Tonight I only have time for one story, so I'm going to tell you about Allyson's birthday.
Her first little celebration was on Monday the 6th, the night before her birthday. She shocked me this year by deviating from the dinner request that both she and Ethan have made every year for as long as I can remember: yellow rice and chicken. This time, she wanted pierogies, those little Polish dumplings filled with mashed potatoes. Instead of cake, she wanted homemade apple pie.
Now, I've only ever made pierogies once in my life, and the memory of that day carries a complicated mix of emotions. It was several years back, on one of our semi-annual trips to visit Bill's family in Canada. While the rest of the family went on a fun outing, Bill's mom and I spent nearly the entire day making pierogies. We mixed and kneaded the dough by hand and then rolled it out thin. We cut little circles, stuffed them with seasoned potatoes, folded them, and crimped them. Sandi folded hers neatly by hand, and I used a little pierogi-making gadget which someone had given her but which she did not trust. The truth was, nothing could make that task easy for my fumbling fingers.
But what I remember most about that day was chatting and laughing with Sandi for hours, and then savoring the sweet success when we tasted those first dumplings. In-credible! Sharing in the lavish praise that evening when the entire family devoured hours' worth of labor in minutes was also pretty gratifying.
Looking back, I'm torn between nostalgia, loneliness for my other "Mom,"and a little dread at the idea of ever doing all that work again.
So when Allyson asked for pierogies, my first question was, "From scratch?"
I sighed, but then I smiled as I recalled the growing treasure trove of cooking memories I share with my daughter--such as the first time we teamed up on a pie crust. "I guess we could make them together," I said. "But if we do that, we won't have time to make the pie. We'll have to buy one."
Allyson shook her head. "No, we can't buy the pie. I want to make the same one we made when Jordan came over."
My mouth watered at that memory.
"You're right, we have to make that recipe. I guess I could buy you some frozen pierogies."
"But what about your diet? Can you eat those?"
No, I couldn't. Too many additives and preservatives. But we both decided the apple pie was more important.
We'd planned to take some pie over to our friend Kim's house to sing Happy Birthday with her and her sweet daughter Claire, but we got a very late start, and it was pushing 9 o'clock by the time the pie was ready to go in the oven.
After a moment's hesitation, I dictated a text message to Allyson with a peculiar request for Kim: would she mind if we baked the pie at her house, and if not, could she please preheat her oven to 375?
Kim said to come on over. Luckily Claire had had a late nap and was ready for hours of play with Allyson. And that's how we ended up staying at our neighbors' house until 11:30 on a week night. (School is out for the summer, so Allyson could stay up late, but I had to be up early for work.)
The pie was fabulous, but there wasn't enough of it. Of course, we cut a piece for Kim and Claire, and when Kim's husband Josh came home, we had to offer him a piece, too. Allyson and I each had two pieces, and that left a modest sliver for Ethan, who would be coming over the next day to give Allyson a birthday present.
"Can I have a piece for breakfast?" Allyson asked on the short, moonlit walk home.
"Don't you want to save the rest of it for Ethan? I already told him about the pie. And I think he's bringing Sumer, too."
"I'll just take a little piece," Allyson said.
I told her I'd leave it to her conscience. I reminded her how Ethan had remembered her birthday, without prompting, and was driving over just to bring her a gift. [I don't think I ever told you that Ethan moved out a couple of months back.]
"I'll just take a little, tiny piece," she said.
The next day, Allyson's actual birthday, was Bill's day. Ethan stopped by on the way to Bill's to show me what he'd bought: two Dr. Who bobble-head dolls and two mystery Minecraft boxes, plus a funny card with ten dollars in it. I was so proud of my young man! Who knew he paid so much attention to what his little sister likes?
Turns out he only took a couple of bites of pie, and there was still a smallish piece left. Score! I cut the piece in half and reveled in every bite. But it was gone way too quickly. Surely I should eat the rest of it; Allyson wouldn't be back for two days, and by then it would be stale, I rationalized.
"I'll leave it to your conscience." I hate it when my own words come back to indict me.
With a heavy sigh, I wrapped up the last remnant and put it in the freezer for Allyson's breakfast on Friday. And then I licked up every sticky crumb off the bottom of the pan.
Friday was Allyson's big birthday party. We started with an early dinner at a pizza buffet for Allyson and nine of her closest friends, followed by a sleepover at Bill's house. I brought a giant ice cream cake, Allyson's second birthday dessert request.
"That's a lot of cake," Bill said when he opened it.
"It's a lot of girls," I said. "The next smaller size looked too small. You can take the rest home in case they want a midnight snack."
But by the time everyone had finished their pizza and either ate their cake or mushed it into a disgusting mud pie topped with salt, Parmesan cheese, and Coke, the remaining third of the ice cream cake was melting fast.
"You're throwing that away, right?" Bill asked when I gingerly slid it back into the box.
"I was hoping you'd take it," I replied. "I can't eat it."
"No way. It'll melt all over the car," he said.
"But that's... 13 dollars worth of cake," I protested.
"And it's so good... even if I can't eat it."
"It's going to melt."
I looked around the restaurant, contemplating offering cake to a nice young father and his two cute kids. Nah, not even I could do something that weird.
I sighed. "I guess I'll take it and put it in the freezer."
He shrugged. "Suit yourself."
You know what's worse than having to admit that your husband was right? Admitting that your ex-husband was right.
I think I made it one block before I felt the first icy dribble on my right knee. At the stoplight, I carefully leveled the box. There. If I could only keep it steady, wedged under the steering wheel, maybe the leaking would stay contained.
The whole cake started slipping to the right side of the box, and rivulets of brown, sticky, slippery goo coursed down the hollow in my quadriceps toward my white shorts--which I've somehow managed to keep white for several years now.
Tilting the box the opposite direction with my left hand, I fished in my purse with my right for a used Kleenex and sopped up the mess just before it reached my shorts.
"Does anyone have a Kleenex?" I asked.
My half of the slumber party guests all replied in the negative.
"Oh boy," I said. "Nooo!" I wailed when we hit yet another red light.
Just as I was thinking that maybe I'd gotten the angle just right, I felt the first drip on my left thigh. A quick glance told me I'd overcompensated, and the gooey mass had migrated to the opposite side of the box.
I quickly switched the sodden tissue to my other hand. "Allyson, isn't there a whole box of Kleenexes under my seat?" I asked desperately.
"I don't see it," she said.
"I think we took it in the house."
As I pulled away from the light, both sides of the box started dripping down my legs and onto the seat. Argh, what was it with beating up on my still kind-of-new car lately? In the last few weeks, I'd scuffed the left fender with paint when I backed out of the driveway sideways to go around the mailman, and then backed into the trailer hitch of a very large truck that had extended way over the line in the Home Depot parking lot. "I guess this car is officially not new," I thought.
I ignored the temptation to throw the whole box out the window. Only two more blocks to go.
As I checked the door pocket one more time, my eyes fell on the potpourri jar filled with baking powder and essential oils--a mason jar with a colorful cloth hankie held in place by the lid ring. I picked up that jar and awkwardly rubbed the hankie overhang against my thighs and across the seat. Not ideal, but it helped me get through those last blocks.
While the girls waited in the car, I transferred that soggy mess into the garage deep freeze. Yes, I kept it. Wouldn't you, after going to all that trouble?
Two minutes later, I came back out with a wet towel, which I used to wipe down my leg, the seat, and the sticky steering wheel. Whew! No harm done.
And then I dropped all of those girls over at Bill's to stay up all night while I enjoyed a nice, quiet evening at home.
For the record, Allyson did enjoy another piece of that mangled ice cream cake on Sunday, though it took me a lot of effort to pry it off of the cardboard after a few days in the deep freeze. As you can see, it didn't look too appetizing, but Allyson assured me it was quite tasty.
There's about ten dollars' worth left. Anyone want to come help me eat it?