yourself out of bed and take him out so he can run around. Problem solved; Satan vanquished.

So naturally, when I was looking at schools, recess was top of mind. Last I checked, teachers don’t generally enjoy teaching Satan the sort of kid that my son becomes when he’s been sitting quietly for half a day. Scott is usually well-behaved and loves to learn. But he’s got to move every few hours. All kids do, the experts say, and studies show it not only improves their behavior (duh!) but actually helps them learn. As a mom of an active boy, I know that if my son doesn’t get enough exercise, it will set him up for academic failure, plain and simple. I wasn’t surprised to read a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that 4 out of 5 principals feel that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.

I’m the psychology editor at LHJ and similar studies about adults and exercise are always coming across my desk. Basically, daily exercise helps stabilize your mood, it relieves stress and makes your brain work better—in addition to all the other health benefits. The evidence is so compelling that businesses are trying to find ways to basically bribe their employees into exercising, so as to have a healthier, more productive work force. I know I work better if I get some exercise around lunchtime. Yet many schools, with parents’ blessings, are cutting out recess entirely, feeling that it’s a waste of time that should be spent on academics. Meanwhile the kids get antsy, more are labeled “ADHD,” and they all stop learning as efficiently. Never mind our childhood obesity epidemic!

Because of what I’d read about schools ditching exercise in favor of more academics, I was afraid I’d run into school administrators who were anti-recess. Not at my son’s school! PS9 is a cash-strapped New York City public school with a high-poverty student body, in a time where meeting higher academic standards is do-or-die—schools that don’t perform are being shut down. But in her address to prospective parents, one of the major points made by the dynamic principal, Sandra D’Avilar, was about exercise. “Kids have got to move,” she said. Amen! She probably also realizes that if recess has any effect on test scores, it’s a positive one.

What I didn’t realize is that having a pro-exercise principal is only half the battle. Read more

Green Nail Polish and Gay Marriage

July 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm , by

One day when I was about 16, my mom came into my bedroom and looked with horror at the skirt that was hanging on the back of my armchair. “Oh, no,” she said in a low voice that managed to communicate judgment and despair at the same time. “You’ve become one of those.”  She meant a hippie, druggie, unwashed alternative person. It was one of those wrap-around Indian-print skirts that, in the late ’70s, you could buy on streetcorners in New York. They were all the rage at my preppy, fairly conservative Southern high school. Having it in my bedroom meant I thought it was cool and wanted to fit in with the other girls. But my mom read an entire lifestyle into it.

I thought about that moment this week when a somewhat conservative male friend saw that my son’s toenails were Kermit the Frog green. I had gone to buy myself some shiny pink polish and my 5-year-old son had grabbed the green bottle and asked if he could have some, too. After pausing for a moment to calculate the risk factor, I’d said sure. It wasn’t a pink tutu. And given his current obsession with cars, trucks, guns, competing to see who’s fastest, and generally being stereotypically male in every way imaginable, I thought it was a nice change of pace.

“You let him wear nail polish?” my friend said, in a low voice, full of judgment. “A boy should not be wearing nail polish.”

“It’s just paint!” I said. “And it’s GREEN, for godsake. Don’t be silly.”

It was just after Gay Pride weekend in New York, where thousands were celebrating their new right to get legally married. And so my friend replied, “All those people in the street, representing their viewpoint. I gotta represent mine.”

Wow, back in the day, I became a drugged-out hippie with the purchase of one wrap-around skirt, and now, with just 10 swipes of a green brush, my  five-year-old son was on a path to get gay-married. (To Kermit, maybe?) Read more

Father’s Day with No Dad

June 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm , by

This hasn’t been my best week as a single mom. Last weekend I was terribly sick with bronchitis; I needed to crawl back in bed and stay there all weekend. Instead, I went on what I’ve been terming the Single Parent’s Death March. This when you need to be in bed but your active 4-year-old is totally done with TV after 2 hours and if you don’t get out of the house somebody’s gonna kill somebody, you’re not sure who will be the perpetrator, but it’s clear that blood will be shed. So instead of lying comatose under the covers, coughing and sneezing pitifully and giving a grateful, rheumy-eyed half-smile to the person bringing you chicken soup, you get dressed, get out, and start walking. You walk all day. In the park. Through the zoo. Through the street fair. To the playground. After about a 7-hour Death March you can go home, make dinner, clean up and collapse, so you can start the next day’s Death March bright ‘n’ early. Maybe this isn’t just single parents, to be fair—I guess if your kids aren’t in school and you’re a stay-at-home parent, you have the same situation on weekdays. But anyway… delightful.

So I’m barely recovered from my bronchitis/Weekend Death March experience and oh, joy! It’s Father’s Day week! And my kid has no dad. His preschool is planning a Donuts for Dads party. At the Mother’s Day Breakfast, the kids all sang, “Mommy loves me, this I know, for she always tells me so,” to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me.” Mommy as Jesus… a little weird, but who am I to argue? It worked out fine, since all the kids had moms. But was my son going to have to sing similar lyrics for Father’s Day, detailing his loving relationship with the father he does not have? My dad died when I was 22 months old, and I remember dreading school Father’s Day celebrations, which never made room for students like me. Instead, they were a yearly reminder both of my loss and of my marginality. I needed better ideas, stat. Read more

Can This Marriage Be Saved? Our Grown Daughter Moved Back Home – And It’s Pulling Us Apart

June 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm , by

p_101649212_wIn case you haven’t heard, it’s tough to get a job these days. And for the thousands of college grads now heading out into the workforce, or at least attempting to do so, odds are many will find themselves back home with mom and pop while they hunt for a paycheck. (Or while they slog through the denial that they’re now “adults,” which could take even longer.) One question in all this boomeranging: What happens to a marriage when a couple’s little bird has flown back into the nest? Meg and Paul, a mid-40s couple married for 24 years, is facing the dilemma with their 22-year-old daughter, Kim, a college grad who’s come back home jobless.

Meg’s turn She thought their only child’s departure would hurt their marriage but in fact her leaving brought them closer. It was wonderful: They could go out for dinners or movies alone, their sex life perked up and Sean began to help around the house more. When Kim came home, Meg reverted to waiting on her, doing her laundry, cooking dinners and all the things she’s sick of doing after 20-plus years. And her husband is backsliding, no longer helping around the house, leaving dishes in the sink like his daughter and bickering with her that she’s too lenient with Kim. Their new-found closeness evaporated, just like that. Read more