Crash Test Dummies

English novelist Rose Tremain said, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”  I believe anyone who has ever raised children believed this early on.  We felt as if we had one chance to get it right with this little, impressionable human who thrilled and terrified us all at once.  I have one son, and I’ve heard parenting gets easier with the second born.  I, however, am dealing with the teen years and can’t help thinking to myself, “Why would anyone do this twice?”  I suppose it’s because most parents of two or more children have the successive offspring prior to the first reaching the teen years.

Several thoughts floating through my head on this journey through the teen years include:

  1. I understand why some species eat their young.
  2. I’ll pay for his therapy when he’s an adult.

And, my personal favorite based on a joke:

  1. Clearly Isaac was twelve years old or younger or twenty years old because if he’d been a teenager, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.

So, yeah, I’ve been a little bumped and bruised during the parenting years, but at least the kiddo is none the worse for wear.  Oh, he’ll tell you that his father and I have been put on earth with the express purpose of ruining his life (making him do chores, not allowing endless sessions of Minecraft), but little does he know this is true…oops, was that out loud?

Compared to what his father and I endure, however, his woes are nothing because what life dishes out to us doesn’t always come from Josh, but it is in regards to Josh.  Parents get battered about like crash test dummies where their kids are concerned.  For example, Josh recently obtained his temporary driver’s license and five days later, someone hit him.  Yes, that’s right; someone caused an accident for our baby boy.

I didn’t care that the car received damage; it was minimal.  I knew the second after it occurred that Josh and I were fine.  Also in his favor was the fact that he absolutely wasn’t at fault.  And yet, I cannot shake this emotional tremor every time Josh drives.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with his skill; he’s proving to be a remarkable driver.

How do you convey to children what goes on inside your heart as they grow up and navigate life in general?  Oh, that’s right; it comes when they have children of their own.  I envision Joshua sitting in a car someday, probably exasperated because his son/daughter didn’t do the last chore requested of him/her, or he/she did it with an abundance of attitude.  Then someone pulls out in front of him/her, and in a heartbeat Joshua throws his arm across his beloved child to shield them from whatever is coming.  This actually happens quite a lot and not just in cars and not always physically.  We have tender emotions and minds to guide and protect along the way as well.

I love this annoying, sometimes smelly, often mouthy human to whom I gave birth.  Yes, most days I want to pinch his head off like a dandelion, but just cross me one time where my kid is concerned and watch this crash test dummy transform into a mama bear.

Don’t Drive So Fast That You Miss Life

I wish I had listened when people told me to remember these days.  They were speaking of the days when my son, Joshua, was little.  And I did remember quite a lot; I have the scrapbooks and an entire room devoted to the production thereof as proof.

There was a time when I just wanted a few more moments of sleep, to eat my meal while it was still hot, or to sit down and read a book or watch a movie in the silence and peace I used to enjoy prior to a child.  As recently as yesterday when I sent Joshua to the school on his mountain bike to pick up his work permit so I could shower in preparation for taking him for a haircut so he’d look great for the picture on his temps then down to the BMV to get said temps then running home to make lunch before hubby left for work then cleaning up and staying put so Joshua could finish mowing for his dad and using the time to write a thank you note, put in laundry, and type up a synopsis for my current WIP then rushing off to buy pants for the job he started today, I thought to myself how much I want my life back!

Prior to that was all the running to obtain a birth certificate for the job and temps and work permit (I told him to have this stuff finished before school let out for the summer) as well as the three days it took him to get himself in gear to do everything listed above (I’m trying to be a hands-off parent as he matures).  There’s a DVD of Persuasion on my countertop begging to be watched, a book to be finished, and don’t even get me started on how I haven’t written anything toward my current WIP or my blog pretty much since school ended.

This summer has been crazy.  And really, I’m not complaining, but I wish I people who had said remember these days had also warned me that although children become more independent as they get older, in many new ways they are still quite dependent.  What I used to do for Joshua was contained to our little world, our home.  Now I’m pretty sure I’m trekking across America several times a week getting, taking, and doing for this kid.

My joyous internal screams were probably felt as shock waves in most of Ohio when Joshua told me he had job orientation from eight to three on Thursday and Friday.  What?  I’ll have two whole days to write and read?  Thank, Adonai; truly You are merciful.

Josh woke me at seven thirty to take him to work (Recall, he only has his temps since yesterday, and tonight will be the first night of driving lessons).  I asked all the motherly questions from did you take your allergy pill and brush your teeth to do you have your ID badge and lunch packed?  My questions were greeted with one-syllable, monotone affirmations.

I drove him to work and stopped a little way from the front doors so as not to embarrass him.  And then I watched my baby walk away.  And I wanted to jump out of the car and convince him to come home with me where I’d make him all his favorite foods, and we’d watch all his favorite shows, and then go to Kame’s to look at hunting gear, and visit Sweet Frog for yogurt, and if he was still hungry (which teen boys always are) we’d go for burgers or pizza.

Yes, this summer has been crazy.  I’ve hardly written at all since May.  When I pulled into the garage after dropping off Josh, I looked beside me and saw his lunch on the drink holders where he’d forgotten it.  I’ll be taking that to him around noon.  If I’m lucky, tonight after his driving lesson, we’ll go for a drive with me at the wheel.  It’s a habit we started in the evenings as the sun is going down.  We just pick a direction and drive until it gets dark or we’re tired.  Josh and I talk about everything during these drives, and the other day he told me how much he enjoys them.  I don’t believe he realizes that as I drive he places his hand lightly over mine where it rests.

I know things will calm down once school starts at the end of August.  My routine will be restored, and my writing will flourish.  For now I’ll set it aside because I wouldn’t trade publication with the best publishing house in the world or my book selling millions of copies and being made into a movie for the moments I’m collecting and turning into memories.

Applications

I keep stealing glances at our teenager as we sit at the laptop, and I’m trying not to snatch the mouse away or jump on the keyboard because I know I’m a faster typist.  Today, our son is applying for his first job.  Many of his friends are already working and driving, but we allowed Joshua to go a little longer without pursuing either.  For one, he didn’t express an interest in driving like we expected him to.  His father wasn’t too upset because he wasn’t looking forward to the jump in insurance rates.

For the other, we didn’t push him to get a part-time job as soon as he turned sixteen because we wanted him to focus solely on school and Boy Scouts.  We wanted, and were able, to extend him the luxury of a little more time to stay young, if not little, in a world that is demanding he grow up fast.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lightning Juice and This Mothering Stuff is Hard.  Sometimes it seemed like a blur, and at other times the moments ground by painfully slow.  But Josh has taken an interest in his own life lately now that Scouting is winding down and his senior year approaches.  So, I sit beside this young man whose most recent goal is to grow tall enough that he can fit my head under his chin the way I did to him when he was little.

This young man with a square jaw reminiscent of his Grandfather Smith when he was a young marine.  This young man who has been cutting grass on the gargantuan riding lawnmower since he was eleven and a half.  This young man who cracks us both up when he types “Cuz i neds a jub” in the “Why do you want to work here?” section of the online application.  This young man who started shaving the peach fuzz that quickly turned into the stubble I feel when I kiss his cheek.  This young man who can play ‘Jingle Bells’ doing arm farts.  This young man who wants to earn enough money this summer to put a dent in his upcoming post-high school education and pay for his car insurance.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Now the things we want for Joshua are giving way to the things he wants for himself.  Of course our desires for our son will always be for his benefit, but we’ll yield to him more and more as he shows maturity.  And we’ll be there for the times he doesn’t, guiding him back to the right path.

I often wonder if we did enough, laid a strong foundation for him.  Only time will tell, but for right this moment, while he’s still a goofy teen, while we’re pulling our hair out when he’s sassy and driving us crazy, I’ll store up these memories for the day he heads out on his own.

Happy Passover

Monday evening marked the beginning of Passover.  My family had the good fortune of observing the day with our dear friends, Dan and Valeri Remark.  The Remarks opened their lovely home to seventeen guests.  We had a wonderful time and enjoyed delicious food prepared by Dan, a chef, as well as matzo ball soup, roasted vegetables, and assorted cheeses provided by other guests.  I made the charoset and received many compliments.

The Seder hosted by the Remarks was relaxed and welcoming.  Guests had the opportunity to ask questions if they didn’t understand or comment with insight.  Roman, Dan and Valeri’s grandson, did an excellent job asking the four required questions and opening the door for Elijah.  Our son, Joshua, and the Remarks son-in-law, Quentin, engaged in a challenge to see who could eat the most horseradish.  Quentin consumed three slices the size of a quarter, and Joshua managed to down four.  Joshua was fine for the first few moments until the pungency of the root vegetable reached his nose.  Luckily, Joshua is a good sport who joined in the laughter as his face reddened and he gulped grape juice to cool the burn.

One elegant touch I’ll be sure to borrow from Valeri if I ever host my own Passover Seder is to offer my guests warmed, damp washcloths scented with orange essential oil for the custom of washing one’s hands.  Another is the use of a broken piece of pottery to collect the drops of wine while reciting the ten plagues three times each.

Giving up foods with yeast/leavening for eight days may seem like a huge sacrifice.  Yeast/leavening appears in places one wouldn’t expect such as canned broth and soup, prepared meatballs, and salad dressing.  It requires a little reworking of the menu when you can’t grab the items you’re used to.  Yet what we receive in return is so much more and makes up for the minor inconvenience of denying ourselves yeast/leavening for eight days.  The fellowship of the Seder alone is worth it, not to mention the freely flowing wine, love, and laughter we enjoyed at the Remarks.  Then there is the opportunity to reflect on Passover and what it means for us today.

Happy Passover!

Charoset

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely diced

3 Gala apples, peeled and finely diced

2 c toasted walnuts, coarsely diced

½ c kosher sweet wine

½ c honey

¼ c dark brown sugar

1 t cinnamon

Three hearty dashes of allspice

Toss the diced apples with the toasted walnuts.  Combine the wine, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice.  Whisk thoroughly and pour over the apple/walnut mixture.  Stir several times to coat before covering.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Stir again before serving.  Serve chilled at the Seder with pieces of matzo.

This Mothering Stuff is Hard

eagle-medalSince our son’s birth, I have enjoyed some amazing milestones with him. There were the obvious ones of first tooth, first step, and first word. The day I put him on a school bus for kindergarten was a thrill. I wasn’t afraid for him at all because my husband and I raised a tough little man. He was the type of kid who would scrape his knees to a bloody mess and worry more about returning to play outside than he was about the sting of hydrogen peroxide on the open wound.

Then there was a day ten years ago when Joshua decided he wanted to join Cub Scouts. He had tried T-ball and tennis, but Tiger Cubs appealed to him more. The first night he joined, throwing his stick of wood into the fire and announcing his name to the Pack, he declared he wanted to be an Eagle Scout. He stayed with Cub Scouts, achieving many more incredible milestones, and finished by earning his Arrow of Light during his second year of Webelos. Next came Boy Scouts.

About his time, Joshua started middle school. Homework, girls, and friendships became a little more difficult. Our sweet little boy turned teen, and a strange new creature emerged. My husband and I thought we were going to lose our minds at times as we dealt with this always hungry, often cranky, and sometimes smelly person. Through it all, Joshua kept plugging away at Boy Scouts, and he did quite well.

Mounds of pictures of Joshua at various Scouting functions piled up, and I always thought I’d have time to scrapbook them. And then one day, the time was gone. Joshua completed all the requirements toward the rank of Eagle and passed his Board of Review. We were ecstatic, the grandparents were over the moon, and even close friends and acquaintances smiled with pride when they heard. I tried to pack ten years’ worth of scrapbooking into a month and a half all the while planning Joshua’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

I put my entire life, including my writing, completely on hold because that’s what a good Eagle Scout Mother does. There were times when I wanted to quit making additional sacrifices on top of those I’d already made, but instead, I told myself to quit being a martyr and press on. Well, Joshua’s Court of Honor took place this past Saturday. I’m still receiving compliments for hosting an amazing party, and my dear husband defers any praise to me for the whole event. With a deep sigh of satisfaction, I turned Joshua over to another plateau of maturity. Only the feelings I expected didn’t occur.

Every time I looked at his shirt and merit badge sash bedecked like a four-star general, I tingled all over. That must be the pride, I thought. Only there was a lingering sense of melancholy. I chalked it up to post-party let down and laughed it off with the thought of now what? Occasionally, my eyes would tear up for no explainable reason.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I don’t want to abandon Joshua completely, but I did believe I’d relinquish him somewhat to his future. I’m not so sure that’s how motherhood works. My own mom confirmed this for me when she admitted that she still thinks of me and my brother as her babies, and the addition of spouses and grandchildren only provided more people for her to pray and worry over. In short, motherhood never achieves the status of finished.

What am I going to do when he graduates high school and leaves for college? How am I going to survive his engagement and marriage? What if he and his wife live out of state when my first grandbaby is born? And when he becomes the Prime Minister of Israel, next to the red phone on which he takes important calls relating to the administration of the country, he’d better have a gold phone labeled Mom.

I remember the night I gained the courage to turn off the baby monitor because it was extremely sensitive, and every time Joshua rolled over in his crib, the sound of crinkling sheets woke me up. I thought I’d never lose what my sisters-in-law dubbed my Mommy Ears. Little did I know that the tradeoff would be an increase in the footprint our son left on my Mommy Heart.

Learning Curve

learning-curveMy husband and I always try to present a good example for our son, Joshua. So this year, we decided to get down to brass tacks and build a sukkah. After all, we wanted to be obedient followers. William started by searching the Internet for suggestions on how to build one and found many companies that sell plans and/or frames. They were expensive. Next, he looked up the cost of PVC pipes and fittings with the intention of building our own frame. He must have looked at the price for 1/4” pipes because when we arrived at Home Depot, the pipes that would actually create a frame to withstand a gentle breeze were somewhat out of our price range, especially with all the cash we’ve been shelling out for our son’s upcoming Eagle Scout Court of Honor. We were not deterred.

We took encouragement from a friend who suggested building a sukkah over an existing frame such as that for a cabana. The Gibson household doesn’t own a cabana. We have a pup tent. Back to the drawing board. At least we had a ton of Chinese silver grass to cover the top of our sukkah once we built it. Another Facebook friend suggested chili pepper lights. I don’t believe we’re going to do that.

So, limited by funds but spurred on by faithfulness, William and I walked up and down the aisles of Home Depot looking for sukkah ideas. We found the prairie-style windows we’d like to have some day, the pegboard for the ribbon rack I want in my scrapbook room, linoleum for the basement room to replace the carpet that was ruined in the flood, and the sink and vanity for the bathroom when we finally redecorate. Nothing remotely sukkah-oriented came into view.

I can’t speak for William, but I started to feel depressed. I wanted so much to keep Sukkot this year, and I could blame only myself for not preparing. Who am I kidding? I also blamed William just a titch. That’s when the idea to build a sukkah between the back of our shed and our maple tree popped into my head. I envisioned something tent-like with an open top covered in the grasses William had yet to cut down. We could sit in our sukkah, eat, and watch the beautiful stars above. One hundred-feet of paracord and two lag bolts with eyes later, we were on our way back home to construct our sukkah.

Will drilled holes in the back of the shed for the bolts, and Joshua used a couple knots learned in Boy Scouts to make two sides of the sukkah. Thelearning-curve-2 paracord was looped around the tree, held in place by a two-by-four and a garden stake to reduce the sag, and I draped mismatched, flannel top sheets over the rope. The sheets were held in place by two clothespins on one side and two clipped hangers on the other. We didn’t use the grasses because the branches of the maple provided the perfect lattice cover.

It’s crude, and the sheets blow around quite a bit, but our redneck sukkah is the perfect place for two camping chairs positioned face to face with enough room for a third if Joshua ever gets a night without an overwhelming amount of homework. William, our collie, Aria, and I enjoyed a dinner of buffalo chicken dip eaten directly from the casserole dish in our sukkah last night. He had to sit a little to the right to block the setting sun from blinding me, but the golden reflection on the maple leaves was quite heavenly. We revisited the sukkah after dropping Joshua off at Scouts, and I must say that the stars looked a little brighter when viewed through the open top of our sukkah.

This Stinks!

One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to torture your teenager. It is why my husband and I were put on earth according to our teen, Joshua. We make his life miserable by expecting him to unload and load the dishwasher, sweep the floors, feed the pets, empty the trash, take out the recycles, keep his room clean, keep himself clean, do his homework, and get good grades. I’m sure you can see what horrible ogres we are.

These requests are usually met with heart-wrenching sighs and occasional eye rolls, sagging shoulders, and shuffling walk as he wanders off to complete this drudgery. This frees up me and the hubby to invent news ways to torture him right out of existence. And sometimes, the opportunities just present themselves in the form of stinks bugs.

this-stinks

Public Enemy Number One

I don’t remember stink bugs when I was a child. I’m sure I would have because the name alone invites ridicule; but truly, these foul little creatures seem to have materialized from nowhere. At the end of summer, just as the temperature is changing to give us frosty mornings, warm and breezy days, and chilled nights, the stink bugs show up. They cover the screens of every window and door, walk around looking menacing, and make the most horrible buzzing noise. I’m not an entomologist, so I assume the stink bugs are looking for a warm place to crash in the winter. Every now and then, one makes its way inside. If I leave the windows down on my car, they climb in. Joshua is terrified of them.

Picture this: I’m driving along one day with Joshua in the passenger side when I spied a stink bug on his side of the vehicle. It took my wicked mind only a split second to devise a plan.

“Hey, Josh? Don’t freak out, but there’s a stink bug on your side.”

“What? Where?”

“It’s moving.”

The brilliant little stink bug must have overheard our conversation because it flew off right on cue. Joshua freaked out, looking all around him for the flying demon. I actually lost sight of it for a moment because I needed to keep my eyes on the road. Joshua, who was seat belted, twisted in his seat peering into the space between his chair and door or between his chair and the center console. I saw the stink bug had landed on the far side of the visor in front of him. It was barely visible from where I sat. The tips of its legs gently curled around the edge of the visor.

“Mom—where is it?”

“Right here.”

I flicked the visor down toward Joshua which sent the buzzing offender flying toward his face. He screamed like a little girl. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d have been rolling on the floor. Then in a microsecond, he managed to unbuckle himself and dive head first between the front seats, landing in a gangly heap in the back.

For the sake of this post, I actually measured the space between the seats: it’s eight inches wide. At the time, Joshua was probably 5’ 10” – 5’ 11”. How he managed to jump from a seated position, fly between the seats without touching either side or the gear shift, and land in the back without breaking something is beyond me. It sure does make for one hilarious post. We never found the stink bug.

What I Like About Being an American

What I Like About Being an AmericanI developed an interest in Indian cooking after watching the movie The Lunchbox. The main character, Ila, infused her cooking with beautiful, artistic expression in the form of spices. I enjoyed watching her hands move as she seasoned her culinary creations without the benefit of measuring spoons. Her spice box caught my attention and held my interest.

I mentioned this to a former co-worker, Bina, who is Indian. She was surprised that I enjoyed the movie, and we had a lovely discussion on Indian food. She suggested the movie The Hundred Foot Journey which further fueled my desire to learn Indian cooking. Bina invited me and three co-workers to her home for an introduction to the world of Indian cuisine.

One of the first things she explained was masala. I assumed masala was a set combination of spices used in a particular recipe. I had seen garam masala and madras masala in markets selling exotic foods. However, like curry, masala changes depending on the country and regions within said country. Bina didn’t own anything among her spices bottled and labeled masala. What she had were individual spices that she knew how to blend perfectly without measuring to create the flavor the recipe required.

Still, I didn’t quite understand masala, but I kept Bina’s comments and instructions in mind, specifically when she said she has a dessert masala, a chicken masala, and a vegetable masala. I Googled a few Indian recipes and tried them. They were good, and many of the spices Bina owns and uses were featured, but something was missing. My desire to cook Indian food was stifled by a concept I wasn’t grasping. I took a break from pursuing it and kept making recipes with which I am familiar.

One day I decided to make chili for dinner. When it came time to season the chili, jars were opened and contents sprinkled over the simmering pot until the quantity on the surface looked right and I stirred them in. A little tasting, a few more dashes of this or that, and I allowed the chili to simmer for a while. I always taste again before it’s completely cooked just to see if the flavors are balanced and add anything as needed. That’s when it hit me: the combination of spices I used was my chili masala which I return to every time I make it. I know how chili should taste to me, but I’m sure if I visited Texas or other chili-making regions of America, I’d experience other spice combinations.

I laughed to myself as my favorite seasoning combination for chicken came to mind. Then I realized I had been on the cusp of understanding the beautiful concept of masala several years ago when I attempted to swap ground ginger for fresh. The ground variety tastes savory and what I describe as classically American. Think Thanksgiving. But the recipe I was making needed the lemony zestiness of fresh ginger, that classically Asian flavor, because I was cooking a Chinese dish. Herbs de Provence is another example of a spice combination that will reflect the nuances of the person cooking with it. Just like masala, there are some spices that will always appear in the mix, but people love to alter it based on their preferences or just to add a dash of mystery.

What I Like About Being an American 2What I learned about masala, about seasoning food in general, is why I like being an American. Where else can you experience a merging of cultures that bring amazing culinary skills from their own countries so that everyone can enjoy them in one place? The great American melting pot starts in our kitchens and ends with the united flavors of America. I have returned to Indian cooking, and while I use the spices to which Bina introduced me, I suspect that my masala may not taste exactly like what she would expect. But that’s okay.

Bovine Fashion

Bovine FashionSeveral years ago, I believe it was around the time our son was still a baby, I learned that a new size had been created for women:  Size O. That’s amazing for two reasons. One, I’m pretty sure zero isn’t a size. In fact, zero is nothing. Two, I’ve been living among Americans all my life; I’ve seen how we eat. Who the heck is in need of Size O? I admit I may be incorrect about the date of invention of this stupidity. It may have occurred when I regained some weight when our son was eight, but whenever it took place, I remember it stood out to me because anything having to do with extra weight was a sore point for me.

I changed my initial impression when I realized that this was a brilliant piece of marketing, genius even. A little shifting of the numbers by clothes manufacturers and clothing designers could make a small percentage of women on the planet feel like the goddesses they believed themselves to be. Can you imagine the thrill of discovering you were now a Size O? The trickledown effect would be priceless as women sporting bigger sizes discovered they could wear a smaller size. Thank You God and Jenny Craig.

But wait, what about the plus-sized gal? Her clothing sizes didn’t seem to benefit from Size O. She was still segregated to the other side of the store, barred from the cute and darling world of Size O by a wall of clothing and mirrors. Oh sure, there were breaks in the wall where she could wander over to scan the jewelry, scarves, sunglasses, and shoes, but even her lingerie was kept in check by a plus-sized prejudice.

Our full-figured gal didn’t have to wait very long for the fashion gurus to re-emerge from their drawing boards with an even bigger piece of stupidity. Their intentions were good. So good that Satan was able to re-pave major portions of the Highway to Hell that receives much foot traffic from politicians. But I digress.

Picture this: I’m shopping in the plus-sized department, excited that I’m reaching the lower numbers as I shed weight, when I encountered a brand new clothing size.

“What is this?” I asked the young, thin, chipper sales clerk. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the tag in the shirt I held.

“Oh, that’s our new size.”

“What is it? It looks like a word.”

“Oh, that’s OX.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“OX.”

I stared for a few incredulous seconds before I held the tag up and showed her. I spoke slowly to make sure she understood.

“Do you see that word right there?”

“Uh…”

“Do you really think I’m going to feel better about myself having the word ox in my clothing?”

“Well, it’s a new size. Really. It’s smaller than X.”

“That’s funny, because X used to fit me just fine. You do realize the only thing that has occurred is a shifting of sizes?”

The poor child looked at me blankly. And truly, I didn’t mean to take it out on her. I guess I just wanted a little respect and better selections for full-figured women everywhere. Not insults to my intelligence in the form of OX.

Gag Me With a Spoon

Lightning Juice is all about funny tales from family life, so today’s is a Retro Lightning Juice from the Reagan years. Enjoy!

~~~~~

Gag Me With a SpoonBoys will be boys, and girls will be girls. But when they’re teenagers, regardless of the decade, they all turn into little monsters. I’m reminded of this by my own teenager, who reminded me of an incident that took place during the late ‘80s, also known as the golden era of big hair and great music, in which my younger brother and I acted in a way that should have earned us a grounding.

Out of the blue one day, our father asked my brother, Heath, and me to make chili for dinner. In our defense, I’m not exactly sure what Dad was thinking. It’s not as if Heath and I could cook and not because our mother didn’t try. We just didn’t care. We were teenagers, and the only thing that concerned us was getting to the dinner table on time. How the food arrived was not our concern.

Of course, being teens we were highly disgruntled at Dad yanking us away from whatever leisurely activity we were engaged in, which is to say we weren’t doing a stinking thing. I recall that we had some sort of idea how to make the chili, and Dad helped by setting out all the things that went into the pot. At least we had enough sense to brown the meat before adding the rest of the ingredients. That’s where our common sense ended.

When it came time to season the chili, a devious little plan entered our heads. Well, actually, it entered my head, but Heath was quick to accept the idea. He even snickered in the most sly and sneaky way, so I’m crediting him with fifty percent of the accountability on this one.

Now everyone knows that chili is a zesty, spicy dish that ranges in degrees of heat from the mild “did I really just eat chili or was that oatmeal,” to the hot “oh, my goodness, I feel warm.” Heath and I opted for “Dear Lord in Heaven, I can no longer feel my tongue and throat, somebody call an ambulance.”

We didn’t exactly abandon Mom’s recipe, we kind of ignored and/or enhanced it by doubling, possibly tripling, the amount of chili powder we put in the pot. It was our way of ensuring that Dad never again made the mistake of interrupting our nothingness with the silly request to make dinner. And then we spotted the cayenne pepper.

By this time we were both giggling as we spooned in the cayenne and the red pepper flakes we also spied in the cupboard. But wait—there’s more. We rummaged through the refrigerator searching for anything else that might be remotely toasty to the palate and came up with Texas Pete peppers and Tabasco Sauce. Do you know how many shakes of that tiny Tabasco bottle it takes to empty half of it?

Like a couple of witches standing over their cauldron, Heath and I added and stirred, making sure our secrets ingredients were well hidden in the mix. Imagine how pleased our mother was to come home from work to find dinner made by her darling children. I remember her exact comment after the prayer during which Heath and I barely suppressed our laughter all the while making surreptitious eye contact.

“Well, this is interesting,” Mom said after a choked down spoonful.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it was nigh unto inedible. At any moment, Dad would realize his gross mistake and concede that the making of dinner was best left to him or Mom. It wasn’t to be. We all looked to Dad who was slurping up the concoction like it was manna from Heaven.

“This is (slurp, slurp) the best (slurp) chili I’ve (slurp, slurp) ever had.”

With faded smiles slipping from our faces, Heath and I tried to conceal our disappointment. Sure, Dad’s forehead had broken out in beads of sweat, his face was beet red, but he ate two bowls of chili without a single sip of milk to quench the burn. The rest of us gagged it down.

My brother and I probably sound like little demons. We were. I’ll never know if Dad ate the chili to make us feel good for giving it the ole college try, or if he suspected what we had done. To this day, he’d never admit either way. But keep one thing in mind, as far as my brother and I go, the apples don’t fall far from the tree. Don’t believe me? Just ask Dad’s three sisters how ornery he was as a kid.

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