Playing Favorites?

Growing up (and, frankly, to this day), I always thought that my brother was my mother’s favorite. It wasn’t overt, it’s not like she gave him better desserts, or let him off the hook in terms of chores because he was a boy. Ultimately, even suspecting that Dr. Bro was her favorite didn’t hurt me or our relationship.

I never felt that my father had a favorite, although I think he enjoyed his two “daddy’s girls”. He liked to play the protector, the knight. He wanted to give Dr. Sis and I a healthy male role model to look up to — someone who was a breadwinner, who loved and respected our mother, a man who prioritized his marriage, and who pulled his weight around the house. He was tougher on my brother in terms of discipline because he wanted him to grow up to be a good man. (Well, done, Dad. I think it worked.)

I think maybe I was at times resentful of being the oldest child; I found certain things unfair. For example, I was the one testing the boundaries, and when I busted them — and boy howdy, did I know how to bust a boundary, especially as a teenager — I got well and appropriately punished. But I didn’t see the Dr. Bro get the same consequences. Which isn’t to say that he didn’t. I just didn’t see it.

And never mind Dr. Sis. Raising three children now, I get the baby-syndrome thing. When it comes to parenting Michael, I understand. I’m tired. Whatever works to get him to a) stop whining and b) go to sleep. I’m in.

I’m sure Dr. Bro and Dr. Sis have their own feelings about all of this, and I suspect that one of them is totally assured that he is the favorite child, forever and ever, amen. *ahem*

Author, Dr. Bro, Dr. Sis
I think we are 7, 5, and 3 in this picture.

++

On the way to school Monday morning, this story came on NPR, and the girls and I listened to it. (I am not sure how *closely* they listened to it.)

And yes, my first instinct was to stab the button to change the channel, but I overrode that instinct. I like riding in the car and talking about stuff with my children. It’s probably a captive audience type thing.

When the story was over, I asked Kate and Flora if they thought I had a favorite. They said no, they didn’t think I did. I asked if they felt I treated them differently. In the car, they said no. However, I know that Flora often feels the burden of being the oldest, and knowing that her father and I have higher expectations of her, than we do for her siblings (at this point). And I know that she struggles with that (as did I). And I also know that both girls think I spoil Michael rotten. Or at least let him get his way more often than they get their way.

They may not be wrong. (I’m tired, I said it.)

++

The mother of four adult children passed away. She had been a good wife and mother, and active in her church, at her job, and in her community. She was well-loved and well-regarded, and her funeral was very well attended.

Of course, all four of her children were there, all with their spouses and children. They celebrated her life. Over the course of the wake after the funeral, her oldest child finally couldn’t stand it anymore. At dinner that evening, he called all his siblings together, and said, “Now that mom’s gone, I just can’t hold it in anymore. I have to tell you all: She always told me I was her favorite.”

His brother and two sisters were shocked. “I don’t know why she would tell you that,” the older sister said. “She told me all the time that I was her favorite.”

“Yeah, well,” said the younger brother, and baby of the family. “She told me that all the time, too.”

The younger sister was nodding. “Yup. All the time. ‘Don’t tell the others,’ Mom would whisper while putting me to bed. ‘But you’re my absolute favorite.'”

++

Do I have a favorite? While I love all my children equally, I do sometimes think I have a favorite. Of course it varies from day to day and hour to hour. And the reason varies too. Michael has a special place in my heart for being the boy I get to raise; I love Kate’s complete enthusiasm — she may have been my favorite for a while Sunday while roller skating. She was utterly fearless, not afraid to look silly or fall down. She got out on that rink, and didn’t stop skating until we told her it was time to go. (Yesterday morning, Kate groaned, “I’m really sore.” I didn’t see her make it once around the rink without taking a spill. But that didn’t stop her.) I love Flora’s curiosity and growing sense of responsibility.

When we put the children to bed, we usually say to them, “You’re my favorite Flora.” And Kate, “You’re my favorite Kate.” Or I’ll tell Michael, “You’re my favorite little boy.” And it’s true.

They are my favorite.

M, Kate, Flora
How could I choose just one?

Who’s your favorite? I promise not to tell.

Meatless Monday: Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

There was absolutely no reason to make cupcakes on Saturday. But Flora was getting lots of attention because she was going to a Father-Daughter dance that evening (a special hair appointment, and the dance itself), so as a consolation prize, I told Kate we would make cupcakes.

My major miscalculation on Saturday was time management. I was really hoping that Kate and I would get to baking during Michael’s naptime, but it just didn’t happen. I had to give Flora a bath before her hair appointment, and I was trying to get the house in order for a dinner party we were having Sunday. (Okay, five people including Dan and me, plus the five children, but still — party!)

And then on top of everything else, I had found this Ina Garten recipe for exactly what I wanted to make, but despite my attempts to actually read through the recipe earlier in the day, it wasn’t until I finally got Michael to bed that I realized I didn’t have two or three of the ingredients Ina uses.

So then I went to my old stand-by at CupcakeRecipes.com, but I wasn’t really crazy about their directions (“Combine all ingredients into large mixing bowl.” What? What happened to creaming the sugar and butter together?). Plus I didn’t have baking chocolate. Powdered cocoa, yes; solid baking chocolate, no.

So, heart in my throat, I tweaked — a lot — a baking recipe.

Until Saturday night, this was unheard of, people. I am a confident cook, but a cautious baker. However, I had promised Kate that we would do this. She had been asking me all. day. long. I couldn’t let her down.

I give you:

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
rpm version

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 level tablespoons of baking cocoa

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons coffee
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper liners (Kate loves this job, and is very good at it.)

Sift together in a small bowl the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add salt and cocoa.

In large mixing bowl, cream together sugar, brown sugar, and butter using an electric hand mixer. Add coffee, and one egg; mix again. Add second egg and mix. Add milk and vanilla, and mix until you have a lumpy liquid.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and blend with electric hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping down the bowl frequently.

Fill liners 1/2 to 2/3 full of batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in pans, then place on wire rack to cool completely.

Frost cupcakes when completely cool.

Peanut Butter Cream Frosting

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 table spoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix together with an electric hand mixer until smooth. (If you read the recipe at the Food Network site, you will notice that Ina does it differently. Ina has shiny baking tools in her kitchen that I do not possess.)

This frosting is so good, I would eat it with a spoon if I had absolutely no self control.

++

Kate and I started baking around 7:30-8 p.m., and at 9:15, Kate finally got her cupcake. Lots of waiting in there, and I have to give her tons of credit. Kate is good to bake with. She is patient, and she listens, doing what I ask her to do. She lets me measure the ingredients, then adds them without spilling (much). She is more than happy to lick the beaters while I fill cupcake liners. Even though waiting for the cupcakes to be cool enough for the frosting was tough, she hung in there, and was justly rewarded.

She gave these cupcakes and the frosting two thumbs up. I do too!

Are you a confident baker? Can you just whip up recipes? Or do you tread carefully around confections, like me?

Compare and Contrast

As each of my daughters grows and gets older, it becomes more clear exactly how different each of them is.

Aside from their build (tall and skinny, like you-know-who), their brains, and their beauty, they don’t have a stitch in common. Well, those and the girly propensity for drama, of course.

Monkey is a dark-haired blue-eyed beauty, with olive-toned skin. Bun is a blonde (after her Bella) with hazel green eyes (my eyes) and Irish-fair skin.

As an infant, Monkey was so noisy, even as she slept, I called her uccellino (Italian for “little bird”, pronounced “oo-che-lino”). She was always chirping. Bun was quiet, quiet, quiet. As a result, Bun co-slept with us a little longer — I am an extremely light sleeper, and Monkey kept me up, even though I was so exhausted. Nonetheless, they were both in a crib in a separate room by five months.

Monkey was a skinny baby. That girl never had a fat roll. Bun was my chubby one — and then she turned 18 months old, lost all her toddler fat, and grew two inches overnight. True story.

When Monkey started being more alert as an infant, she thought that 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. was party time. That was a bad few weeks. Then somewhere in between four and five months of age, her internal clock switched — not a day too soon.

Bun’s alert times started out during the day right away. Thank goodness, because I don’t know how I would have stayed up with her at night and then stayed up with Monkey during the day. Probably being part of a daylight household helped Bun right off the bat.

Temperamentally, they are different, too. Monkey is calmer (I can’t believe I just wrote that), more inquisitive, with an impressive attention span for a 4-and-a-half year old.

Monkey is more aloof as well. She often plays by herself even when she is in a group of kids (something I’ve noticed when I pick her up from day school), and she is less physically affectionate. She decides when and where and whom she will kiss or hug.

Bun is in-your-face. She is bossy; she is demanding of attention. Although she likes to cuddle, she is so squirmy it can be challenging. She jumps on you, and she hugs so hard she can hurt you.

Bun is expressive and more emotional. She shrugs her whole body when she is asking a question; her eyes open wide, wider, widest. Or she glares and frowns; she puts her hands on her hips. Or she throws her head back in laughter.

Monkey is more still, and was more still even as a 2-year-old. She listens to stories as I read; she watches TV shows.

Bun cannot sit still, ever, at all. Not for dinner, not for TV, not for night time treat. She doesn’t walk anywhere — she runs. I don’t know how she actually manages to fall asleep, all the wiggling that goes on.

At night, Monkey gets in her bed and stays there; she never had a problem (or was a problem, I should say) with the transition to a toddler bed. We all know Bun’s a different story.

Monkey is pretty easy going. Don’t get me wrong: she pushes her boundaries, and pouts, and can scream with the best of them. But at this point, she is starting to discover some self control, as well as the ability to express empathy (saying “I’m sorry” for example). Bun… well, I’ll give her a couple more years on this.

Two other things they have in common: they are good eaters, have always been good eaters. I think Monkey tried to get picky on me, and I just ignored her. And they love music — they dance and sing and play with sound.

They are amazing. They floor me. Their differences really floor me: same parents, same environment, but two such different little girls and personalities.

Everyday is something new, for all of us.