Into the FB Confessional I Go…

 

As we hyper accelerate and round the last curve of 2012 in our mach speed time machine aptly christened “Life”, some of us introspective types might feel compelled to take a little personal inventory.  For those less inclined to the nitty gritty of retrospection, Facebook has conveniently provided the lazy (wo)man/ crib note version in its Year in Review 2012 feature.  Why do the heavy mental and exhaustive emotional recap when you can just browse glossy pictures and click your way to personal growth?  Because, thankfully, even the most rose-colored voyeur ultimately realizes that the review is really just a Stepford swathed digital photo collage.   Privacy issues and invasions aside, quite revealing were my bulk of pics in those superimposed squares.  I undoubtedly heavily abuse Instagram anti-aging light filters, I crop more than a farmer with a bumper harvest (aka Photoshop liposuction) and mortifyingly require, like, a minimum of 10 re-takes per shot.   My stylized albums are almost entirely composed of my kids, my friends and family, all gorgeous and perpetually smiling with not a hair or step out of place. Almost every occasion appears joyful and enviable.  No one seems to have experienced anything remotely close to abject devastation nor gotten a glimpse of despair nor ever felt utterly and nearly completely gutted.  Hell, from the looks of it, not even one of us ate a lousy meal the entire year.  For this arrogant infraction, the camouflaging of reality, I’ll go first in the social media confessional: I  know much of my life to be a big photogenic crock of shit.  Segueing right into one of my food shots for starters…take my Japchae Korean Noodles pic:

a truly disastrous dish which, incidentally, happened to mildly poison my entire household.  A culinary learning experience was had though…the least of it being never buy Chinese imported melamine suspiciously masquerading as Korean sweet potato noodles from a shady 36th Street corner market.  As for the weightier disappointments far heavier than literally a crap meal, too many of my loved ones were metaphorically round-house kicked in the stomach this past year.  From a series of bad breaks to grave illness to gut-wrenching loss, many tears have been shed and angry fists hurled at the sky while cursing bitter and unanswered Whys??!!  For all of you, my heart has broken a thousand times in both frustration and helpless defeat.   To my very own undocumented failings as an often overwhelmed mommy and impatient wife.  Those few and fleeting precious parenting moments regretfully lost to a tired haze. The poor decisions made in the name of the great equalizer of judgement called motherhood.  My too often overlooking of the better for the worse in the long and arduous footrace that is marriage.  The selfish neglecting of friendships, the clumsy missteps as daughter and shameful shortcomings as sister.  The list is sadly long and regretful.  The more complicated baggage we don’t post or share or can’t or won’t convey in 140 characters or less.  The wrinkles, the muffin tops, all the mess below the belt.  The blunders, the bummers and all the bitter pills swallowed.  No, my real year in review is not to be found on FB, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, et al…or even in my own beloved new blog but rather in the honest revelation found in being humbly human and perfectly flawed.

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Santa Bring Your Insulin Pen

Just 2 nights to go before Santa comes looking for his sugar and gluten fix.  You know the drill: milk and cookies in exchange for the good loot.  Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, these seriously delicious citrus sugar cookies will guarantee the choice drop from the top of the sleigh.   Merry Christmas to all and to all a yummy night (-:

Citrus Sugar Cookies

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

9 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 1/4 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1 1/4 grated teaspoons of orange peel

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 large egg

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.   Mix butter, lemon peel and tangerine peel in large bowl until light.  Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup powdered sugar.  Beat in egg.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix until dough forms (dough will be soft). Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously flour work surface and rolling pin. Divide dough into 3 parts.  Press rolling pin into first section of dough several times to flatten slightly for easier rolling. Roll out dough to 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness, frequently lifting and turning dough to prevent sticking. Using assorted cookie cutters dipped into flour, cut out cookies. Transfer cookies to greased baking sheets or silpat, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Gather dough scraps together and reserve.  Repeat with remaining sections.

Bake until cookies turn brown on edges, about 10 minutes. Let cookies stand on sheets 1 minute. Using metal spatula, transfer cookies to racks and cool completely.

 Sugar Icing

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup powdered sugar

crystalized sugar sprinkles

Whisk powdered sugar with lemon juice.  Drizzle cookie with icing or apply icing generously with a small spoon and then cover in sprinkles.

 

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Cinderella Wears Toms

So I went out Saturday night–finally. Sans the husband, sans the kids. Like any devout mommy martyr, it had been over a year since any kind of real furlough from maternal and domestic captivity.  I was meeting up with a small group of gal pals who knew me when…specifically when I didn’t have to wrestle my stomach into a polyester boa constrictor marketed passive aggressively as Spanx. When I used to be able to dance for hours while towering confidently in 5-inch heels.  Despite the frenzied hour before involving the routine washing of kids, feeding of kids, the lulling to sleep of kids…and then that mad dash to conceal excess midsection skin and my neck (Oh, dearly departed Norah E. no one has ever written more truer words re: the middle-aged female neck) in forgiving tops and blouses, the serious heave ho collarbone lift of my farm- grade udders (all the while utilizing the miracle technology of spandex and underwire) and lastly, the pre-op transsexual inspired shellacking of a severely sleep deprived “maturing” face…despite all those exhausting challenges, I finally made it out.  And then what?  I find these single sojourns from my maternal doldrums rather anti-climatic.  Yes, there’s the thrill of freedom…no tiny people pulling at your food crusted clothing or little mantra choruses of “why, why, why…”  If I’m going to be absolutely honest (and I almost always am…unless when asked  to put my weight down on paper) there’s also the primitive perk of physical validation outside of the marital ho-hum. Calm down in-laws, this post isn’t sponsored by Ashley Madison.  By physical validation, I specifically mean the perceived belief that others who are not legally bound (or tethered by shared parenting responsibility) to and with you might find you physically appealing.  And, yes, my husband will occasionally confirm I am still (despite all the above) attractive but somehow it just carries more weight coming from a stranger’s approving glance than from distracted side-eye thrown at me during half-time or a peeved peering out from the top of my husband’s ipad.  Call it vanity or–more intellectually stated–validation through biological imperative, every middle-aged and (almost middle-aged) woman wants to revel a wee bit in the fact that they still have (or are holding on to by the skin of their whitened teeth) the reassuring IT.   Though most worthwhile of all, and what–at least for me–most earnestly drives the urge to get out, is the female camaraderie.  The laughs, the commiserating, the entertaining distractions from the day to day.  Simply being around those familiar faces that know the funny, the playful, the irreverent you– minus the kids and the pretenses of marriage and routine.  But still these good times are fleeting.  After a few drinks, the coveted uninterrupted good meal and some serious laughs, I can’t help but to begin to feel like an interloper.   When–back at home–my babes slumber peacefully in their beds and my husband is left snoring on the couch (with unwatched DVRed Homeland humming away in the background), who am I really but a time traveler into my old life? Back out at the “it” venue, I painfully lean into merciful furniture and silently obsess neurotically about whether I’ll be able to easily find a cab or have to resort to hobbling blocks on my raw stubs held up by throbbing and weak tibias, I know the night is soon coming to a fast close.  I’m kind of like Cinderella in reverse…I get to go back to the happy ending: which so happens to embrace the monotony of captivity and ultimately finds great fulfillment in hard and unappreciated labor…oh and the joy of sensible shoes…the Toms are definitely a more practical slipper.

 

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Double Chocolate Cranberry Walnut Biscotti

These are fabulously delicious chocolate-y cookies, so much so that I got into some serious trouble trying to get through the cookie shoot above…I kept eating all the sweet and sinful props.  At one particularly low point, I even dipped one in the staged coffee.  In spite of my gluttony and complete lack of self control, I make these yummies often.  They’re easy to prepare and keep forever so they are great to have around for an impromptu tea time or a coffee break.  They are also a tasty treat for the holidays. The cranberries add a nice, seasonal touch…and after you run down to Michael’s for some inexpensive cellophane bags and ties, they make a great little gift for neighbors, schoolmates and co-workers…that’s if you can manage not to eat them all yourself.

 

Ingredients

2 cups of all purpose flour

1  teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

 

2 eggs

3 tablespoons of coconut oil

1 teaspoon of vanilla

3/4 cup of granulated sugar

1 teaspoon of grated orange rind

 

1/4 cup of cranberry

1/4 cup of crushed walnuts

1/4 chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all dry ingredients separately in a bowl.  In mixer bowl, add eggs and the following 4 ingredients.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.  Mixing until consistent dough is formed.  Mix in cranberries, walnuts and chocolate chips to the dough.  Place dough on a silpat/silicone baking sheet or well greased (you can used coconut oil or butter) cookie sheet.  Shape into a flat loaf about 11 inches in length by 6 inches in width with a bout a 1/2 inch thickness. Let bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and lower oven temp to 325 F.  Let flat baked loaf cool for 5 minutes then, with a serrated knife, cut horizontally into separate cookies.  Return separate cookies back to cookie sheet or silicone mat and cookie sheet and let bake for another 10 minutes.  Remove and let cool to room temperature before serving.

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Mea Culpa and/or Chin Up Lentil Soup

Nothing says, “I give an honest genuine crap” like someone making you a comforting bowl of warm soup.  Conveniently, soup offering also doubles as the ultimate act of contrition.  I F-ed up, I’ve been–or even life’s been–an ass…now let’s wash down the hard feelings and deep troubles with some spoonfuls of brothy good stuff.   More from the Food=Family Therapy file, growing up with a hardened ice Pop for a Dad, he was about as sentimental and effusive as a steel door.  Hugs and kisses were not doled out on the regular…or well, to be more specific, ever.  Though every now and so often, when one of us little gals fell ill or was sullenly swimming in a sea of adolescent blues, he’d take to the kitchen and whip up some soup.  With a terse knock at the bedroom door, he’d find a crestfallen teen, with her head most likely hidden under a blanket, and he’d quietly place the steamy, aromatic bowl table side. Few words (well, actually, none) were ever exchanged, but the gesture itself spoke volumes: “I love you with all of my tough-as-dried-grizzled-meat heart…now feel better, dammit”.  In keeping with tradition, this delicious lentil soup recipe goes out to a dear friend who I’ve recently had a series of misunderstandings.   Our communication has unfortunately devolved into the uncomfortable glance and cool shrug of chin acknowledgment as we hurry pass each other on the street following school pickup.  But I’ve matured enough (despite being 1/2 raised by a metal entryway) to recognize that our seemingly ambivalent body language really laments mutually hurt feelings.  So here you have it: my mea culpa lentil soup.  Think of it as an olive branch…only it’s spoons and legumes.  Now let’s get to feeling better, dammit (-:

Ingredients

1 cup of chopped carrots (roughly 3 sticks)

1 cup of chopped celery  (roughly 3 stalks)

1/2 cup of leeks (chopped)

1/2 cup of yellow onion (chopped)

2 teeth of garlic (pressed or finely chopped)

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of white wine (I generally have leftover table wine in the fridge that I use for cooking…you could also substitute with regular water, if no white wine is on hand)

4 teaspoons of chicken boullion paste (I love the Better Than Bouillon brand.  It is available at Wholefoods.  I prefer this paste to dry cubes because you have more control re: the amount going in recipe and that it does not contain MSG. Most dry cube brands contain MSG.)

1 cup of dried lentils  (rinsed)

3 tablespoons of tomato paste

7 cups (or 2 quarts) of cool water

salt and pepper

shredded parmesan (optional topping)

Directions

Chop first 5 ingredients.  Heat olive oil, on regular heat, in soup pot.  Add garlic and onions and sautee until tranluscent.  Add additional chopped vegetables and cook for 4 minutes.  Add tablespoons of wine or water for additional moisture.  Stir in 1 cup of dry, rinsed lentils. Mix in tablespoons of tomato paste.  Add 7 cups of cool water.  Mix in teaspoons of chicken bouillion paste.  Bring to a quick boil.  Reduce heat to simmer.  Cover soup with lid and low simmer for 45 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Preschool Proselytizer

So the above awesome gem came home in darling O-wee’s preschool folder this week.  The lesson was an introduction to our varied community helpers, as she and her classmates had a recent field trip to the local fire station and a nurse visit the classroom.  When asked to choose a favorite community helper, lil’ O bypassed her trusted doctor and waved off the heroic neighborhood firefighters and went straight for the big G himself.  Yep, G-O-D.  In her pragmatically wonderful 4 year old mind, while the others are undoubtedly important and purposeful, “He” obviously wholly trumps the ancillary community crew.   When asked why she chose God, she simply responded, “He protects us.”  And if her drawing is an authentic indication (see wide smiling stick figure above), he’s quite happy doing so. 

In choosing a preschool, the husband and I ultimately decided to go parochial.  Certainly not because either of us are devoutly religious.  Honestly, my husband is a confusing mess of interfaith influences and I was raised by interfaith atheists..kind of like intergalactics, but more grounded.  We liked that her school was close by, had a community feel to it and the tuition wasn’t going to jeopardize our future retirement.  It’s been a great decision so far. She’s made fast friends and adapted well to routine and structure outside of our home. And I’m totally joking about the preschooler proselytizing.  Mostly it’s just a constant and exhausting round of religious questioning from a delightfully precocious 4 year old girl.  I play the role of a sort of overseas call center operator that fields the weightier and more detailed questions to our resident local big G experts, her Dad and her patient babysitter who shares her new found God. I find her religious education–this budding baby spirituality and wondrous befriending of faith entirely fascinating.  So much of my perceived personal strength and weakness is tied up in my own religious doubt.  It both grounds me and yet also drowns me.  I absolutely admire believers and the comfort found in a mutual community of shared beliefs.  Who doesn’t want their child to feel confident that they belong to something bigger than themselves and to offer solace, sanctuary and peace as they wade through the uncertainties of life?  As her besotted mother, I offer and represent these important comforts, but I recognize that in raising her to be a conscientious, creative and independent individual, she’ll need to ultimately find those things in herself.  And while not a completely impossible endeavor as an agnostic or atheist, it seems like a strong sense of faith might offer her a leg up in the great height scaling towards personal and collective enlightenment. 

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Deck the Halls…In Depositions

 

Some lucky lovers have mistletoe, the husband and I apparently have a near-divorce tree.  This seemingly benign tower of fauna that makes its divisive appearance each December since we first got hitched.  I will add a disclaimer, this tale telling is entirely one-side.  Despot-sided and, of course, my version is the only accurate one.  The season generally starts off all storybook and hand holding.  “Ahhh, look!  The holiday windows are going up along 5th Avenue!”  “Wow! The Columbus Circle Bazaar has steamy apple cider and fresh baked gingerbread cookies!” ““Ohhh, Honey!  Let’s get our tree up early this year!” And so it begins: the countdown to hysteria, mayhem and…probable depositions.  T-minus family Christmas tree trimming Chernobyl.  The buds of discontent generally begin to reveal their angry little heads just as a tangled mess of holiday lights makes its way from dusty boxes lost–and then desperately found–between the chaotic back and forth of our Mini-Storage crypt and a forgotten nook in the disheveled, toy strewn apartment.  At this point, the blame game begins with it’s first of multiple and entertaining (if potential marital dissolution is your type of fodder) appearances.  “You told me it was in storage!”, he bellows.  “No, I told you it was in the utility closet!” she bellows…back.  Watch as the irate tennis ball goes to and fro for 15 fruitless and pointless minutes.   Just as who’s right and who’s wrong is never (ever) determined, the incorrect stringing of lights makes it’s way into the Colosseum that is our marriage.  Though the man just watched TWO YouTube videos on “The Correct Way to String Lights on A Christmas Tree,” he manages to start at the bottom–again–this year.  And, ding, ding: Round 2 begins. He whines. She whines, yada, yada, yada.  Battle of the Ornaments is up next in the lineup.  While I’m all for the attempted childproofing of a X-Mas tree, I beg the question: can an electrically wired, spiny bush covered in 1/2 of China’s gross export and teetering on a plastic stand really ever be entirely kid-proof?  He wants all the glass and ornate ornaments at the top of the tree…actually, to be specific, he wants them in the trash.  Fine. Agreed, top of the tree.  But, for added (annoying) measure, he–like an evangelist in Vegas–intently preaches the mortal dangers of glass spheres to me and our 4-year old daughter.  Inevitably, while trimming the tree, an upper ornament is accidentally knocked to the floor and shatters.  Poor irrationally programmed-to-fear-colorful-glass-circles, Little O.  She recoils in absolute horror as if the shiny ball itself was filled with a new and particularly virulent strain of Avian Flu (also made in China).  Therapy–or religious conversion–is now most definitely imminent.  This being Baby N’s first cognizant Christmas, dysfunction leaves no little stocking empty.  As it turns out, cranberry garland does not successfully double as a bridle on a plush toy horse.  And thud she goes.  Like the star at the top of the tree, an utterly crap evening wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory near head injury.  Merry Christmas!  Now, Babe, call your lawyer (-:

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I Heart Mammals Turkey Chili

Burrr, it’s cold out there.  When the thermostat drops, I, personally, like to feed my numb, round face hot and spicy bowls of this good stuff: Turkey Chili.  It’s turkey chili because I–currently (check back with me in 6 months)– don’t eat mammals.  Giving birth and nursing for almost 4 years–calm down, back to back kids (you can now erase the scary image of the Newsweek tribute to vertical breastfeeding from your minds) has given me a slightly higher sense of consciousness concerning my fellow lactat-ers.  I’m aware you could easily make the whole chicken (or turkey) and an egg argument here.  Therefore, If you so enjoy, feel free to substitute any other yummy mammal (i.e. pork or beef) in place of the turkey.  No judgments…unless you’re a heartless carnivore and throw some ground veal in…that said, I might still eat it…as long as we don’t talk about it.

This is a super easy recipe.  I use canned beans and tomatoes. I also pick up a chili seasoning pack.  I like the Spicy Simply Organic brand (available at Whole Foods), but you can use whatever might be available at your local grocer and what hits your own heat quotient.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 teeth of garlic chopped or pressed

1 large shallot chopped

1 lb of lean ground turkey

1 tablespoon of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

1 teaspoon of onion powder

small dash of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of seasoning salt

dash of pepper

1/3 cup of chopped cilantro

Simply Organic chili pack

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 can of tomato sauce (15 oz)

1 can of diced tomato  (15 oz)

1 can of kidney beans (drained) (15 oz)

1 can of black beans (drained) (15 oz)

1 regular can or bottle of beer

Toppings

organic sour cream

organic shredded mexican blend cheese

chopped green onions

Cooking Instructions

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped garlic and shallot to saute.  Add ground turkey, Worcestershire sauce and brown thoroughly.  Mix in onion powder, cinnamon, seasoning salt and pepper.  Add chopped cilantro. Blend in chili pack and add canned tomato sauce and canned diced tomatoes.  Stir in beans.  Add tomato paste and can or bottle of beer.  Bring to a boil and then cover and let low simmer for 45-60 minutes.  Top with sour cream, shredded cheese and green onions.

 

 

 

 

 

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Out of Africa

View From My 2 Square Millimeters of Mattress…

One of my favorite flicks is Out of Africa…Isak Dinesen’s melancholy reminiscing “I Once had a farm in Africa…”  Well, I once had a King size bed of my very OWN in Los Angeles…many, many, many lifetimes ago.  While my story doesn’t end with syphilis and the death of my soul mate…mine ends with kids, pet and a heaving, snoring animal of the spousal variety all in MY slumber space.  I  sleep on 2 square millimeters of mattress…literally.  Edged and elbowed to the farthest left crevice of the bed before a perilous drop into the abyss…or rather the cruel thud of hardwood floors.  I also cannot fully extend my legs.  I’m scrunched up into the fetal position…picture a pretzel in a sonogram scan.  The whole kicking, snoring, purring, whimpering miserable lot also steal my pillows.  They pull my hair.  They hurt me… and often.      And surprise! I don’t sleep all that much. I haven’t had a good night’s rest in over 4 years. I’ve  also incidentally developed an awkward eye twitch.   My brood and our dysfunctional snooze habits are an ugly lesson in the perils of co-sleeping and default attachment parenting (that being too lazy to pump, make bottles or get up and walk around at night) gone array.  I have a 17 month old, maniacal nurser–my T-shirt was obsessively tugged up 5 times last night.  My 4 year old permanently moved into our room last month…no, really, she successfully manipulated and lobbied two utterly exhausted parents into moving her toddler bed into the corner of our room.  “What the hell…”, we irrationally rationalized.  The baby’s empty crib is already in there, the cat called shotgun on the lower right of the bed, what’s another tiny mammal, right?  Around 1am–every night, animal and kids start the encroachment into the “big” bed.  By 2:30am, it’s a free for all and I always draw the short straw and thus the 2 millimeter space.  My despotic strong arm successfully powers almost every other area of the parenting juggernaut…but when it comes to sleep training, I have a miserably bad case of carpal tunnel.

Child and pet’s eye view. This spot will be filled to capacity by 2am.

This moved in…and stayed after 1 year. Also, check out the toddler bed in the corner. Yeah, that happened too.

The General usually gets 1st dibs.

 

 

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Mommy Despot

Okay, okay…Despot might be a bit of an exaggeration…Head-Bitch-in-Charge (HBIC) might be more apropos but I couldn’t do any clever logo play on my love of cooking and all things food with that moniker.  Admittedly, I run a tight ship…but I have to, I live and parent in New York City.   Nothing (well, ordering take-out and wine maybe–and that sometimes has its challenges too) is easy here.   I’m a SoCal transplant by way of Miami, I’m generally accustomed to cars with cavernous trunks as my mode of transport, free help from the village it takes to raise a child (aka family and old friends), eating al fresco in January and s–p–a–c–e, i.e., closet space, outdoor space and most of all, space from a toilet that isn’t riding shotgun to the far head of the dining room table.   You know, the little things suburbanites take for granted: the sun and Vitamin D deficiency, hiding–un-showered– in your temperature controlled, window-tinted car during school pickup, a dark place to simultaneously store your shorts and down coats…or lock yourself away from the kids in, and not hearing (or the very worst, smelling) someone flush while you’re scarfing a slice of cold pizza and chugging a glass of 2 day-old Malbec (aka dinner) at your makeshift dining/office/craft table.  But, the reality is we live here.  Cue the Sinatra and Jay Z  now.  This magical City of lights and wonder.  Where a 16-month old can successfully hail a cab–albeit safely strapped to your Ergo.  Where a wide-eyed, 4 year-old believes Central P is her own personal backyard-replete with horse drawn carriages, a castle, a carousel, majestic lakes and rolling meadows.  The Opera, the Ballet, the Shows, the Museums, the Food, the People–from absolutely every corner of the earth …the endless parade of entertaining humans, incredible sights, sounds and wondrous sensory overload.  Where choices and freedoms abound, yet can also limit us.  Where Mommies and Daddies work long hours to survive, prosper, make it or break it and therefore,  often reluctantly lay down their hearts to stranger caregivers to help watch over them.  Where parenting, even more so–maybe, is a tag team, but also often a solo effort.  We all do our best as guide and guard, navigator and restrainer, censor and facilitator, as mommy…and despot.

 

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