Recipe Scrapbook: Sifting through Memories Past and Present

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So it’s done.  I have gathered all of my recipes into one binder.  It’s a whole different system, now.  I used to tear what looked good out of magazines and pile pages on top of the binder.  Now they are tucked neatly inside clear, plastic dividers, along with index cards from my mom’s old recipe box and various scraps and print-outs of my own.  I knew it was going to be a project, but I didn’t anticipate the time-travel component.  I didn’t expect such a solitary undertaking to feel so cozily crowded with friends and family.

I felt like an archivist: imagine in this day-and-age, seeing handwriting again, especially the writing of my mother’s friends when she was a young mom: Kitty Keane’s Crescent Cookies, Mary Currey’s Dried-Beef Casserole, Diva Anderson’s mother’s lasagna .  My mom’s meatloaf recipe sketched out in her trademark-barely-legible scrawl read as comfortably as it used to go down with a side of macaroni and cheese.  

One of my best friends in elementary school lived up the street but moved in the 8th grade.  I haven’t seen or even thought of her in years, but I have her mother’s Pecan Tea Cakes recipe, and looking at Stephanie’s handwriting brought her right back to me: her dog, Arco, her dad’s convertible, the dream house we took weeks to plan and draw on big poster board, stored under her bed. 

There’s writing I didn’t recognize.  Certainly recipes I didn’t recognize (did we ever actually eat Dried-Beef Casserole?), and I will wonder now, each time I flip through the dessert section of the binder, who was that “Lady in Store” that gave my mom the brownie recipe.  Didn’t we always just use a mix?

As I organized the binder, I spent time with people in my present too—not just my past.  Kerryann was there with her spaghetti sauce, Susanne with her turkey meatballs, Rachel with her pot-pie, Mandy with her Grilled Sesame Salmon (my annotation reads, “delish!”).  And my brother Matt was there, too—not cooking, of course.   He was there making fun of me for my Pepperoni Pinwheels, world-famous appetizer involving such specialized ingredients as Pillsbury dough, cheddar, oregano, and pepperoni.  If you came to the Regan Family Christmas Party between the years of 1980 and 1994, you experienced greatness.  Matt may have made fun, but he ate those pinwheels.

I follow recipes to the letter.  I actually use measuring cups and spoons.  There are those who see recipes only as starting-points or suggestions.  These people I tend to dislike, except for the ones who feed me on a consistent basis.  There’s Sarah, my sister-in-law, whose White Bean Stew puts the “Christmas” into Christmas Eve each year.  Anne and Rob, more family, will host a little get-together and serve something like “borscht,” something that prompts me to say something like, “What is borscht?”  Yale’s chicken salad laughs at all other existing chicken salads.  And of course there is Mike, married to (spaghetti sauce) Kerryann.  We may have them over for pizza but they’ll have us over for Northern Italy Night.  I picture Mike yukking it up with the Eastern Market meat guy, throwing together a meal-plan like Jackson Pollock tossed paint.  We’ll get to their house and he’ll have prepared nothing—it’s unnerving.  Then after niceties and an introductory glass of wine, suddenly a blender appears, and after a few whirs and turns, in it, a cream sauce.  Mike will slice garlic.  (I thought the rule was you can only mince garlic.)  Mike will blanche broccoli.  (I thought the rule was you can only steam broccoli.)  He’s that X-Games kid who lands no-handed triple rotations on a dirt bike.  (I thought the rule was you can only ride your bike…on the sidewalk.)  Thankfully, Kerryann is an equally adept wine-pourer, so any insecurities I may have seem to vanish as magically as the cream sauce appears.  

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Whatever your approach to cooking—by-the-book or improvisational—I wish you a 2013 packed with home-cooked meals and good, good company.  Maybe early January isn’t the time to resolve to diet more and eat less.  Maybe it’s time to curl up with a good book of recipes, visit the pages, and snack a little on tea cakes, trying not to leave all that is rich and sweet about the holidays behind us. 

 

 

 


Best of 2010 (our Christmas Card insert)

Ready, Sec, Go!

Mommy, are you old or are you new?

Whoop and Daisy Doo!

Mommy: This oatmeal is very watery for some reason.
Caroline: Maybe you put too much water in it.

I’m a doctor, so I can put her shoes on.

I’m not listening because I love you.

Are gloves the ones with separate rooms for fingers?

Come on, let’s run and jiggle!

I’m trying to secret you.

Lexi, don’t listen to yourself; listen to Mommy.

A 64 box of crayons is a “stadium” and tears are “sad dots.”

Caroline at her 4-year “wellness” visit after having had four shots is screaming. Mommy tries to calm her: “That’s it, that’s it–just 4 shots. You’re 4 years old and you get 4 shots!” Caroline: “What’s going to happen when I’m 100?!”

I just want to say to God, thanks for drawing us.

After our trip to Quebec City: “Now the only castle I know that we have NOT been to is Dis-i-nee World.”

At breakfast, Caroline says, “Lexi, did I tell you the monsters were going to eat us today?” Lexi watches her half-interested, like she’s just looked up from reading the paper: “No.”

I spy something grey—Daddy’s hair.

You say ‘I love you’ and I’ll say ‘I love you, too’ because that’s my favorite line.


Karma

It wasn’t even one of those days. Today was an okay one: we hit the playground in the morning because it was below 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Then to the gym for a swim, and I was feeling good as triathlete-in-training. The girls and I went home for some PB& Js, some watermelon, some cheese crackers. They watched Barbie Fairytopia while I did laundry, but we read books before I popped in the movie, so I was feeling good as parent. I recruited Jordan to come over close to happy hour (it was approaching 5 p.m.) in order to help finish off the bucket of margaritas that’d been taking up space in the freezer—we accomplished that. Dave came home from work, and we chatted with friends in the courtyard. Not bad for a Monday. Then two things happened: The flat bread pizza we had for dinner started to feel a little wobbly in my stomach (or was it the tequila?), and when I went to stretch out a shrunken shirt I’d mistakenly put in the dryer, I pulled a back muscle so severely I felt it twinge and pop like a busted guitar string. I had to abandon family and go lie down on the floor upstairs, leaving Dave with the girls as they played Musketeers with pointy sticks they’d picked up from a tree flattened by a recent storm.

By 8:55 p.m. when a nice sounding, stuttery young guy called from some pseudo-research center under the guise of seeing what I knew of Maryland politics but really to get me to vote for his candidate, I was tuckered out. Lexi was still awake, whining, actually, from her crib; and when she does that, all things cute vanish and what is left is a crushing desire to scream at the top of my lungs, stifled only by the fact that we live in a townhouse and that noise would carry. By 9:10 p.m. when we got another call, this time from #555-000-0000, the jig was up, and even though this guy sounded even more sincere, even though he asked politely for me to answer just a few questions, even though I said, “No, really, it’s awfully late, please take me off the list,” even though he paused and then said, “Please, M’am,” I hung up on him.

Karma. Someone I don’t know is going to be mean to me tomorrow.

Today at the gym, my girls were running to the childcare room. I was preoccupied and didn’t really think about the fact that my girls may not seem as adorable to another mother who is arriving at the door of the childcare room at approximately the same time. I wasn’t thinking about it at all when I followed my girls into the room and left that mother to wait behind us…until I heard her laugh to herself in disbelief, a little grunt of surprise at my behavior. I quickly signed the girls in and apologized to her on the way out: “I wasn’t thinking,” I said, and she didn’t look at me.

Karma. I may get my ass kicked.

Last Saturday morning I left Dave with the girls so I could go to my favorite spin instructor’s class. Though I have few comparatives, this guy’s the best, I can tell. He motivates. Near the end when we’re all just bone tired, he’ll turn off the lights and yell stuff like, “Why are you here? Who are you riding for?” and I’ll want to sob. I’m physically exhausted but elated when I finish—at peace and ready for a shower and then maybe some ice cream. But my favorite spin instructor (we’ll call him “Bob”) wasn’t there last Saturday. There was a substitute. She was a lot of things, but her biggest problem was that she was not Bob. She also wore a visor and what looked to be a fanny pack. And she divided the room into three sections and made us pick team names and asked us excruciatingly detailed trivia questions about the Tour de France—none of which I knew, which didn’t bother me at all, but her voice did, a little, and her peppiness, and the fact that I was not getting any kind of a workout because she paused so often to flip through tiny pieces of paper to check facts or tally team points with a golf pencil. I was in a Seinfeld episode, and more than once, I bent over my bike far enough to bang my head against the bars. I said out loud to no one, “Is this really happening?” but no one heard me because by the end of class, half of Team USA, ¾ of Team Italy, and several riders from Team South Africa had walked out. I stayed because I felt sorry for her. I also stayed because I knew I’d have something to write about.

I stayed a while in the locker room afterwards because I bumped into a friend and we got to talking about spin instructors, about the greatness of Bob, and of course about the sub. My friend had taken her class earlier in the week, so we were chuckling about the intensity level of the class—how afterwards we felt like we’d gotten off a couch and walked slowly to a refrigerator. Then a moment came when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a visor. My friend was stuck, literally, half-dressed, but I was fully clothed, and what I did was—I ran. I darted into a bathroom stall like there were hot coals beneath me. I stood facing the toilet, grabbed a piece of toilet paper and rubbed it against my nose, as if to convince myself that I had a purpose for being there, and then I forced myself out of the stall and back onto the hot coals, sputtering something to the smiling visor about answering every question with “Lance Armstrong,” as if I’d never left the conversation. Somehow, at some point, I left the locker room. The drive home was awkward: I was the only one in the car, but I gave myself a talking-to. I mean, the poor sub was doing her best. And what if my friend had actually been in danger? My knee-jerk reaction was to flee. Is that how I would handle things in front of my children? What kind of a person was I?

Karma. In my next life I will be a red-lipped batfish.

Except maybe not. The pimply kid working the deli counter at the supermarket sliced the Lebanon bologna paper thin the other day, but I didn’t complain. He was new at the job, nervous and chatty. Also, I was “live-chatting” with Sankrishna at Snapfish a few nights ago, feeling like I’d really found someone I could count on because we’d gone back and forth at least three times in 30 minutes about an issue with my checkout cart. I had only run downstairs to make a cup of tea and check the Phillies’ score, but when I arrived back at the computer to find that he had signed off because he “hadn’t heard from me” in a while, I didn’t collapse in despair. He was gone, but I understood. He’d found someone else; it was time for him to move on.

People are decent, I do believe it—that guy at Safeway who looked into my cart and said, “Holy Vegetable!” That woman at Starbucks who said I looked good in red. I don’t have a lot of adult interaction these days, so why not make eye-contact with the cashier at Target and ask him about that elbow tattoo? Why not talk the little sports I know with the pretzel guy in front of Home Depot? And why not forgive folks for their bad days. Even if it’s not of those days, we all could use a little forgiving.


Cleaning House

Whenever I go home to Philly, I find something old in my dad’s refrigerator. This time around, it was yogurt. Expiration date: March 2009. It was Thanksgiving. I scowled, made fun of him, told him I’d rather not hospitalize my girls, made fun of him some more, and eventually dumped the goo into the sink. He muttered, “What can happen to yogurt anyway?” and I shook my head, feeling sorry for this man who keeps old food in his fridge.

He’s actually doing just fine. He’s been taking care of his house on his own for these seven years, since my mom’s been gone. And he’s always taken care of us. Though he’s from a family of lawyers, he has spent his professional life in education. He knew right from the start that he wanted to teach. Who really knows what they want to be when they grow up? My dad did at age 20. 40 years as a college professor, and he still talks about his students with humor and respect, as if he enjoys going to work each day. He spent his younger years playing sports and will be the first to tell you how good he was at quarterback and point guard. He follows Philadelphia and Villanova teams with intense interest, but he’s forgiving—he doesn’t lose his mind when his team loses a game. He’s a patient fan, a patient man. When my siblings and I were growing up, Dad would get a certain angry look that we called “The Face.” When my dad was about to blow, one of my brothers would make snide verbal note of “The Face,” and Dad would inevitably break, accepting it was just much easier to laugh it off. He tells funny stories; he has funny friends. He sings a lot, and he whistles—as a kid, I always knew when he was home from work.

Despite all of this, I can find the good in most everyone I know, but in those I love most—like my dad—I sometimes chip away at the not-quite-good-enough. Poor guy. I’ve been doing it to him for years. So when I was last home for Thanksgiving, I gave a cursory glance towards the newly paved driveway; I appreciated the renovated master bath; and I acknowledged his attempt to keep plants alive—but I wouldn’t let the old yogurt die.

Then, I took the two-hour drive back to my own messy house.

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On the first Sunday of Advent, I sat in my hometown church between my dad and my daughter, Caroline. She was relatively entertained by softly knocking her knees against the pew in front of us, so I was able to catch a few lines of the sermon. The priest was suggesting that we clean our houses. I thought it was a little funny that he was going there until I recognized—from somewhere in my distant, distant past—the use of metaphor, and I attempted to stay focused long enough to see this thing through. We probably would be attentive to our homes, yes, as we cleaned and straightened and organized for the holidays. But what the priest encouraged us to do as well, was to ready ourselves—our minds, our hearts—and clean up the inside spaces, so that we could welcome all that Christmas represents. Do some interior de-cluttering. Make room for love.

Though he meant metaphorically, I also thought I’d take the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to tidy our place up a bit. Sanitizing the soul is one thing, but it couldn’t hurt to organize the Tupperware drawer, right? I thought the priest was really onto something—a clean, quiet approach to Christmas—but I also thought that in order to prepare for the birth of Jesus, it would be helpful if I, quickly, became a much better person. I would do it all—but contemplatively. I would get my shopping done without spending a lot of money. I would forego the Biggest Loser finale and instead spend time reading a book on the couch, occasionally glancing up at the Christmas tree because that’s why the tree is there, to enjoy at night, rather than chastise during the day when it’s blocking all natural light from entering the living room. I would get those holiday cards together early, and then spend time writing actual notes, connecting with my faraway family and friends. After all, it’s only once a year that I check in with some of these people—the very least I can do is put pen to paper and sign a name.

If I were to lose my mind completely—if that were to happen—my guess is that I’d be shopping around for institutions starting . . . right about now, during this time of year. It’s so cliché—like setting a horror flick at night in a deep, dark forest. Peter Benchley set his scary story on a beach in the middle of a bright sunny day, and when Jaws snatched its first bikini-clad victim, that freaked us all out with originality. That’s the kind of crazy I would like to be. I’d prefer to go nuts on a Tuesday in April. But, I’m a lemming when it comes to increased anxiety levels during this season of lights and giving. I can see it in everyone else’s eyes at the mall: stress, confusion, disbelief. I was walking with Caroline and Lexi through a parking lot the other day and a woman was screaming into her phone, “That’s beside the point, what are you trying to say to me????” She was ripping mad. Thankfully my girls looked at her strangely, like they’d never seen a lunatic yelling loudly before.

I’ve begun to feel a slight tightness in my chest, and for some reason, I’ve started barking at Dave in response to any question he may have for me. As my to-do list triples in size, I contemplate the use of spreadsheets in order to get my literal and figurative houses ready. Meanwhile, homemade holiday projects pop into my periphery, floating around like sugar plum fairies: Yet-to-be-framed photos of the kids; cute (but still, concrete) stepping stones for the grandparents; an as-yet-unused “World’s Best Cookie Press.”

I’ve scoured the earth for a purple doggy because it is the only thing Lexi wants for Christmas. I have not yet found one. There’s that tightness again. My left eyelid is twitching.

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This morning, instead of putting out an All Points Bulletin for a purple doggy, I turned on my iPod. I defy anyone to stay stressed out while listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” I danced—socks gliding, butt shaking, hands waving—the best I can. (And in my own kitchen, without anyone watching, that’s some good dancing!) Cleaning house while Stevie’s getting down and dirty—probably not what the priest had in mind, but I snapped out of my holiday funk by getting funky. We’ve got to do what it takes to make room for what’s important. Room enough to answer Caroline’s “Mommy, how ‘bout a snuggle?” with an “Absolutely”; time enough to count hugs with Lexi: 1 to 20, and 1 to 20 all over again; space enough to bundle up the girls, take a walk downtown, and point at all of the sparkling lights on the boats, on the buildings, and in the sky.

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At Thanksgiving dinner, Dad said grace. He had us all with him: kids and grandkids. He had a gorgeous meal in front of him and great wine. He didn’t have his wife, but he was gracious just the same, thanking God for our many blessings. He added, “If you don’t mind, we’d really like to keep it this way.”

My dad, he’s always found a way to get through. He just gets there most of the time—to optimism, hope, calm, resolve, faith, patience, and ultimately, to happiness. He finds that place. He’s been tidying himself up for as long as I’ve known him, uncluttered and wide open with love, with room to spare. And I am so proud of him, for doing what he has done in the space my mom has left behind.


Questions: Too Many to Count/Answer: Baseball

It’s been many nights now that I’ve gone to bed worrying about the flu and what effect it could have on my little girls if they should get sick with it. Unsettled doesn’t quite describe how I’ve been feeling, especially at night. (I can get dark when it’s dark outside.) I woke up the other morning mildly refreshed. The light was breaking through our bedroom blinds, and with that came a brighter outlook, but I’d had a dream about disease, and I just couldn’t completely shake it off. Dave had had a dream, as well. A “nightmare” he called it—that the Phillies were down by 7 in the bottom of the 1st during Game One of the World Series.

And there it is: The basic difference between Dave and me. I worry. I imagine the worst and wallow in it. Dave does have serious concerns (not that Phillies versus Yankees isn’t serious!), and he of course loves our kids and thinks about them as much as I do, but he doesn’t allow himself to go down the hideous roads. He stops and turns around, back to the busy places, populated by friends and family, activity and positivity.

I’ve been an over-thinker all of my life; that gene came directly from my mom. My dad is the optimist—feet planted firmly in the clouds, he says. I’ve tried often during these last few years to imagine my mom and dad as young parents. They obviously had different approaches and concerns than we do. They laid babes on their tummies not their backs. They wrapped them in cloth diapers. I’m sure there were issues to debate and products to buy, but it just seems like today there is so much out there to trip us up as new parents: milk vs. formula, work vs. stay-at-home, vaccines, mercury, bpa-free, advanced degrees in car seat installation.

I didn’t even have a baby yet, when Dave and I took a forty-five minute trip to Great Beginnings in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in order to buy, among other things, a … chair. We walked into the store, new initiates into a secret club, one I never before imagined existed. There were pregnant women everywhere, some with presumed husbands by their sides, some aiming scanning guns at strollers, cribs and matching bumpers. I wondered, Did I really just drive an hour for—not a “rocking chair,” but— a “glider”? At the same time, everything around me looked so . . . little, so . . . pastel, so darn cute (everything I could identify, that is).

Shopping for a glider was akin to test-driving cars, and believe me, it was the right thing to be doing while I was eight months pregnant. It was a testament to each rocker how comfortable it was, how smoothly it handled, and how its foundation didn’t instantaneously collapse under my weight. I could get up from each chair, too, which felt miraculous at the time. We went with blue and white, and that blue and white glider and I spent quality time together during the girls’ first months. I remember sitting in the chair, often at 4 a.m., nursing a baby while looking outside the window. All the neighbors’ homes were dark. I was sleepy, and though everyone in the world was, in fact, sleeping, I was okay with that. I felt a bit lonely, but at peace, and strangely safe there with a new little life in my arms. Not a lot of questions or worries swirled around in my head at that hour or stage. It was all I could do at the time, to sit on a rocker at 4 am.

Lexi’s now two and Caroline, three. The glider is now a spot for reading while snuggling. It is something for the girls to fight over, giggle on, and hide under. And just the other day, for Caroline it became a “thinking chair.” I was trying to persuade her to get off of the rocker, find her princess underwear and put on, well, anything, so we could go down for breakfast when she said, “Just a minute, Mom, I need to think about something.” I was in Lexi’s room, wishing for a spare jaws-of-life so I could extricate “Pink Doggie” from her grasp long enough to put her strong little arms through her shirt sleeves.

Caroline said, “Mom? How do tattoos go away?” We’d gone to a fireman-themed birthday party the previous weekend, and both girls still had remnants of a red truck stamped on their right hands. I explained that her tattoo rubbed off and then went into a short vocabulary lesson comparing “permanent” to “impermanent,” and she seemed satisfied with the answer. “Mom? How does water move?” I went with the ice-atop-mountains approach, mentioning the word “gravity” just for kicks, wondering if what I had said was confusing or even wrong, but she gave me that one as well. “Mom, I’m going to think some more.”

Lexi has an old man laugh, like she’s been smoking for years, a sputtering engine. I had finished wrestling her into a clean diaper and outfit, and I had her in prime tickling position when Caroline asked from the other room, “Mom? How do we talk?” Little sister chuckled at me from her purple pillowed perspective.

So it seems Caroline and I have entered a new phase. There’s a give and take that wasn’t there before, as I await her next question more and more eagerly, not even attempting to guess what will come next, but rather, taking life in from her funny little perspective. Though I will never know all of the answers, I am now going to be asked all of the questions. Every single one of them.

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These days I do have the opportunity to sleep about eight hours a night. But, worries and questions branch and multiply like a family tree, now that the girls are getting older. It’s not just about feeding them every four hours; it’s about raising them. It’s about squashing bad manners, teaching concern for others. It’s about using good grammar, nurturing interests, providing safety, getting outside. And the irony is, as opposed to my teaching days, I’ve got nary a lesson planned. Each day in the classroom, I knew what I was doing. Each day in the home seems off-the-cuff and improvised. I ask big questions wanting big answers: How do I get my kids vaccinated if there’s no vaccine? When will I go back to work, and what will I do? Is Caroline sometimes shy because I’m overprotective? Do I give Lexi enough attention? Can I, please, keep them safe, forever?

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The Phillies are down three games to one in the World Series. All I can do is watch them play. But it feels like the right thing to be doing, wine glass in hand, lucky blanket wrapped around my perennially cold feet. Though I have the opportunity to sleep eight hours a night, I’ve been depriving myself of it during the last few weeks, not because of parenting concerns swirling around in my head, but because of baseball. It’s been nice to shift focus. I still have questions and concerns as I sit there in front of the television—“Shane looks tense. Did Ryan touch the bag? How clutch is Jason Werth? (But why the facial hair?) Did that really just happen?” I am Caroline, blurting out what’s on my mind, commenting on the here and now—on what is right in front of me.

There may not be a lot I can do to save the Phillies, but I think I’ll have Dave bring down the glider tonight for Game 5. That chair’s brought us nothing but good fortune since we brought it home. I’ll just toss a red throw over it (to cover up the blue and white) and hope for the best.


Kitsi

Today I am Kitsi.

I haven’t been Kitsi since I sat at my grandfather’s table, watching him feed his dog “Ace” people-food from his own plate while mumbling in a combination of scruffy “Atta-boy” and Gaelic. He named each dog he owned “Ace”— George Foreman for the canines—and he called me Kitsi. My grandpa died when I was in high school, but, though the nickname has been all but extinct, it made a stunning comeback, today, as I woke to Caroline’s screeching cry and subsequent sobbing: “Why don’t you sit on the rocking chair, Mommy?!!!!!” I stretched my legs and curled my toes and took in the dusty light coming in through the blinds, a light that stretched its legs and curled its toes around the room, as if to say, “I’m just getting up too, lady; take a few minutes and relax. Your daughter hasn’t hurled herself from the crib, yet.” Meddling light must have asked me my name because after a few minutes in corpse pose, I opened my eyes to my own voice saying: “Kitsi.”

Kitsi is childhood. Kitsi is my grandfather’s stash of butterscotch candies. Kitsi is the thrill of climbing the creaking stairs of his house when no one is looking. Kitsi is a million books in his library, filled with annotations. Kitsi is clanking around on the old piano. Kitsi is pulling away late at night, down the gravelly drive, falling asleep between siblings during the car ride home.

Kitsi is not taking smack from a 2-year old.

Kitsi is wrinkle-free, has uncluttered everything, wakes with coffee in her veins and hair bounceably agreeable. Kitsi goes where she will, taking names or no prisoners or whatever the cliché she’d like to chew up and spit out at the time.

Katie—her hair permanently bound in her daughter’s worn purple elastic—is sleepy. Her veins hold no coffee and are being run off of the map by sun spots and wrinkles.

So many wrinkles, in fact, that the other day, a sweltering day, after I’d cooled down the car and then strapped both kids in their respective car seats, I glanced in the rear view and stopped. I looked back at Caroline to see if what I saw would somehow alarm her, but she was happy in her seat, sucking on a new orange Croc while it was still on her foot. I looked again at the mirror. There was a line—not a line but a crevasse— running perpendicular to my eyebrows, searing my face in half. I looked closer and realized my eyes were actually not eyes but pinwheels with wrinkles circling and resurfacing as the air conditioning fluttered against my face. The once slight crease under my lip was the size of a soul patch—I could now play the trumpet comfortably, if I played the trumpet. I took both of my hands and placed both of my index fingers over the forehead gash and tried to pry it apart. I massaged it. Applied pressure. I looked back again at Caroline: still eating. I had aged. Had she noticed? And why, after all of these years, hadn’t I?!!

It all began to make sense. I’m an older new mother. Delete that. I’m the oldest new mother in Annapolis. Delete. I’m the oldest new mother in Anne Arundel County. I was fine with it, certainly astonishingly happy that a kind, handsome, quirky Delete crazy man fell in love with me and that we were blessed to have two children—no-brainer astonishingly happy. And I love that I have friends who are new moms as well. We trade stories, recipes, darn socks together…no but we have our kids in common and we all like to drink wine. I was under the radar as the oldest new mother in the state of Maryland until I turned 40 and my friend decided to organize a girls’ night out. Very fun night. Great birthday. But, for a while after I felt like a Smithsonian Exhibit. I could see it in the eyes of all the younger new mom friends around me: That’s so interesting…that you’re so old. They’d say things like, “Oh, you are NOT 40.” And, “You don’t look a day older than 28!” I could not eke out a 25 from anyone, not that I tried too hard at the time, but it all began to make sense. I really do look a day older than 28. Many, many days older.

After surviving the sweltering day, I spent some time online with Real Simple, scouring their crack-researchers’ results for various skin-saving tips and top products. I knew the price would be right and thought with simple in the title, that even I might be able to save myself from myself, with just a few dabs of miracle lotion and a dollop of something age-defyingly wonderful.

I didn’t think to have a spiral notebook handy—thought that a post-it would suffice—but after reading page after page of bullet points and block-lettered beauty tips, I became more and more aware of how screwed I really was. My favorite: To get younger skin at any age, I’m meant to “be conscious of repetitive movements.” Translation: If I was once a young-looking professional, and if I spent ½ of my teaching career scowling sternly in order to convince the students that I was, in fact, the teacher and not one of the students, well, I don’t need to scowl anymore. And I probably shouldn’t. Even at my 2-year old when she wakes me up howling: “Mommy, why don’t you sit on the rocking chair?” It’s that old Henny Youngman joke: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Then don’t do that. And if you do, buy soap with alphahydroxy, anti-aging cream with retinoids, exfoliate weekly, and while you’re at it, grab a couple of those Deep Penetrating Foaming Moisturizing Illuminating Protecting Correcting cleansers. But do not scowl as the college girl rings you up at the register, smiling away as you swipe your card.

Today I am Kitsi……

At least until Katie sludges on a muddy mask and then runs out of the bathroom giggling towards the rocking chair, getting to work on Caroline’s laugh-lines.