The beat of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” blasts in our kitchen while the girls and I make pumpkin pies.
I’m showing off some dance moves, most of them learned from John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever and Grease days, while holding a wooden spatula as my mike, a major embarrassment to my teenage daughters.
Frankly, I consider myself a pretty hip mom moving to the groove of my over-played “Pure Disco” CD. I mean, I did, until I discover the girls surreptitiously recording me and snapchatting their friends.
I was coming off a particularly dexterous move when I looked up, breathless. The two of them were tap, tap, tapping on their iPhones and smirking. Since I’m somewhat of an exhibitionist, I wasn’t overly embarrassed. Besides, we had pies to bake, so there wasn’t much time to dwell on what snarky teenagers thought.
Our first mistake in the disco pie-baking session occurred as Katherine and I poured the pie mixture into the pans.
“Uh, Mom?” Katherine says while I enthusiastically twist and jive to K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s the way.”
“Ah-huh, ah-huh...I like it...” I answer to the beat.
“Looks like we forgot something,” she says, pointing at the orange liquid.
“The crust! Oh-my-God, we forgot the crust?” I say, quickly adding that perhaps it could be pumpkin pudding instead of pie.
I try convincing Katherine that all will be okay. “Daddy doesn’t eat carbs anyway, so this will be fine.”
The girls’ dad and I are divorced, but spend most holidays together. Our family is not traditional, so who needs a traditional pie? Apparently, Katherine does.
“Noooooo, Mom, we have to have a crust,” she pleads. She’s acting like a crustless pie is equivalent to eating dog for dessert.
“It’s not that big a deal, Katherine. No one eats the crust.”
“But it’s not a pie without the crust. I don’t want pudding, I want pie.”
“Fine, just pour the stuff back in the bowl and we’ll add the crust.”
“Staying Alive” is now playing--appropriately.
I unroll the Pillsbury crust and we press it into the pans, crimping the sides so it looks homemade. We have a joke in our house. When someone asks, “Is it homemade?” The response is, “Well, I made it come into the house.” That came from my grandmother, though she rarely had to use it, as she actually did make everything from scratch.
Once more, with feeling, we pour the liquid into the two pie pans with crusts. And into the 450 degree pre-heated oven they go. I close the oven door with a flourish and resume dancing.
Forty minutes later, our pumpkin pies emerge from the oven, shiny and golden. So beautiful, in fact, that we all snap pics of the perfect pies. That’s when Katherine decides to hold one up for the background of Peyton’s selfie.
I’m elated that Peyton has deemed our pies “Insta-worthy” (worthy of posting on Instagram). I stand off to the side while the girls do their stuff. Okay, I did want to be in the pic, but Katherine nudged--hip-checked, actually--me out of the way.
That’s when Peyton shrieks, “Oh-my-God, oh-my-God!!” (It’s our second OMG screaming of the evening. And the same grandmother who made everything from scratch was probably rolling over in her grave. She always admonished us not to "take the Lord’s name in vain." To which I’d respond, “Oh, God. I’m sorry. I mean, I’m sorry.”)
“The pie is falling!! Watch out! Oh-my-God, the pie is falling!!”
Katherine and I look down at the pie, which has halfway slipped out of it’s shell and onto the kitchen counter. It looks surreal, like a melting Dali painting. Still piping hot, the pumpkin mixture had yet to settle, so when Katherine tilted it for the pic, it turned from pie to performance art.
We quickly try to push/scoop it back into the shell, while Peyton, helpfully, snaps away on her iPhone. Katherine feels badly about the overzealous tilt, but can’t stop laughing as she slides a spatula under the jiggly mixture.
At first I’m irritated that our perfect pie has gone to pot, but I’m thankful we have an understudy. And at least we salvaged half of this one, albeit it wasn’t going to make the cover of Bon Appetit. Then Peyton shows us the photo of Katherine holding up the pie, smiling and oblivious to its falling innards.
It’s better than any magazine cover. I laugh so hard I practically hit the floor like the fallen pie. My eyes tear up and I’m doubled over, my stomach contracting amid howls of laughter.
That’s when I realize how overrated perfection is. We all try so hard to be perfect over the holidays--perfect Christmas cards, wreaths, table-settings, pies. Who can live up to all the glittery expectations?
Our pie was no longer insta-worthy, but the laughs sure were. And certainly more memorable. Besides, I think pumpkin pudding is pretty delicious--particularly when paired with “Pure Disco.”
Reading the list on her iPhone as she marches down the aisle at Staples, Katherine tells me she needs five binders.
“And where do you think the graph paper would be?” she says. "I have no idea,” I tell her. “Let’s find someone who works here.”
“Binders, binders, binders,” I say under my breath, my eyes glazing over. “Where are the darn binders?” Of course, the middle-aged father with his middle school son, also back-to-school shopping, probably thinks I’m a Romney relative, albeit, a crazed one.
“Let’s look for binders full of women,” I say to Katherine. She glares at me, rolls hers eyes, and steps away, not wanting to be associated with such a “dork.”
I’ve always dreaded back-to-school shopping. I practically break into hives at the mere sight of a highlighter. All these lists, supplies, calendars. I’m not the organized type, so a place like Staples--similar to The Container Store--makes me nervous. Extremely nervous.
Not so for my 7th grader. “I love being organized,” she says. “Nothing makes me happier than making lists.” She is dead serious.
If I hadn’t given birth to her 13 years ago, I’d wonder if she were really my child. Could she be a mutation? Liking organization and making lists? Always begging me to take her to Staples, even when we’re not back-to-school shopping. Seriously?
I know I should be more organized. But I’m the type of person who pays the Pepco bill when the disconnection notice arrives--in a yellow envelope. Yellow, yikes, it must be time. Got one today, actually. Guess I should pay Comcast and the water bill while I’m at it.
What is it about bills and office supplies that sends my nerves aflutter? Is it that I really don’t want to be a responsible grown-up--at 47? Perhaps I need to take a hard look at this problem and take a page out of my daughter’s book, er, binder.
So I’m thinking about making some changes as the school year starts. Like New Year’s Day, the beginning of the school year is a time to start over. I will imagine my life as a fresh piece of white paper, ready for a new--and more organized--story to tell.
Nothing reminds me of how fast summer is rolling by than cornfields. Just yesterday, it seemed, the corn was knee-high. Now it’s as high as, well, an elephant’s eye. This is what I tell my girls every time we drive to the beach, passing cornfields along the way. They usually roll their eyes while I whistle the tune from “Oklahoma.”
Children and the corn. Both are growing so fast. And there’s no better reminder than summer, particularly this one.
I realize you can’t fight change; you have to roll with it, adapt to it, accept it. Cornstalks, stretching up to meet the cerulean sky, remind me how quickly life is passing. Winter can seem endless, with its gray afternoons and freezing rain pelting your skin like BBs. But summer ends before we’re ready.
Summer stirs the senses. Golden light casting long shadows on freshly mowed grass. Crickets and cicadas increasing their crescendo as the end of August nears. Fire flies flickering and looping around the treetops. Basil and mint, the quintessential scents of summer. Maybe we wouldn’t appreciate--or notice--it as much if it lasted longer. In the summertime, you can literally see the passage of time, whether it’s a cornstalk, a swelling zucchini or a ripe tomato growing heavy on the vine. And it’s a reminder of everything else that’s growing, particularly children.
This summer, I went from being Mommy to Mom. My younger daughter, Katherine, would say, “Mom, Mom, you’re not listening?” I would turn to her, suddenly realizing she was talking to me. Up until this point, I was “Mommy.”
“Mom” almost sounds like a bad word. I’m still adjusting to it.
In June, my 16-year-old daughter, Peyton, flew off to Spain on a school trip. She lived with a family that spoke little English. It was her first trip to Europe, and she went without me.
On Facebook, I’d see pictures of her frolicking in a floral sundress along the streets of Seville. She texted me about taking the metro and the bus, something she never does at home. She wrote of her conversations with her Spanish family discussing gun control and American politics. At one point, when I asked if she was having fun, she replied, “Yes, but this is not a vacation; it’s work. My brain literally hurts from thinking in Spanish.”
When I dropped her at Dulles, there were no tears on her part. I, on the other hand, had to contain myself. Like Speaker Boehner, I’m not always successful at reigning in the waterworks. Grabbing a pen from the ticket counter to fill out her luggage tag, I knew I was in trouble. The lump kept growing, tears welling. Swallow it, I told myself. Don’t make a scene. I could hear my own mother admonishing me, “We don’t cry in public.”
“Mommy, you’re not going to cry are you?” Peyton asked, with a mix of amusement and concern.
She called me “Mommy.”
And cry, I did.
And off she flew, over the green cornfields swaying in the breeze of a summer afternoon.