German chocolate cake and Things I’ve Learned: Baby Turns 1 Edition

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A few weeks ago, Gordo, my son, my baby, turned 1. Which, as the pediatrician informed us, means he’s no longer an infant JESUS YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO SAY IT OUT LOUD. He’s a toddler now, and his main activities are 1). speaking in tongues, and 2). falling off the back porch.

Most days, I feel stupefied by exhaustion. In the span of a year I went from spending my evenings slowly chopping vegetables FILE UNDER THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW I COULD MISS BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW THEY COULD BECOME IMPOSSIBLE and sipping wine from a glass made of glass and eating dinner on a white couch as I watched whatever the fuck I wanted on Netflix, to co-managing a household and co-parenting a child whom I’m still feeding from my body; waiting until everyone is asleep before taking one beautiful hand-painted bowl from Sicily down from the shelf, eating my dinner in it, washing it, drying it, and putting it back on a high shelf; and scrubbing food stains out of my white couch with baking soda and finally just fucking giving up I ALWAYS DREAMED OF LIVING IN A HOUSE COVERED IN TOWELS AND NOW I HAVE ACHIEVED THAT DREAM.

Add to all this the fact that MY BABY COULD DIE AT ANY MOMENT.

On the worst days, the anxiety sits at the base of my throat like a lump, and my body feels weak and boneless. My appetite goes haywire; I can’t tell when I’m hungry or when I’m full. Some days, it charges through my chest like electricity, spiking like one of those machines that measures crowd excitement at a sporting event.

Other days, I burst into tears at situations that have nothing to do with me. I empathize with everyone, including people I haven’t met, which is REALLY INCONVENIENT COULD WE JUST GET BACK TO ME AND MY NEEDS.

Other days, I look at my family and my home, my husband and my child, all of whom appeared in my life in 2017, and feel dazed with happiness. I have done nothing to deserve any of this and in fact have worked tirelessly to ensure none of it would happen APPARENTLY I NEED TO BE “MANAGED” AT “WEDDINGS” AND OTHER “SOCIAL GATHERINGS” WHERE “RESPECTFUL BEHAVIOR” IS “EXPECTED.” And yet. I have a perfect baby. I have a perfect husband. I have a perfect house. I even have a motherfucking dog, although the dog is the same color as the carpet runner, where she likes to fall asleep, which means she is often a FUCKING HAZARD WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU WHY CAN’T YOU STAY IN YOUR BED AT ALL TIMES MOVE MOVE.

This is what I’ve learned this year:

  1. People without kids who complain about being tired are FUCKING USELESS SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA.
  2. People without kids don’t get it. I didn’t get it, and every day I discover a new way I didn’t get it. If you have kids, you understand this. If you don’t, you won’t until, and unless, you have kids.
  3. Mucus does not bother me in the way it once did. There is often a vacuum seal of mucus between my son’s nose and my breast, and his food is often covered in mucus. C’est la vie.
  4. Kids are like house music: NONSTOP EVERY DAY ALL DAY. This has been the hardest adjustment. There are no vacations. In fact, “vacation” no longer has the same ring to it, because whereas “vacation” once meant MAYBE I’LL HAVE SEX WITH AN ART STUDENT IN A RENTED ROOM IN MONTEPULCIANO AND THEN GO SPLIT A BISTECCA AND A BOTTLE OF BRUNELLO now it means traveling with a 47-pound duffle bag, a 17-pound car seat, and two carry-ons, sitting in an aisle seat with a sweaty 26-pound baby who never stops moving on my lap, and still — STILL — trying to sip a $7.50 mini-bottle of prosecco out of the bottle because A PLASTIC CUP ARE YOU KIDDING ME DO YOU SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE.
  5. Mothers’ groups are hotbeds of privilege and self-righteousness.
  6. Waiting to have a kid, although purely circumstantial in my case, is a really good idea. I cannot imagine trying to make a straight line of cocaine while holding a baby, let alone snorting it and then sitting in a corner with a bemused smile on my face until 4 a.m. when the drugs run out and I have to try to fall asleep while crashing I DO NOT MISS A SECOND OF MY TWENTIES AND IN FACT REGRET 1996-2006 WHAT A WASTE OF TEN YEARS I COULD HAVE BEEN DOING ANYTHING ELSE.
  7. I have spent 41 years worrying about NOTHING. I could have been sleeping! I have lost so much sleep worrying about things I’ve said and done, when none of it mattered or holds a candle to all the ways my baby could die and all of which I must imagine so I can form a series of contingency plans.
  8. Nothing is as cute as a baby in sunglasses.
  9. The exponential growth of the first year is unforgiving. I literally did not know what my baby looked like for the first few weeks and kept taking pictures in case I would recognize him in one of the pictures. Who was this human being who had come out of my body? Is this real? SJ and I had sex once, and then this person? No. Science-fiction. Then, about three months in, my baby started to look like the person I recognize today. And still, I look back at pictures and videos from the last year and I remember nothing. He made that sound? He used to do that with his hands? I meet other newborns and wonder, was my baby this small? And how did my smush-faced newborn grow into a toddler who knows how to say a three-syllable word in ONE YEAR? AT THAT RATE I SHOULD BE ABLE TO SPEAK 14 LANGUAGES PILOT ALL THE AIRCRAFT BUILD A BRIDGE BACKPACK THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL WITH NOTHING BUT A CAN OPENER UNDERSTAND THE APPEAL OF JAKE GYLLENHAAL — YES I SAW DONNIE DARKO AND I STILL DON’T GET IT — AND FINALLY — FINALLY — GIVE MYSELF A “SMOKY EYE.”
  10. Hormones are real. That emotion you think you’re having? Nope. Hormones.
  11. Postpartum anxiety is real. I didn’t understand it while it was happening because it wasn’t postpartum depression, the only condition I could possibly have, according to the internet. I thought the panic attack I had at the thought I’d nearly killed my baby by putting him on a pillow — a soft thing, which, I read during an unfortunate moment, was not supporting his neck and could have led to him suffocating while I was RIGHT THERE — was some biological thing that was keeping my baby alive. I also thought that my belief that someone, mostly me, needed to be awake at all times with the baby so he wouldn’t die while someone/I was asleep was some biological thing that was keeping my baby alive. Not true. Apparently not everyone has these thoughts. If you’re having these thoughts, get help, whatever that means for you. Regular exercise, being outdoors, less alcohol, more sleep, and more therapy are the winning combination for me, and I still struggle with anxiety, if I haven’t made that clear.
  12. Being pregnant is kind of unpleasant.
  13. America’s treatment of pregnant women and postpartem moms is a fucking disaster.
  14. I do not care about your kids. Like, AT ALL. I’m nodding and making the right faces and sounds, but that shit is boring BACK TO MY BABY DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT HE MAKES A SOUND THAT SOUNDS LIKE “THANK YOU” HE SAYS “AY OOO” ISN’T THAT AMAZING DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW AMAZING MY BABY IS.
  15. I can’t watch porn anymore. Every once in while, when no one else is home (this situation does not happen very often), I think, “Porn! That used to be fun!” And I search the internet and click a video and two seconds later I’m like, nope. None of it. Never again.
  16. Yelling, once a fun habit, takes up too much energy.
  17. I still hate it when people clap to the beat during musical performances STOP FUCKING CLAPPING YOU’RE ALL EXCITED NOW BUT IN A FEW BARS YOU’RE GOING TO REMEMBER HOW LONG THIS SONG REALLY IS AND THEN YOU’RE GOING TO SLOW DOWN AND MISS THE BEAT AND YOUR CLAPPING IS GOING TO TRAIL OFF AND DEMORALIZE EVERYONE EXCEPT FOR A FEW ROBUST SOULS WHO WERE BORN DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND WHO WILL DETERMINEDLY CLAP UNTIL THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY THE ONLY ONES CLAPPING AND THEN THEY WILL STOP CLAPPING AND NO ONE WILL BE CLAPPING YET THE SONG WILL STILL BE GOING ON AND YOU’LL JUST SWAY UNCOMFORTABLY SMILING UNTIL YOUR FACE HURTS NO LONGER ENJOYING THE SONG BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR HANDS.
  18. Babies get woodies. I did not know this.
  19. I bow before single moms. You’re doing this BY YOURSELF? It’s just you and your BABY/BABIES? I don’t get how that works. I happen to have a particularly involved partner who is both a stellar husband/friend and father, but even if he did only half of what he does I would still be able to take a shower sometimes. Respect.
  20. This shit would suck without my husband. Not only for the division of labor, although that’s a big part of it. Having someone else who understands that this baby is the cutest, funniest, most amazing creature on the planet does everything toward making me believe it’s all real and it matters.
  21. I am not the mom I expected to be. Which means I’m not the person I thought I was. Or maybe I’m just different now. Normally, I’m pretty hard-driving. I’m hard on myself, and I can be a fucking nightmare with other people. I recently gushed to a young co-worker who quit for greener pastures about how much I enjoyed working with her, and she was shocked into stuttering because she thought I hated her. I thought this hard-driving nature would transfer to my nature as a parent, that my life would be about rules, sleep-training, and swift punishment, and that my needs would supersede the needs of my child OH NO. All I do is imagine how I’m going to sell my organs to finance his rock band and then land him the perfect job as a bank teller. I want my child to sit behind bulletproof glass all day, have soft hands, and walk to work from my house, where he lives and possibly still breastfeeds at the age of 37. WHATEVER YOU NEED BABY MOMMY’S GOT YOU WHENEVER YOU NEED ME I’LL BE THERE I’LL BE AROUND.
  22. No matter what I write in this blog to get a laugh, and no matter what is true about my anxiety and the difficulties of parenting, being the mother to this baby has given purpose to my life. Nothing makes me happier. NOTHING. I AM SO FUCKING HAPPY. I miss him when I’m not with him. I can’t believe he’s so cute. He’s the funniest person I’ve ever met. I’m grateful for how I’ve had to slow my life down, and narrow it to the essentials, to accommodate him. I am constantly amazed at the world, and this is the same world I lived in before he was born. Holding him and kissing him are my favorite things. I don’t know what the fuck I was doing before.

Our cousin Kaila made our baby his first birthday cake! My grandmother made me a German chocolate cake every year for my birthday, and although she was passive-aggressive and purse-lipped toward family members while maintaining an outward facade of church-going rectitude, she smelled like Dove soap and Aquanet and her baking was on point.

The cake recipe is a classic, the Rich Devil’s Food recipe on page 680 of Fannie Farmer. You need:

  • 4 TB cocoa
  • 2 1/2 TB sugar
  • 2 TB water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks, well beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. soda
  • 2 egg whites, beaten until stiff

You need to do this three times:

  • Cook cocoa, 2 1/2 TB sugar, and water in double boiler until thick.
  • Add milk, and set aside to cool.
  • Cream butter with sugars, beat in yolks, and add vanilla and cocoa mixture.
  • Beat in flour sifted with cream of tartar, salt, and soda.
  • Fold in whites.
  • Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

The frosting is from this Betty Crocker recipe. You need:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar or packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
  • 1 cup evaporated milk (from 12-oz .can)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

You need to:

  • In a 2-quart saucepan, stir the egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, the evaporated milk, and 1 tsp. vanilla until well mixed.
  • Cook over medium heat about 12 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly.
  • Stir in the coconut and pecans.
  • Cool about 30 minutes, beating occasionally with a spoon, until mixture is spreadable.

Then you need to:

  • Place 1 cake layer, rounded side down, on a cake plate; using a metal spatula, spread 1/3 of the filling over the layer.
  • Add second layer, rounded side down; spread with 1/3 of the filling.
  • Add third layer, rounded side up; spread with remaining filling, leaving side of cake unfrosted.
  • Store cake covered in the refrigerator.

Then you need to find someone to make the cake for you, because who has the fucking time to make a birthday cake for a 1-year-old! Thanks, Kaila! (See how amazing she is? She’s trying to finish college and recently got devastating news about her financial aid. Please give her $25.)

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Arne Johnson says:

    As per usual, you’ve made my day…dropping off the boys for the first day of school this morning many similar thoughts rushed through my verklempt-y brain…well, maybe not the cocaine part, or some of the female physiology parts, but yeah. So often I stand around nodding blankly as other dads complain about how having kids has kinda muddied up their lives and I’m thinking the whole time, “Those days before kids so you could do what?! Have one more beer?! Jesus…What did you honestly do in your twenties that was better than watching the grin spread across your son’s face when his friends rush to grab him as they discover they’re in the same class this year?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww they’re back in school! What an amazing moment, Arne. No contest with a beer. ❤

      Like

  2. dcpphotos says:

    One of your best….that has become a cliche….I have to come up with more detailed, nuanced, acerbic responses….meanwhile, I tend to reread everything, pausing occasionally to wipe an eye….metaphorically, and literally. I love you, Jenny……. YODAD David C. Pritchett 2134 Maple Avenue Evanston,IL 60201 davidpritchett1@yahoo.com

    Like

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