Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Personal Cake Baker

As May approaches, I am beginning to feel the pressure of planning Adler's second birthday gathering and most importantly, his cake.  And with all of the other pressures that come along with the end of the year and the parties and the events and the projects and the reading and the papers and the clothes that totally don't fit, my brain is struggling with culinary creativity.

Since I lack any training in actual cake decorating, my experience baking for my kids is a bit of a "worst of both worlds" scenario.  I spend forever putting lots of thought and planning into one of these confections, spend hour upon hour working on it very carefully, only to present something that once looked like Iron Man or Clifford before they were mangled by an untrained house cat or left unattended under a heat lamp.

Above average occasionally, but decidedly not worth the 18 hours of effort and six 16oz. Diet Dr. Peppers it took to keep me upright.  But regardless of the workload, there is nothing as rewarding as the look of awe in your child's eyes when the cake they imagined comes to life.

I've yet to see awe in Adler's tiny eyes.  Peanut butter and glitter, yes, but not awe.

So what would awe a two year-old?  When Cael and Graham were this age, I decorated their cakes with their favorite characters from TV or the movies.  But when I think of which characters Adler likes best, the options are somewhat limited.

He enjoys Curious George, but I made that cake for Cael in 2010.

Mickey Mouse is a favorite, but Graham had a Mickey cake in 2011.

The only other media characters that Adler prefers are the dogs from Paw Patrol, but those pups are so blindingly colorful that they just might bump me from spring-induced-headache to full-on migraine.  Veto.

I'm running out of options.

Looking back on the last few years of cakes I have made for Cael and Graham, I realized that most of their cakes have reflected their interests at that point in time.  For example, in 2013, Cael requested a baseball cake because he liked to hit things with wooden clubs because it was (and is) our nation's past time.

Then in 2014, Graham asked for an "emergency cake" because, well, I have no idea. But that's okay, because I really had no idea what Graham was doing for most of 2014 anyway.

That must be the key… finding one of Adler's interests, and using that to create a cake that will be personal and exciting. But which of Adler's interests would be best to bake?  I made a list of his favorite activities, and then I drew up some plans for how to execute the perfect cake.

Manipulating light switches and buckles.  I envision a square cake with a fruit leather belt and buckle stretched across the top.  I could panel the sides with light switch toggles or even bury a child safety lock within the cake layers.  For that matter, if the lock is the challenge, I could fill a cough syrup bottle with the frosting and challenge my toddler to solve the puzzle if he wants the treat, like a mouse in a maze, you know.  Some people aren't too keen on animal testing, though.  Back to the drawing board.

Emptying the freezer.  If he can break through the freezer's safety lock (see above), Adler loves to unload the contents of my freezer to some unknown location where they can thaw and rot away from prying eyes.  I could craft a million tiny fondant-shaped chicken breasts and bags of frozen California blend veggies for him to dig through the cake to discover.  If he got really overzealous, there might not be any cake left for the rest of the family to enjoy, though, so that might not be my finest plan. 

Climbing on top of the table ( and subsequently falling off).  This is without a doubt Adler's favorite activity, so I'm sure it would translate into a great confectionery delight.  Imagine, if you will, the figure of a small boy standing up on top of a cake decorated to look like a wood surface.  Since I'd have no way to suspend a chandelier like above my table, I could create a light source shining up on him instead.  And just to make sure this figurine is stable and secure, I might have to insert a dowel for the fondant boy to grab hold of.

And lastly, since my son is reluctant to get dressed at any point, I think I'd make this sculpted boy wearing just a diaper, so it can be a true representation of my little wild man. 

Can't see it?  Let me draw you a picture.

On second thought, maybe "Happy Birthday, Adler" is the way to go...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pride and Priorities

This morning I woke up with warmth in my heart, and one thought at the forefront of my mind.

Today is a proud day.  

Cael and Graham are healthy, happy, and off at school learning skills that will carry them through adulthood, and slowly developing a sense of what they will do and who they will be.

Adler, despite his rough start in life, has flourished and is talking up a storm, climbing everything, and proving that amazing things come in small packages.

Graham, Cael, and Joel having an educational experience.

My good, hardworking, husband is always looking for opportunities for our kids to learn about the world.  Last night, he took Cael and Graham along to a local event where a Holocaust survivor was speaking about her experiences.  He discussed it with them in terms they could understand, and often works to provide them with an understanding of the world, both the good and bad, so that they can make a difference one day.

But today, I'm proud about something much, much bigger-- my husband won a contest for a dozen free Hurts Donuts.

Today I'm also proud of my priorities.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

puppy love

One thing I really strive for as a parent is to teach my kids to play independently. As much as I love reading to them, or playing cars with them, ("Hey, Graham, why don't you drive that big one up and down my back while I chill on the couch watching 'The Bachelor'?") I still want them to be able to entertain themselves.

Consider it a preemptive strike against the dreaded, "Mom.... I'm bored!"

But as I have learned lately, there is a real caveat to this method.  Not only will your kids still not utilize the thousands of dollars worth of toys in your home, but they will invent the most irritating and bizarre games imaginable.

For over a year now, Cael and Graham have developed and perfected their latest game, "puppy".   

(Please note that I made no grammatical errors in that last sentence. I deliberately did not capitalize "puppy", because doing so would make it a proper noun.  I refused to use the word "proper" in conjunction with this game because I dislike it on all levels.)

Kind of like miley cyrus, but that's a post for another day.

From what I have observed, the rules to "puppy" are as follows:

- One person (Cael) plays the role of the master, and has complete control over the puppy.  This person gains points by giving the puppy countless menial tasks to complete, despite a puppy not having opposable thumbs.

- A second person (Graham) plays the role of the puppy, and has to do whatever the master says, no matter how ridiculous or demeaning it may be.

-  The "puppy" may only speak in a high-pitched puppy-like voice, which, if executed properly, should sound like the vocal equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

- Although it may seem unrelated, all stuffed animals belonging to the participants must be crammed into ankle socks as though they were wearing ill-fitting hoodies.  This is of the utmost importance.  (Side note: removal of the sock is grounds for discontinuing the game and/or complete justification for an elbow in the ribs.)

- After completing the chores originally assigned to the master, the puppy must try fervently to induce a psychotic break in the adults nearby by talking in the puppy voice and ignoring all requests to cease and desist.  *Bonus points if the child already has some speech issues like Graham, so that 95% of the dialogue with this affected speech is unintelligible, and the remaining 5% are recognizable but unrelated words shouted after inhaling helium.)

Hard to imagine?  Let me enlighten you.  And don't worry, for those of you at work or who are unable to see the video, I have transcribed it below.

We booby!
We be super booby!
Whenever you need a superhero, here do we bein' da do.
Nooing, mooing, mooing.
Ooh, me! Banaoing.  You ma booby!
Mmmm..?  We booey.

Perforated eardrum.  Temporal lobe begging for a hot fireplace poker to the ear canal.   

With that framework in place, Cael and Graham have found a way to occupy their time.  I should be grateful (and probably am on some level) that they had the creativity to invent an activity that didn't involve guns or toilet water, but I continue to be perplexed not only at the game's allure, but by how Cael was able to convince Graham to accept him as his master.

And now, with all of Graham's ankle socks missing and me desperate for some quiet, I think I would have rather listened to "I'm bored" after all.

Now where are my earplugs?  Oh, yes, with that miley CD...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Liar, Liar, Floss on Fire

Despite being an impressively easy kid, Graham has developed something of a history with dental drama.  For years, he was so tight-lipped that I couldn't see into his mouth, let alone sufficiently clean his teeth. But last fall, a playground accident forced him to get over his reservations and have his two bottom teeth yanked from his jaw.

With all of that drama behind us, I was looking forward to Graham having an uneventful trip to the dentist on Tuesday.  And for once, it was, as long as you don't count an emergency poopy diaper as drama.

I don't.  Not after three kids.

With Graham's cleaning done and a cavity-free report from the dentist, we were almost out the door when the hygienist commented that we were doing a good job with our twice weekly flossing. 

Twice weekly?  Unless there was a time-space continuum disruption between my house and the dentist's office, there had been a misunderstanding.

I was afraid something like this would happen, though.  A few years ago when Graham told a hygienist that he didn't know what toothpaste was, I learned that, under dental pressure, Graham has a very selective memory.  So as we flossed before his appointment on Tuesday, I made sure to remind him that we had been flossing consistently for quite some time.

The version he shared was a little different.  His version also included a story about me paying him to clean our toilets.

Houston, we have a lying problem.

All of a sudden, strange things I had heard over the last couple of weeks, whose origin I had questioned, started to make more sense.

"Did you really tell Graham he could eat 560 M&Ms?"

"Mom, Graham did NOT run eleven miles during recess today."

"So, Graham threw up in someone's shoe?"

It seems that my middle son has found a way to stand out.  But two can play the lying game, so I started affirming all of his statements.

"Yep, Cael, he ate 560 M&Ms and that's why he threw up in the shoe.  But you were confused about the running.  He hasn't run the eleven miles yet, he has to run them now.  Get your shoes on, Graham!"

Here's hoping that in the future, Graham can remain a bit more tight-lipped when he feels a lie coming on.

In the dentist's office only, though.  It would be awfully hard to eat those M&Ms.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Abstract Architect

Do you get embarrassed easily?  Most people would say "no", but what about those awkward moments when you find yourself in the checkout line at the grocery store buying only a flyswatter, a tube of A&E ointment, and a length of twine? 

In those inexplicable moments, I usually offer up my "Mom" status as a suitable explanation, but lately those moments of eclectic confusion have bled into my everyday life.

The last two weeks of been very busy in my house with Easter, various family celebrations, and 95% of my husband's yearly school events piled into the span of 14 days.  Cael and Graham take these very busy days in stride, inventing their own strange games and disappearing into the playhouse in the backyard to practice all of the swear words they may have heard at school. 

I may be a mom, but I'm no fool.

Adler, on the other hand, has responded to the additional freedom in a surprising way.  I thought he would use these unsupervised opportunities to hack into my iPad or iPhone, but instead he has taken to leaving me collections of items that seem unrelated, but must have some sort of mysterious connection.  And since he is slow to speak (like the other boys were) beyond "Mama" and "I don't know", I believe he expects me to translate these vignettes like pieces of very weird abstract art.

Take this for example.

This may look like a jack-o-lantern flashlight peeking out from inside a costume surgical cap, but I'm guessing this is Adler's subtle hint that he is concerned about my plans to plant pumpkins in our new garden because he knows that sprawling cucurbits like pumpkin, squash and gourds can enthusiastically take over a garden, and he would rather not sacrifice our peas and green beans for a few pumpkins in the fall.

I'll take this under advisement.

Examining Adler's collections have taught me that my boy's concerns about nature and environmental issues run deep.

These seven aligned pinecones and chevron washi tape are clearly a silent protest about deforestation. 

But not all of Adler's displays are so cut and dry.  Some demonstrate an intellectual maturity I didn't know was possible from a 22 month-old who likes to rub boogers on the back of my shirtsleeves right where I can't see them.

This piece moved me with its tension.

The complexity of the bottle cleaning brush, nasal syringe and chip-clip bound sippy-cup straw provided a strange dichotomy to the simplicity of the single Cheerio.  I've never seen a clearer physical representation of loneliness.  I'm here, Adler.

I'm here.

At first I thought this torn cardboard tube was part of a pile of garbage that Cael or Graham was gathering to throw away.  But after careful consideration, and remembering that my children don't throw things away, ever, I surmised that there must be a larger message.  The paper scrap in the shape of a heart could possibly represent Adler's sensitive emotions, and the askew Lego trident could indicate my tendency to ignore his feelings in favor of callous tasks like properly strapping him into his carseat or putting him to bed at a reasonable hour.  The plastic slice of pretend bread could only mean one thing-- that he would like to send his vegetables or other undesirable meal components to the starving children in other parts of the world.  From your lips to God's ears, baby.

But today, as I constructed breakfast, Adler constructed his pièce de résistance.  

It was as cryptic as ever.

A miniature ladle rested on a pair of seamless Victoria's Secret underwear he had pilfered from my dresser, and cradled the plastic head of some unknown "bad guy" that I originally assessed as a dried cranberry.  Hmm.  Lastly, the rubber skin of a de-boned Spinosaurus toy sat upon the ten of spades and our water bill. 

What did it mean?  Could the ladle with the severed head indicate an anger management problem?  Adler had thrown an impressive tantrum recently when he was not allowed to chew on the cord that leads to the DVR box.  Should the (still tagged and unworn) panties be interpreted as a protest to the wastefulness or our society?  Was the tackled water bill Adler's way of thumbing his nose to the establishment?  Was the card a cry for help for a burgeoning gambling issue?  

I didn't know the inspiration for this piece, but one thing was clear: this was art.

Or, this is a sign that I should focus more on my "Mom" status, and pay as much attention in the quiet moments as I do during the times of busy excitement.

"Alright, Adler.  Time to hit the store!  I need some thumb tacks, a blue garden tarp and eleven squeeze bottles of Hershey's syrup..."