Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy 2nd Birthday, Finn Michael!

Dear Finny,

Tomorrow, you turn two and I love you more than I ever thought possible. You will never remember laying on my chest at just two days old when I looked into your tiny face and told you I didn’t ever want you to get any bigger than you were at that moment—my tiny, perfect, baby.

Oh, what I would’ve missed out on if you’d stayed just two days old forever. I would’ve never known how smart and handsome and charming you would turn out to be at just two years old. Let me tell you a little bit about you at two, so that someday you will know just how special you are right now, September 29, 2010.

Today, on the playground, you stood at the top of the slide and hung by the bar above. I was amazed and so were you. What a daredevil you are becoming! I make you hold my hand when we cross the bridge on the big playground because there is a big gap and a far drop, but today, you bolted across without me before I had a chance to grab you and you declared, “I do it myself!” What a mixed blessing this is for a mommy. I, of course, want you to want and be able to “do it yourself,” but I also always want you to need me. Please remember this when you are thirty: if you love your mother, move out, but need her from time to time.

Right now, you are learning new things at such an alarming rate that I can hardly keep up with you. I’m quite certain when we visit the pediatrician tomorrow that he will declare you a genius. They will tell me what percentage you measure in weight, height, and head size, but if they could tell me your IQ, I’m quite certain that they would tell me you are one of the smartest two-year-olds they’ve ever seen. You are busy learning your colors and numbers and today when I asked you what types of things we see in the sky, you responded, “Moon, stars, and Venus.” Venus! You tiny genius, you.

When we ask you how old you are, you proudly respond, “I’m two.”

When we ask you what your last name is, you proudly respond, “I’m two.”

Even tiny genius’s have weak spots. Besides, VanHimbergen is right up there with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius. It could take a while.

When I ask you how old Mommy is, you say, “She’s two.” You are such a little charmer.

I have so many moments throughout my day where I am just filled with complete and utter elation that we created you, but one of the best ones yet came last night when we were getting you ready for bed.

Daddy was holding you after you brushed your teeth and we were all standing in our bedroom laughing. You wrapped one arm around Daddy’s neck and one arm around my neck and pulled us both in for a family kiss as you said, “Ahhh, Mommy. Daddy.” I’m quite certain in four years of marriage, your father and I have never been happier than we were at that moment.

Finny, at two, you are a wonderful human being. I learn so much from you every day. As bittersweet as it is, I can’t wait to watch you grow and grow to continue to see all the new and wonderful ways you will amaze me every day.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Finn Michael!

Love, Mommy

Train Wreck

I’m not quite sure what it is about motherhood that invites me to welcome unnecessary stress into my life, but I somehow manage to do it time and time again. This week that unnecessary stress took the shape of a train cake or rather a cake that was meant to look like a train and came out resembling a kind of race car, speed boat, truck-train hybrid.

Maybe it’s because we never had store-bought cakes growing up. Maybe it’s because my mom would show us pictures of all the fun cakes she made for us: clown cakes, Snoopy cakes, train cakes, etc. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen other, far more artistic moms do it and I wanted to keep up with the Jones Mommies. Whatever it is that compelled me to plan, design, bake and decorate a train cake for Finny’s second birthday, I hope its decapitated head gets hanged by magnet from the refrigerator somewhere beside the grocery list to serve as a warning to all other silly, stressful notions that compel me to do something far beyond my range of talents and capabilities.

It began in Kansas City when I went to visit my friend Cathy. I was just looking forward to spending time with my old friend and catching up, but figured while I was there, since Cathy is a professional cake-maker, I should seek out her cake-making expertise and her patient teaching nature to see if she could show me some of the ropes of cake-making. So, that weekend, she helped me make a delicious European butter cream icing and showed me how to carefully ice some train cars. The icing was a butter-lover’s dream-come-true that tasted positively sinful. The cake-making was an extensive, careful, time-consuming process that made me feel itchy, sweaty, and clumsy, not unlike how I felt during my entire career as a waitress or my short-lived stint as a seamstress. And yet, despite the intense anxiety I felt, which at 5 months pregnant could not be quenched by big heaping gulps of wine, I left there still determined that I could do this…on my own.

So I Googled it and I YouTubed it and I revisited the cake aisle at Michael’s again and again, just as I had the year before, but this year, I didn’t bail. This year, I purchased. I went home armed with a train-shaped cake pan, multiple spatulas, a serrated knife, cake decorating tips, and food coloring and I set my mind to the task of baking this train cake. Full speed ahead.

After carefully mapping out all the steps and buying all the tools and ingredients I would need to make the cake, I set to work on Tuesday whipping up the butter cream icing. I knew I could not attempt the European butter cream that Cathy had shown me. It involved separating egg whites and heating them to 160 degrees on the stove and then beating them into fluffy peaks, and despite how truly magical the result of all that was with Cathy, I knew if I attempted it on my own, it would end in third degree burns and a bad case of salmonella. I couldn’t do that to the baby, Finny or the twenty plus house guests I was expecting. So I went with the traditional American butter and sugar butter cream, and the icing, I can admit, actually turned out quite well.

Then, things derailed.

On Thursday, as soon as Finny’s head hit the pillow for his afternoon nap, I was in the kitchen ready to bake. Almost instantly, the itchy, sweaty, clumsiness ensued. The cake pan had called for a pound cake mix. I had my box of mix in one hand, while the other hand started scratching at my invisible hives as I noticed that the pan instructions called for two boxes of pound cake mix. I was stuck. Timing-wise, this cake needed to be made now, but I couldn’t leave. What could I do? I called Cathy.

She directed me back to Google and told me I could do it from scratch if I had all the ingredients. I found a Betty Crocker recipe online that sounded easy and I was equipped with all the flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, butter, vanilla, and milk it called for. I thought I was saved.

Cake mixed and poured into the train cake pan, I put it in the oven with only one question about the baking—the time. The train cake pan is completely enclosed, so the only way to really test for doneness is to stick a toothpick in a tiny hole in the top and if it comes out clean, it’s done. The pound cake recipe suggested an hour and ten minutes to an hour and twenty minutes, the mix box suggested an hour, and the train cake pan instructions said 35-40 minutes. So, I set the clock for 40 minutes and I waited.

At 40 minutes, my toothpick was wet. At 55 minutes, it was dry and there was brown crusting around the edges of the pan, so I removed it and set it out to cool. When I took off the top pan, it looked great and I was so relieved. After all that sweating, this had turned out to be a piece of cake.

Or so I thought. After the suggested ten minutes, I flipped it and removed the bottom portion of the pan. It was then that I noticed that my train cake looked as if it had run a red light and been nailed by another oncoming train. It was sunken and raw in the center. Salmonella glittering on top.

I called Cathy.

She told me I could put it back in, so I did. After ten minutes, it looked as if my problem was solved. It looked over-cooked now on the edges, but at least it looked frostable and the toothpick came out clean once again. So I left it to cool and an hour later returned to frost it.

Apparently the Wilton Train Cake Pan people need to include longer toothpicks. I flipped it once again, and it was still raw in the center. Overcooked on the sides, raw in the center, and a complete train wreck all around. At that point, I got the icing out of the fridge and started tearing off the cooked chunks, shamelessly lathering them with icing and popping them in my mouth. Then, I dumped the rest in the trash and prepared myself for the long night ahead.

Once again, Finny’s head hit the pillow for bedtime and I was back in the kitchen preheating the oven. This time, I would make a dark chocolate fudge mix in two loaf pans. This time, I would be sure they were cooked. This time, I would make a side of cupcakes just in case.

After being on my feet baking and cleaning and tossing and baking and cleaning again until midnight, I finally went to bed and set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and once again entered the kitchen, home of train cake hell.

I carved, I food-colored, I mixed, I shaped. Then I got out my chocolate engine and began to crumb-coat with icing. The wrong side. The crumbly side. Big chunks of train seemed to be chipping off everywhere as I awkwardly ran my spatula of blue icing over the steam engine. David came down the stairs to check on the madness. “Does it look anything like Thomas?” I asked. “Speedboat,” he offered. Yes, I thought, Thomas, the Speedboat, why not?

I “carefully” began to set my iced speedboat back into the fridge and set to work on the cars when the top of the boat collided with a refrigerator shelf and removed yet another large chunk of iced cake. I paused. I could try to place the missing chunk back on the cake or I could eat it. I popped it in my mouth and moved on. I was running out of steam.

The rest of the morning I spent covered in food coloring and icing as I crumb-coated, iced and assembled my train cake. I laid Kit-Kats for the tracks and linked the colored cars together with pretzels. I adhered Oreos to the sides of each car to represent wheels and then I filled the tops of the cars with Animal Crackers, Candy Corn, and M&Ms for tasty cargo.

Once I added the wheels to the speedboat engine, it no longer resembled a boat. Now, it looked more like a race car. I added crumbled Oreos to the back for the coal tender. Still a race car. I added stacked Reese cups to the front for the smokestack. Looking better, but still a race car. Finally, I figured that the only thing at this point that would truly make it look like a train engine would be if I buried the entire thing under a pile of crumbled Oreos and placed a picture of a train beside it with a little “RIP” sign beside it.

Covered in icing and food coloring and on my feet for so long at this point that I felt as if I might go into labor on the kitchen floor, I decided to pull this train into the station and call it a day. But first, I needed to show it to Finny.

I picked him up and showed him the cake and waited to see and hear the awe in his eyes and his voice as he carefully beheld the train cake I had just toiled over for the past week. This would be the true test. “Finny,” I beamed, “What is it?”

His answer: “A cake.”

And there you have it.

The next time I really want to impress a two-year-old with a cake, I will make just that—a cake. In nice, round, reliable cake pans with a couple layers of icing. And the next time I want to keep up with the Jones Mommies, I will visit this picture of my crumbly, speedboat, racecar, train cake and remind myself that I do an awesome Cockney accent when I sing the part of Burt in Mary Poppins and I’m pretty close to perfecting nearly all the voices of the Winnie the Pooh characters, but cake-making? I’ll let somebody else engineer that train. My train cakes are best left in the roundhouse with all the other race cars and speedboats that never quite got on track.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Baby Love

Nothing tickles me more than Finny's growing affection for his unborn baby brother.  He likes to touch and kiss my belly and is constantly telling me how he wants to "take it off" as if the only thing between him and his brother is some magic curtain I can lift up for a peek.  He also tells me how he wants to "hold it" and gets impatient when he can't see the baby "now!"  He also likes to tell the baby about his day and show him what's going on in his world.  He will look right at my belly and hold up whatever he happens to be playing with and say, "This is my train," or "This is my sandwich," or he might tell my belly, "I'm going to the park."

Last night he had a particularly endearing moment with his in-utero baby brother when we were walking side-by-side across the softball fields at David's game.  As we were walking, Finny just started pointing out all of his body parts, saying "Legs!  Arms!  Head!  Nose!"

I stopped him there and said, "There's Finny's nose.  Where's Mommy's nose?"

"Right there!" he responded as he looked up and pointed to my face.

"Do you think the baby has a nose?  Where's his nose?" I asked.

At this, Finny reached both arms in the air as if to say, bend down and I'll show you.  When I bent down so that he could touch my belly, he pinched two fingers together on the surface of my belly and smiled as he said, "Honk!  Honk!"

And that lit up my entire world.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

An Ode to My Bladder

*This candid blog is dedicated to leg-crossing sneezers everywhere and all pregnant ladies whose bladders have forgotten what it means to go pee-pee in the potty.

An Ode to My Bladder

Out of all of us, you, my friend, I’m afraid have taken the worst of it. At 5 months pregnant everyone asks how I’m doing, how I’m feeling, but nobody thinks to ask you, do they? But we know. We know , don’t we. I’m really doing just fine, but we know that you, my little trooper, my trusty bag of fluids, you are just barely hanging on.

I am trying to help you out as much as I can, but sometimes our little secret gets out, doesn’t it? And I’m afraid now with ragweed season approaching, well, we are just up shit creek and it’s only a matter of time before someone calls over the loud speaker, “Clean up in Aisle 5!”

In fact, it nearly happened yesterday, didn’t it? Even after I went potty right before we left the house. There was that sneeze in the car and then the sneeze in the parking lot and well, we both knew then that those khaki pants were a mistake as I shuffled the diaper bag around my back to cover the fact that our secret was seeping out.

And honey, I’m afraid you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We’ve still got 4 months to go! From here on out, workout pants can only be black or navy and even modified jumping jacks are a no-no. From here on out, we must avoid travelling anywhere where a potty is not close at hand. And from here on out, all sneezing and laughing must be kept to a bare minimum. Only cordial chuckling will be permitted.

I know, I know what they say about the Kegels, but the truth is, the only time I can remember to do them is when there’s a slow trickle running down my leg. I’ll try harder, I promise. I’ll start right now while I’m finishing this blog post.

Oh, bladder, just hold on a little bit longer for both of us. I know you can do it. The diaper budget is already about to double, do we now need to think about tripling it for you, little guy?

Stay strong for me, will you? I’m only 31 years old and I’m gonna need you to put in quite a few more years for me. Potty training is gonna be hard enough with Finny. I can’t have you givin’ up on me too.

Your Faithful Friend,

The Pregnant Lady