Christmas Trifle and Love Lost

Guest blogger, Cathy Donovan, writes:  Certain women have the luck of marrying men who love to cook. I was not one of them.  My husband Tommy was a tall, lanky Irishman, with cornflower blue eyes and a wide smile. He could make a respectable soft-boiled egg, but that’s about it.  However, he did make one thing and only at Christmas time.

Tommy was born of Irish parents, and a Christmas pudding was always at his holiday table, along with a trifle. When he first proposed making trifle for my family, I had visions of a fancy confection with homemade custard in a footed Waterford dish. His trifle was far more down to Earth, a simple layering and mixing of seven ingredients. The recipe was long ago perfected by Tommy’s two aunts, Delia and Sheila, who lived to be 100 and 101, each drank a Smirnoff martini daily, with an olive, not a twist and shared their recipe with us.

Christmas Trifle recipe - 1 pkg. lady fingers; split 1 can drained fruit cocktail;1 sm. pkg. strawberry Jello; 1 sm. pkg. instant lemon or vanilla pudding; whipped cream. Split lady fingers and arrange on bottom and sides of glass bowl. Add fruit cocktail to lady fingers. Prepare Jello, pour over fruit and lady fingers. Chill until firm. When it's firm, prepare instant pudding and pour over Jello. Chill. Garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

One Christmas eve, as our small daughter Molly watched, Tommy tied an apron on his 6’3” frame and began making the trifle. He gathered the ingredients I had purchased for him: fruit cocktail, Jell-O (yes, Jell-O!), strawberry jam, Birds English Custard mix, heavy cream for whipping and the essential ladyfingers. And the rum. That was most important ingredient.

As the snow fell, Tommy prepared his trifle. He boiled water for the Jell-O and let it set.  He lined a Pyrex lasagna dish with ladyfingers and told us of Christmases spent with his aunts and cousins in Vermont when the aunts cooked this very same the trifle. When he finished layering all of his ingredients he spread the top with whipped cream and decorated it with 6 maraschino cherries, cut in half and arranged in 2 simple lines. The trifle was then put in the fridge where it spent the night awaiting my family the next day. That Christmas was the third of 24 Christmases that Tommy, Molly and I spent together, with our families, serving the trifle. My mother was partial to the trifle, as was most anyone who tasted it.  Tommy’s trifle became the most requested dessert at our Christmas table.

Christmas 2008 marked my 25th year of marriage and it passed with Molly and me on our own. Tommy died unexpectedly after a short battle with cancer early in that year. He lingers deep inside of both of us, our Christmases together a clear and enduring memory. I cannot bring myself to make the trifle any longer. I don’t have the touch. Maybe one day I will make it again. But sometimes at Christmas, when I see the array of cookies and cakes set out underneath the flicker of candles burning low, I think of that trifle and have longing to taste it and to hear his voice again, just for a moment, a single second.

Editor’s Note: Though not exactly like the recipe in the story, here is a recipe for your Christmas trifle.  Feel free to add rum!

ENGLISH TRIFLE

1 pkg. lady fingers, split
1 can fruit cocktail, drained
1 sm. pkg. strawberry Jello
1 sm. pkg. instant lemon or vanilla pudding
Whipped cream
Split lady fingers and arrange on bottom and sides of a glass bowl. Drain fruit cocktail, add to lady fingers. Prepare Jello, pour over fruit and lady fingers. chill until firm. When it’s firm, prepare instant pudding according to directions on the box and pour over Jello. Chill. Garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries, if desired.

Photo credit: Amy Lenzo

 

 

The Eldest Son Has Returned

Sue Robins, a guest blogger, writes: My eldest son has returned home from a five-week band tour of 26 cities and 30 shows. He zigged across America to New York City in his black van crammed with band members, zagged back to LA, and then zoomed up the west coast to Canada. In the pictures I saw on Facebook, he grew a fuzzy beard and appeared to wear the same slowly deteriorating sleeveless t-shirt for several weeks at a time.

eldest son

He is now 21 years old, and is supposed to be in his third year of college. He is supposed to be living in a decent walk-up apartment near campus, climbing on a bus every day and dutifully attending his classes. Then he is supposed to graduate with a general degree that leads him to practical, but soulless jobs through his 20’s, before settling into a career. He is supposed to do that because that’s exactly what I did. He has decent high school grades, a scholarship, and parents who diligently saved for his tuition. Instead, he has chosen the life of a drummer, complete with grit, adventure and bonus life experience. This boy has ventured very far from his mother’s comfort zone.

He’s an alien to my friends, whose adult children are doing what they are supposed to do. I’ve lost count of the blank looks and the abrupt changes in conversation that I’ve endured when they discover he’s not in college. I’m wondering, though: aren’t I a member of an underground group of parents, whose children are taking a different, non-college path in life? Aren’t there kids out there who don’t have the grades, financial support, or will to go to post-secondary? And isn’t that ok too?

My son has never done what he’s supposed to do. He was a willful child, right from birth, and always had a very clear sense of who he is. He is a punk rock musician, not a college student, and these two things are mutually exclusive.

He’s currently in between tours, so he’s living in the back of his van, sleeping on a futon mattress shoved between the seats. He’s parked in a friend’s alley, and uses their kitchen and bathroom for a weekly fee. I’ve have pleaded with him to move back home. But he firmly shakes his head, steadfast and resolute.

When he was 14 and had a dyed red faux-hawk, he used to tease me and say that when he grew up he wanted to live in a van by the side of the river.

I realize now that he wasn’t kidding.

I pick him up for our lunch date at a prescribed street corner. I’m happy to see you, I say, as he folds himself into the car. He turns to me and a wide grin spreads across his face, I’m happy to see you too, Mom, he says. He’s relaxed, tanned, and in wiry shape. His little brother Aaron is with us, and he’s greeted with a rousing ‘Hey Goose’ and a high-five. There’s some friendly razzing, arm punching and an impromptu burping contest.

“Let’s do Indian food,”  my eldest suggests and we are off to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where we happily tuck in plates of garlic naan, vegetable pakora, dal and chickpea curry. He and Aaron slurp mango juice and wrestle in the restaurant booth.

“How was your tour?” I ask, not able to fathom a road trip of such epic proportions. He’s 25 years my junior and has travelled to more American cities that I can ever hope to see in my lifetime. His eyes are brightly shining – “It was pretty consistently exciting,” he says.

Most of us live our lives small, and in fear – all in the name of being comfortable and stable. My son has not taken that route. He lives life large and out loud. He’s worked steadily at a job since he was 15, saving money to buy drum sticks, a dilapidated van and gas money to go on tour. He works to tour. He’s the most ambitious and resourceful person I know. He is unapologetic about doing what he loves, and he lives free from fear of judgment. I’m beginning to realize that fear of judgment is what keeps the rest of us small.

After our lunch, I drop the two brothers at a movie. My eldest, 6’2″, ambles beside tiny Aaron. They have a pocketful of change to play video games. My musician son has his arm draped casually across his youngest brother’s shoulder. My tears well up seeing this tender gesture, and afterwards, I sit in the car for a long time. I have one adult son – wild, unencumbered and resistant to authority. My youngest son, born with an extra chromosome, is persistent and full of life.

Here I am, a suburban mom, closing in on fifty, and I’m learning life lessons from my young, diverse sons. Here’s what they’ve taught me – they nudge me subtly and gently towards this question, as they ask: Mom, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Sue Robins is a writer, speaker and mother of three. She’s passionate about motherhood, kids with differences, storytelling and nurturing kindness & compassion in the health care & education systems. She blogs at: www.suerobins.com.

Sue Robins

Photo credits: Sue Robins

Empty Nest Rant: Come, Chat, Share, Rant, Brag, Complain

Lisa writes: If you were bringing home a new baby there would be blogs, online conversations and shared advice, galore. But your kid is moving out, or moving towards the day she will move out, and suddenly the internet has left you on your own. Here you are facing the second biggest transition in parenting and there seems to be no community for support. Not so.

Come join us, tell us your thoughts, begin a conversation and meet other moms who are very much sharing your experiences, or different ones. Tell us what you really think, why you love this stage or why it hurts and what you hope for the future.

Kids never call, feel free to rant. Kids won’t move out, we want to hear that too. You miss them until they actually show up with all their crap and decamp in your living room? Yeah we get that. And if you have found that nearly perfect balance with your young adult child, please share your secrets!! Come, chat, share, rant, brag, complain, make a new friend, respond to a post…in the comments section below.

 

Empty Nest: Would You Do It All Again?

Lisa writes: I recently heard the story of a friend, who turned to his wife as they dropped of their youngest child at her college dorm and said, “…as I was saying.”

The conversation between the spouses that was interrupted nearly two decades earlier could now resume. While this was surely said in jest, there is an element of truth to the fact that active parenthood is a long, loving interruption to our adulthood that, once the kids are gone, can resume in one form or another where we left off.

Empty Nest: Would You Do it All Again?

In that vein, I have noticed a few things about life without kids:

It would be easier to like living in an empty nest, if it had a different name. I would rather not define the next few decades by what is absent from my life.

The journey to the empty nest is an adjustment, every bit as big as the adjustment to having children. It will come in phases, some filled with great pride and joy, others with tears. It mirrors the experience we had 18 years earlier. With a lot more sleep.

The grocery store has more hidden memories and reminders than is possible to imagine. Every aisle seems to contain someone’s favorite food and the tiny bout of nostalgia that goes with it.

In the same way that a world of mom friends opened up to me when my first child was born, there is a world of empty nest moms who are happy to make dinner plans on a school night. And there are no school nights.

The shell shock of having this wondrous stage of your family life abruptly come to an end takes much longer than three weeks to recover.

My kids, God love them, were utter pigs who felt no compulsion to put anything away. While I always suspected this, now the evidence can now be seen in my home and in their dorm rooms.

My husband is neater than I once believed. I think he may have been tarred with the brush of my messy kids.

The low fuel light on my car never lights up, a sight that often greeted me first thing in the morning.

No matter how much focus you promise yourself you will give to your spouse, kids at every age are an incessant distraction. It is truly a gift after the chaos of the last two decades to find him still here.

An empty nest comes with a certain feeling of lightness, of having set down a heavy load. Even on the days when you are physically free of your kids, they are in daycare, school or at a friend’s house, you are not psychologically free of their day-to-day lives until they have left home.

You never realize how loud your kitchen appliances are until your kids leave home.

Activities that once felt like a burden, the carpools, the practices that ran late or the 11pm Saturday night pick up, were actually wonderful moments to share with other parents, moments that it are easy to miss now.

College kids may be homesick, they may miss the comfort of their own beds, but a teen who is ready for college will move onto their new life at a speed that will make your head spin. We may pine for the past 18 years but, if all goes right, they will barely look back.

Kids come with mountains of garbage from the first baby swing to the last discarded backpack and I will miss not one item of their belongings. Purging your home after your kids leave is like finally cleaning out the minivan; you had no idea how bad it was until you started.

The silence that comes with an empty nest is both slightly disquieting and oh so nice, all at the same time.

Only teens mess up a kitchen in the middle of the night. No teens, no mess.

All of the jokes about college kids and laundry turn out to be true. That first panicked phone call or text really will have to do with mixing brights and whites.

After decades in my home my children do not seem to know how often their sheets were washed. This will be the second call.

At some point, visiting your kid on their college campus, seeing the classes they are taking and friends they are making, you will forget how happy you are for them and in a bout of extreme envy, want to be them.

And finally the empty nest is going to be great, this I really do believe. But the truth is, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

“The Biggest Mistake”

Lisa writes: We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites.