Monthly Archives: December 2012

Brisket for Thanksgiving?

For several years, my sister and I have been alternating hosting duties for our major holidays; Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, etc. The first year that I hosted Rosh Hashanah, my mom brought the cooked brisket to my house. I pretty much just set the table. The next year she brought the brisket, raw, and we prepared it together. We sat on my front porch and schmoozed away the hours it took to cook. Then came the year I was ready to solo. It was a success, with a brisket as good as Mom’s, if I do say so myself.

Through my years of brisket-training, I was able to avoid the Thanksgiving turkey—until this year, when it was my turn to host Thanksgiving. Knowing how much I did not want to make a turkey, my mother suggested she would cook it and bring it over. There was a precedent, the brisket, so without giving it any thought, I accepted. However, upon reflection, I realized that a turkey was not a brisket, and I had trouble envisioning how Mom would successfully transport the bird. A brisket, after all, is a flat slab of meat, easy to carry in a pan with a lid, a turkey, not so much.

My mother then suggested she would come to my house and we’d prepare the bird together. Since that had worked so well with the brisket, I acquiesced. But the evening before Thanksgiving I remembered my mother’s fatal flaw: She is not a morning person. I thought that asking her to get up early to come over and walk me through the preparation would be selfish. I told her I could manage on my own, if she told me what to do.

So the night before Thanksgiving, my mother gave me a turkey tutorial over the phone. I made notes, many of which I was, unfortunately, unable to decipher. A few elements were legible; brown (which I knew was for brown paper bag), backwards (which I think was how the bird was to go into the bag, unless it wasn’t), and figure eight (which had something to do with the string I never used).

With Andrew’s help I got the bird into the paper bag, but he was skeptical. He said people sometimes tented a bag over the turkey, but he’d never heard of encasing the bird in the bag. “How are you supposed to baste it?” he asked.

Baste it?

We got the bird tucked into the oven, and when I was reasonably certain my mother would be awake I called her. It turns out you don’t baste it. That’s the whole point of the paper bag.

I’m not a big fan of turkey, but this one was delicious. It could be because it was a ridiculously expensive bird, fresh and brined, sourced from a local farm stand because I didn’t know any better. Or it could be that turkeys are insanely simple to make. Whatever the reason was for my success, I conquered another holiday meal, and made my mother proud. And for that I am truly grateful.

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How can good grades be bad?

When it comes to grades, sometimes it’s harder to parent a child who consistently gets good grades than a child who under-achieves. Let’s hop into the way-back machine so I can explain using my own experience as a mediocre student as an example.

I regularly brought home disappointing grades. My mother would say things like, “You’re not working hard enough,” or, “Perhaps you should spend less time watching television and more time studying.” My mother knew the basic message she had to deliver to me; work harder, or else.

My older sister, on the other hand, was an earnest, hard-working student. And the oldest, I think we can agree, is traditionally burdened with higher expectations than the middle child (me). On the oh-so-rare occasion that she brought home a disappointing grade she would be devastated, and my mom would soothe her and say, “Oh honey, it’s only a C. It doesn’t matter.”

My own daughter, my only daughter, is cursed with the high performance expectations of the oldest child, exacerbated by the unwanted attention that an only gets. Much to her dismay, we expect her to get good grades. On the rare occasion that she brings home a disappointing grade, we are, well, disappointed. Had I not been trotting along behind my older sister, sprinkling bad grades behind her, my mother might not have had the perspective to say to her first-born, “There, there. It doesn’t matter.”

My child is plagued by one other difference; she doesn’t appear to work terribly hard to get her good grades. I say “appear,” because on this point our realities differ. How do you tell a child that gets excellent grades that they should work harder?

A recent New Yorker had a piece about the value, or lack thereof, of homework. They claimed that studies show that doing homework, or not, doesn’t have much of an impact on grades. If that’s true, then maybe my daughter doesn’t need to work harder. But while homework may sometimes include the directive to study, studying should not be restricted to homework assignments.

The fact that we expect our daughter to perform well in school doesn’t have any impact on how we feel when she does. But like the Gary Larson cartoon where the dog only hears “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” all our daughter hears is criticism. When report cards came out for the first time this school year, my husband and I went to great lengths to let our daughter know how proud we were. We’re learning, slowly but surely, that even if expectations align with reality, we should take nothing for granted. Even so, I doubt my daughter will ever hear me say, “It’s only a C. It doesn’t matter,” not, anyway, until I hear it from my mom.

There’s got to be a pony somewhere

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. In an attempt to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile and began digging.

“What are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked.

“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

(Stolen shamelessly from some random web site with the assumption that retelling a joke is as fair use as it gets.)

I had to Google the joke itself because I couldn’t remember the setup, but the punch line has been a favorite of mine for years, although when I say it I use shit instead of manure. Maybe that’s because I didn’t remember that a little boy said it, or maybe because it just sounds better that way.

In any case, my husband and I were out with friends the other night. One of the guys said something that prompted me to remark, “There’s got to be a pony there somewhere.”

He laughed appreciatively, but his wife cocked her head and looked at me as if to say, “Huh?”

A third friend said, “What are you talking about?”

I said, “The joke. With all that shit, there has to be a pony somewhere.”

She shook her head. “Nope. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I turned to her husband. He shrugged. Horrified, I said to the first guy, “Well you know the joke don’t you? You laughed!”

“Never heard it,” he said.

“Then why did you laugh?”

“I figured you were trying to make me feel better by saying something about a cute little horse.

How could it be that I was the only one who knew that joke? We’re all within a few years of each other, age-wise, so it’s not like there was a generation gap. Even my husband claimed he hadn’t heard it, and I guarantee I’ve said it in front of him before. (That, however, may be a case of the selective hearing practiced by all happily married couples.)

He did point out that I have been known to say to him, in exasperation, “Why aren’t you two ponies?” which is what Charlie Brown said to Snoopy when he was trying to figure out how to ask out the little red-haired girl. They didn’t know that reference either.

snoopy

Up until now I’ve accepted as a universal truth that at some point in their lives all children ask, “Can I have a pony? It can live under my bed.” But maybe that was just me. Maybe I have an unhealthy pony obsession. Come on friends, saddle up and weigh in on this.

If I said to you, “With all this shit, there has to be a pony somewhere,” would you know what I was talking about? Inquiring minds want to know.