Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Woman in her Thirties Can Cook

I am not what anyone would call 'good' at cooking. Don't get me wrong-- I've come a long way since the Easy Mac of my twenties-- but while many of my friends have a repertoire of dishes and know when a dish needs a little more of this or a little less of that, I have a tendency to follow a recipe. Preferably one that includes the phrases 'one-pot' and 'twenty minutes or less'. Or I order pizza.

Unfortunately, I married a man whose mother is a great cook. No, that is not accurate. She is an amazing cook. She's so amazing that she can make this and this, and each is every bit as delicious as the pictures suggest.

So it's not surprising that L, having grown up on what is undoubtedly the best Chinese food in Pleasantville, often requests that I cook Asian food. This is intimidating on multiple levels, not just his Mom. There's also the fact that we lived in Asia for three years, and the single best thing about living in Beijing was the food. How could I possibly top anything on the menu at our favorite restaurant, Xiao Wang Fu?

I've had a couple Asian dishes up my sleeve, but those were getting repetitive. (Side note-- if you don't have the Asian cookbook from the Williams Sonoma 'Food Made Fast' series, get it.) Today I remembered that L's Mom had given me this book some time ago, and decided that a woman in her thirties tries old cookbooks in search of something new:

'You can do it', Martin Yan seems to be saying. 'A woman in her thirties can cook.'

I decided on a dish we used to get in Beijing all the time-- gong bao ji ding, otherwise known as 'General Chicken'. I know what all you women in your thirties are thinking: 'I get that at PF Chunks all the time-- how hard can it be?' Well, let me tell you. HARD. I've tried this dish several times, each an epic white-lady-trying-to-cook-Chinese failure.

But tonight, my gong bao ji ding came out looking like this...

... which isn't all that far off from what it looked like in BJ.

And it tasted good. Good enough to make again. Good enough for me to brush off some of my previous intimidation and think about trying something else from that cookbook later this week. I might not ever be the cook that my mother-in-law is, but a woman in her thirties tries. And when she tries, she can.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Woman in her Thirties is Three Months

Dear Punky McSpunkerpants,

This week you are three months old.




Well, Spunkeroo, we've come a long, long way in three months. Much has happened. You learned how to sleep in your crib, and you sleep two 5-6 hour chunks per night-- consistently. You're finally nursing like a champ, and I'm proud of every roll on your sweet little thighs. We've been to church. You've been to childcare. You've been practicing yoga. There have been quite a few days when I've looked at you and said, 'We've got this!', and you smile back at me and I know you agree.

There are other days when... well, let's just say that a woman in her thirties doesn't always have this mothering thing down pat. But I've realized those days are less about you and more about me. I sincerely hope you don't inherit your Mom's ability to have a breakdown over spit up on a crappy sweatshirt.

But even on the hard days, being home with you is a gift beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I love taking you out and showing you off. I love giving you long evening baths. I love walking through our neighborhood and having one-sided conversations about the houses we pass by. I even love the spreadsheet I've got going that tracks when and how much you sleep every day. In business speak, you are my most important customer and most favorite boss.

What I'm trying to say is that you bring out the best in me, Anna Banana, even when I'm frazzled. Your face is enough to pull me out of whatever state of inadequacy a woman in her thirties might find herself in, and that makes you a pretty powerful little person in your own right. Just don't let it get to your head though, okay? We've got many more months to go, and I'm looking forward to each one.


You outgrew your magical suit. But do you want to know something amazing? A neighbor gave you the exact same magical suit in white, one size up. Can you believe it? It's one of the many ways you'll find out that life has the strangest and most wonderful ways of working out. I'll remind you of that someday when you need to remember that. Please do the same for me.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Woman in her Thirties Goes to Church

It's been three months since I've been to church, not counting the Christmas Eve Mass I went to with my Mom (I spent the entire service worrying about Anna and trying not to listen to other babies cry, lest I explode all over the congregation). I'm not a believer in a God that keeps track of how many times one goes to Sunday Mass in a lifetime, but let's just say my Catholic guilt was getting the better of me over the last few weeks. Today was the day to end the streak.

I've taken Anna lots of places with me, but church is different. People in church (especially Catholic church) are quiet. I had nightmares of Anna screaming in the middle of the homily or pooping loudly during the sign of peace. Sure, there's a cry room, but what if Anna is the cry-i-est baby there? And is it okay to breastfeed during Mass? I don't know-- they never told us the rule about that in Catholic school. But a woman in her thirties tries things, even when she's not sure of all the rules.

Here is a picture of Anna in her Sunday best:
And here is a picture of us on our way (She's like, 'Mom. I'm ready. What's the big deal?'):
As it turned out, Anna was an angel (pun intended). She sat on my lap most of the time, fussed for about thirty seconds, and then began to nod off slowly.

Here she is, riveted:

A woman in her thirties might have a dubious relationship with a higher power, but I will say this: Today, after church, Anna and I walked out to the most beautiful Pleasantville day in her entire three-month life: 46 Degrees!! Yes California, that is WARM AND BEAUTIFUL!

So we went on our first 'real' walk, because a woman in her thirties who was transplanted to the Arctic from sunny California does not take a nice day for granted.

Here we are, outside. I had to explain to Anna, 'That's the sun, Pumpkin. And fresh air. Isn't it just the most?'

I don't know that there is a correlation between me getting to church and having weather nice enough to (finally!) walk in, but who knows? Maybe God saw my effort and was like, 'here you go, L.Shanna. Nice work.' A woman in her thirties will take her blessings, regardless. And we'll be in attendance next Sunday, just in case.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Woman in her Thirties is a Good Mom. I Swear.

Yesterday was a milestone in Mommyhood-- I took Anna to daycare. Okay, that's not true. I took her to one hour childcare while I took a yoga class. I left her with strangers; that's the point.

A couple things before I begin this story:

1. I really, really needed to work out. Not just because of the spare tire I've got going on, but because I could feel my woman in her eighties body shutting down on me. I was achy everywhere. My knees hurt. Unlike those of you who keep posting on facebook every five seconds how awesome the weather is in California right now, I don't have a lot of options for getting out in 9 degree weather.

2. This childcare is-- literally-- in the room next to where I take yoga. I can hear kids crying in the room, that's how close it is. I figured this would be a stepping stone to getting her used to strangers, and a good opportunity for me practice letting her go (the latter, more importantly).

I fed her, put her in her car seat, and went to get my Zen on. The teacher knew I was anxious about leaving Anna, so she said 'Don't worry. If there are any problems, they'll just come get you.'

So I tried not to worry while I got my ass handed to me by my teacher. (This ain't prenatal yoga, people. Holy crap.) About 45 minutes in, one of the childcare volunteers came into the class. 'Anna's Mom?' she asked. And I lept over a bunch of downward facing dogs to get to my baby.

I found Anna in her car seat, haphazardly swaddled, eyes red from crying. 'We tried everything,' the volunteer said. 'She was just inconsolable.' Everything inside of me collapsed, and I leaned over to grab her and hold her and never let her go, not even when she's a woman in her thirties herself.

And despite red eyes and crocodile tears, this is the smile I got when she saw me:

(no, this is not the actual moment or the actual smile. Do you think I'd let my baby cry while I took a picture of her for my blog?! I'm a good Mom, I swear!)

I held her for about five minutes while she hiccuped and calmed down, and then she fell asleep in my arms. I put her back in her carseat to let her sleep and stared at her, wondering how you convince an almost three month old that there's nothing in the world that would keep you away from her, ever. My heart was broken in tiny pieces, thinking that she'd needed me and I wasn't there.

The daycare volunteers practically dragged me back into class to finish, and I spent the last ten minutes wiping tears from my face during my humble warriors. 'It's okay, it's good for her. And you,' the teacher said as we were leaving.

Really? This was good for us? But I'd had such definitive plans of sheltering Anna from even the tiniest amount of misery until she was at least... eighty.

Last night I gave Anna a bath, sang her the ABC's and added a new verse:

Now I know my ABC's
Next time won't you trust your Mom
And know she'll always come back for you
So there's no need to cry
I'm sorry if I traumatized you
I love you more than I love anything in the world
Please don't take your revenge out on me as a teenager
Oh yeah, and
Next time won't you sing with me