Last Saturday we felt the whisper of fall for the first time — it was an ominous grey morning with pretty intense wind and light rain, all interspersed with bouts of that saturated, golden September light that I look forward to each year. We had friends staying with us from out of town, and their toddler son Leon sampled an apple from our tree in the front yard (many an apple fell in the storm); suffice it to say, the apples didn’t get rave reviews. I had a feeling this would be the case. Sam made coffee and eggs, and later that morning our dear friends Brandon and Molly hosted a baby shower for us at their restaurant Delancey so we all headed out, looking forward to a day celebrating Baby Sprout with our people.
When we walked up to the door, Natalie was stringing these amazing colored flags she’d cut by hand across the restaurant, and Molly and Brandon were busy setting out bagels and spreads from Eltana, a tasty green bean and tomato salad, fresh fruit (thank you, Keena!) and Ashley’s addictive brownies. We busied ourselves hanging photos on the wall from when we were babies, and Sam raced around in typical Sam fashion chasing Natalie’s son Eero. I’ve been to many baby showers in the past where it was generally all women and there were games and gifts and the like — but we wanted to have a co-ed shower that wouldn’t feel too shower-ish, a comfortable gathering on a blustery Saturday afternoon with really good bagels and many of our friends.
I’m often asked questions about the baby and sometimes I have an answer right off the bat and other times I realize it’s something I haven’t thought about at all (oh, right, I probably should find a pediatrician for the baby, I suppose). Occasionally these things will end up as a conversation starter between me and Sam at home; other times, they’ll simply cause a minor personal panic attack while I’m driving to work (ohhhhh, the to-do lists!). But this question, “what are you most excited to teach your child?” had me thinking for awhile.
I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer right away. I’m used to this with many questions — whenever the old ‘what’s your favorite movie?’ talk comes up, I always remind myself I really need to think through favorite movies, books, meals because in the moment I never have an answer. And I’ve grown ok with that. I usually just blabber on and on about how it depends on the mood, the day, the season. But this question! As a former teacher who comes from a family of teachers, how could I not have an immediate thought about what I was most excited to teach our child?
I just finished the book Bringing up Bebe which, if you haven’t heard of it, is a great read that essentially compares American and French parenting styles. In it, author Pamela Druckerman talks about how American parents often enroll their kids in so many activities — from sports to music to dance — and drive all around town, often exhausting themselves, to make sure their kids experience as many activities as possible. French families, on the other hand, tend to let their children lead a bit more; parents aren’t as eager to exhaust the calendar with multiple activities, play dates, and commitments and instead wait to see how their child’s interests unfold.
Part of me thinks that my uncertainty about how to answer the teaching question is explained a little bit in Druckerman’s research: While of course I’m so looking forward to reading to our child and going on walks around the neighborhood, I haven’t thought much beyond that as I truly can’t wait to see what really excites Sprout — what he or she is interested in and attracted to. That must be one of the cooler things about earlier parenting: discovering your kid’s interests and proclivities, some that possibly you never shared yourself.
So call it more of a French approach or call it ‘too overwhelmed to ponder that question right now’, but we’re both looking ahead to November when we’ll have the chance to get to know our kid as a person slowly — part following, part guiding as we go. That’s all I know for sure right now.
Photo note: Our friend Gabe Rodriquez took these photos for us at the shower. He does amazing work, so if you’re in the Seattle area (or beyond!) and are looking for a photographer, he’s your man.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.