All Things Mom

Jeremy Affeldt, relief pitcher for the Giants, said about his mom: “If I did bad – she have me a hug. If I did good – she gave me a hug.” It sounds like Jeremy had a pretty great mom.

Anyway – It’s Mothers’ Day, which means kids making little paper hearts, TV shows running “mom-themed” episodes, and flower shops everywhere making a small killing. It also means that here at All Things ‘Zilla, I enlisted the help of my dear sister Katy in compiling a list of some our favorite memories of us and our mom from childhood.

Happy Mothers’ Day, Maman.

PS – (Pre-scriptum?) I have decided to bold the main elements of each memory. I’ve noticed other bloggers doing this. I don’t want to be left out of a hip internet trend, so I’m doing it too!

Vive les mères!

Butter & chocolate sandwiches on baguettes in France. Seriously, have you ever had a butter & chocolate sandwich? Because the argument could be made that you haven’t yet truly lived if the answer is no. Here’s how you make it: you take some bread, preferably a delicious baguette sliced lengthwise, you spread some butter (probably unsalted), and then you put some chocolate on there. Like, hard chocolate in squares from a bar; dark chocolate is best. Drop everything and go make one now, then come back, and finish reading this post.

Maman & Bret

I used to eat ice cream so fast and get so cold that I would curl up in my mom’s lap to warm up.

“Le Gouter.” Le gouter is an afternoon snack, traditionally for French schoolchildren, a delightful daily ritual of cookies and milk. We kept our cookies in a red tin above the fridge, too high for the prying hands of small children, and the process of picking out which cookies we were going to choose was among the most challenging and important decisions we made as children.

The song she made up for us when we were little to help us go to sleep. It went like this: “Katy et Bret font dodo, lo-lo,” repeated several times with a lovely little melody. It simply means “Katy and Bret go to sleep, lo-lo,” and I’ll never forget her singing it to us.

– While on the subject of cookies: making klejner (pronouncer “Kly-ner”), a Danish cookie that is a lengthy process to make, perfect for parents and a couple of kids. The recipe is from my mom’s Danish Grandmother – she called her bestemoder, pronounced “bestemore” – and involves rolling out a chilled dough to a thin layer, cutting out long, narrow diamonds, cutting a slit in the middle, and then threading one end through the slit and pulling the two ends to make a sort of knot-bow. Instead of a rolling pin, my mom always used wine bottles filled with chilled water so that the butter in the dough wouldn’t melt. She and my dad would plop the raw cookies into sizzling hot oil – Katy and I were not allowed anywhere near that, for obvious reasons – and then bring plate after plate of cookies out to us at the dinner table, where we manned the “cover everything in sight with powdered sugar” station. It looked something like this:

This is likely early in the process, because we don't yet have a thick layer of sugar coating every inch of our upper bodies. Also, if you look closely, you'll notice that in Katy's sugar bowl she has a non-traditional klejner shape - some sort of coiled up dough form - which was strictly verboten and I imagine she was immediately sent to her room with no dinner.

– When we had a day off, or were a little sick, our mom would sometimes take us to class with her. She taught French at Mills College, and so Katy and I would be plopped down in those college desk-chairs while she taught her lessons and probably encouraged to draw or otherwise entertain ourselves. I recall bits and pieces from those days, mostly that I would occasionally pipe up from the back with corrections to mistakes the students would make up at the blackboard. In retrospect, I imagine it must have straddled the line between adorable and annoying for the students.

Katy & maman, on the Paris Metro

– She used to threaten to sign opera to us if we continued to misbehave. Then she would start, and we would be mortally embarrassed, and we probably stopped misbehaving. Very effective. And more socially acceptable than spankings.

– She would make up stories for us in French, on the spot, that were completely and absolutely mind-blowing to us as kids. I’m sure she’ll remember more then I do (and I hope she’ll chime in with a comment filling in some of the gaps!), but there are two main stories I still have some memories of. One involved a large flying creature (perhaps a dragon) being shot and killed by some people, but after it died, it had a smile on its face. I remember more the feelings the story evoked rather than more specific details, but I believe that the beast was misunderstood and that the shooting was tragic; and in death, the act of smiling was a powerful act of peace. I remember being mightily affected by the story, so much so that I had dreams of it for days to come and thought a lot about it long after she’d told it to us. The other story was her masterpiece, and I truly wish we had a recording of it – it involved a giant cave (la grotte) and the people who lived in it. I think they were cavemen, but they might have been a different type of prehistoric people. She managed to create a whole world where the people and the sights and sounds seemed real, and it was as captivating as any book.

– The care packages she sent us in college.

– I remember her teaching us animal names and sounds in French; this created a certain amount of awkwardness for her when it came to the French word for seal, which is “foque.” It’s pronounced “Fock” (or something very close). You can imagine her wanting us to keep it down in public when it came to the seals.

The two Katies, hoping for a miracle

– She just brought us back crèpe pans from her most recent trip to France, so that we could continue a tradition she started long ago. We used to spend a week over Christmas in the tiny town of Mineral, California, population ~100, with our good family friends the Hannons. Of the many yearly traditions we gradually enacted over the years we spent up there, one of the favorites was making crepes – and especially flipping them high in the air, forever attempting to maximize the number of (odd-numbered) flips possible. A little while ago we rekindled this tradition, with great success.

When I was very little, in Kindergarten or maybe 1st or 2nd grade, a “big kid” – probably a 4th grader – told me on April Fool’s Day that my mom wasn’t going to come to pick me up. Being young and impressionable as I was, I completely believed him. I started crying. I could pay attention to nothing else. Of course, my mom did come to get me, but the damage was done – leading to weeks of me getting more and more worried towards the end of the every schoolday that no one was coming to get me. I used to sit by the window of the classroom, looking out towards the street, tears welling in my eyes. My mom, being the great mom she was and is, recognized that I was probably going to turn to a life of depression and crime if she didn’t step in, so she decided that after she was done with her Mills classes, she would high-tail it over to my school as quickly as possible and sit outside where I could see her. It was such a massive relief for me, as I started to freak out, to see her sitting there, smiling, waving at me.

[PS to the previous story – one day in the thick of all this, my mom accidentally missed a turnoff on the freeway and suddenly ended up going to San Francisco. When she got to the toll booth, she pleaded with the woman in the booth, telling her an abbreviated version of the whole story, and asked if there was any way she could avoid going all the way into the city. The woman, who sounds like she was very nice and understanding, allowed my mom to cut through the middle of the freeway and head back to Berkeley, in time to get her little, frightened boy.]

One day after school, Katy was due to go home with a classmate, to go to his birthday party with a group of other kids. Misha, the birthday boy, was out sick that day, and Katy started to piece it all together in her mind – if she was supposed to be picked up by Misha’s mom, but he wasn’t there, she’d be abandoned at school and most likely have to spend the night there. Fortunately, our dear maman came to pick her up, and took her to Edie’s, an ice cream place, where Katy proceeded to eat some sort of gigantic bowl of ice cream. Much better than a birthday party.

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4 responses to “All Things Mom

  1. Love you Maman! and thanks so much Bret for writing this all up 🙂

  2. Mary C. Jorgensen

    A Mon Cher Bret et Ma Chère Katy,
    Merci tellement pour une fête des mères qui gagne le prix mondial des fêtes des mères – I am one lucky maman. I have already read at least five times today the entry and looked at the photos again and again. Could we have a Mother’s Day once a month? Gros bisous – Maman qui vous aime tellement
    P.S. I can remember some of the stories I told you, but not well enough. They were always spontaneous, not written, very much part of an oral tradition I tapped into mysteriously. I do remember that the “grotte” one was a bit scary for you both and that I scolded myself afterwards for being a bit too weird. You both seem unscarred by the experience so no guilt on my part. Now I want to be able to tell stories to grandchildren some day (I am counting on both of you to produce grandchildren for Tom and me, just in case Katy thinks she’s escaping here). Jessica: Would you like to join me in story telling one day?

  3. Hey Bret,

    This is great. I’ve been studying organic chem all day, so this post was my bedtime reading treat. I loved all the stories, and my favorite picture was the one with the klejner. I liked the klejner letters.
    Happy Mother’s Day, Mary!

    ~Caroline

  4. What a wonderful mother’s day epistle!! Gorgeous maman and gorgeous children! La petite Sabine est ici en ce moment, a great joy to her parents. Vive les enfants!

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