Meatballs & Other Adventures in Outsourcing

One of the first lessons I learned when I became a full-time working mom was I could not do it all. It took a nervous breakdown to realize, but eventually, I go it. As a working mom, I had to become adept at the art of outsourcing. It wasn’t necessarily comfortable, but it was necessary for our mental comfort.

Working moms feel the tugging needs of family + career -- so they outsource!

It began, obviously, with childcare; then rides to and from Prima’s first few field trips and special events. Cooking came next. We ate out or had take-out a lot with one child and, at first, quite a bit with two. As demands on my time and in my career increased, I outsourced birthday cakes, birthday party cooking, yard maintenance, shopping, and, gloriously, housecleaning.

The height of our outsourcing came the summer after I had Secondo. Prima was home from school, Secondo a babe in arms. It was ungodly hot and we were more or less housebound. We’d ordered our groceries off of Safeway.com for delivery. Within a span of a half an hour, our cleaning lady arrived and began cleaning, our gardener was tending the lawn, and then the Safeway truck rolled up and began unloading groceries.

Mr. Bailey and I were appropriately humiliated by our apparent laziness; then went about thanking profusely our outsources for all they were doing to help us keep it all afloat.

Life’s been hectic since I left my full-time gig. Demands on my time have increased in some ways and decreased – only slightly — in others. So I still outsource. I know, I should be able to handle all of this stuff, but right now, I admit. I can’t. It’s a dirty secret. Seduced by the convenience, it’s a habit now hard to break.

On Easter, we outsourced most of the food, at the request of my mother, who did not want anyone to fuss in the kitchen.

I was assigned to pick up the meatballs, made by a local Italian deli we love.

Come and get me, Mrs. Bailey

When I went to collect these Italian delicacies, I was presented with two large bags full of sauce and six dozen meatballs. A kindly older Italian man, obviously acquainted with the owner, offered to help me to my car.

I cooed about what a gentleman he was and thanked him as I heaved the last bag into the front seat of my car. As I shut the door and turned to go, he blocked my path.

“Oh!” I said, nearly crashing into him. I smiled and smoothed my appropriate-for-a-modern-lady-picking-up-Easter-dinner dress as he stared me down.

“Next time,” he said, waving his hand back and forth in the way only senior Italian Americans do, “you make the meatballs.”

"Next time, Mrs. Bailey, you make the meatballs."

Urgggg. Outsourcing caught red-handed, I slinked behind the wheel of my car and zoomed off, vowing in the near future to swear off my outsourcing ways and become more authentic.

But the promise felt empty, and like an addict, I crave my next outsourcing fix.

The modern American family -- outsourcing meatballs and so much more.

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Battles of will won and lost

Typically the occasional stubborn brat-iness of my dear Zuzus create the most baneful moments of my sometimes quite long days.  Once in a blue moon, however, luckdisaster strikes and that same stubborn brat-iness has saved my keister.

The Baileys can relate. Can you?

Case in point: Last Sunday was turning out to be a day free from the recent stressors maxing out Mr. Bailey and my collective patience as parents, home-owners and partners. Roofers were putting the finishing touches on our already paid for new chocolate brown roof. We were not obligated to run any errands or provide any tangible moral support to our family or friends. But, we had no food in the house (no surprise there) so we decided to head out for breakfast.

We took some time getting ready, but the girls were volleying ideas of where to go and what to do in moments. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Bailey happened by the door to their post-apocalyptic playroom and made a snap decision.

“We’re not going anywhere until this playroom is picked up,” Mr. Bailey announced after assembling the allied forces.

Ka-boom! Their worlds shaken, there was lamentation, wailing and woe. There was finger pointing, blame-grenade hurling, procrastination and multiple tongue lashing trips before us, the tribunal, sitting peacefully on the couch, listening as the soldiers pled their cases. We did not budge. Minutes amounted. An hour neared. Prima was particularly upset. Secondo was blatantly defiant. Still we did not cave. The room must be cleaned. Mr. Bailey and I, still calm, felt as if we held the high ground.

All the while we heard the click-pound-smash of the roofers installing the last shingles our house would need for another 15 years.

Then a somewhat smug Prima paraded in to tell us, that, did we know water was pouring down the side of the wall into the playroom and the floor was all wet?

Crap.

Controlled chaos ensued. Water was indeed rushing down the side of the wall the playroom shares with the master bath. Water mains were switched off, frantic phone calls to contractors, on-call plumbers were made. It turned out a roofer’s nail had busted a misplaced pipe above the master bathroom.

As the water was sopped up, we regrouped. “You were lucky,” the plumber told us. “I’ve seen this where the homeowners have been gone all day long and entire parts of the ceiling have collapsed on furniture and beds and ruined everything. It’s a good thing your daughter noticed.”

Right. So I asked Miss Prima how she discovered the leak waterfall in the playroom.

“Well, I was cleaning up and I felt something wet on the back of my head,” she began, her sincere brown eyes becoming even more round in the telling, “and at first I thought it was, you know, just my — tears.” She emphasized the word to remind us of the torture we’d inflicted.

“But then I felt the wall and it was all wet.”

Later, Mr. Bailey mused we had lucked out by choosing that moment to assert our hardcore parenting skills, and that the kids complaining and exaggerating what was a simple task had saved us a ton of pain and property.

“But,” he said, his voice growing deep and quiet as he peered around the room furtively, “we can never let them know that.”

Broken hearts: then and now

Unlike the real Mrs. Bailey, I was a romantically dramatic teenager. There were loser boyfriends and break-ups and get-back-togethers and heartbreaks upon heartbreaks. I grieved in my room for days sometimes. I made mix tapes and wept to girlfriends about the loss on the black rotary phone in my bedroom. In college, there was a heart-wrenching break-up that nearly took me over the edge.

Is there ever a time in life when heartbreak is behind you?

When I met Mr. Bailey, I thought to myself, I won’t ever have a broken heart again! Hurray! Adios, sad sack mix tapes!

Life makes such fools of us, doesn’t it?

Two years ago, my mother, the rock of my life, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

My Mom is very sick now. Late one night about a week ago, after being up for nearly 24 hours, I was driving home from my parent’s house. Trying to stay awake, I had the windows down, the music playing. Up from within me, a deep hollow pain started to rise. The warm evening breeze blew through my open window and wisped through my chest, curling around an abscess of aching beginning to spread.

It seemed a discomfort that was familiar. In my sleep-deprived stupor I could not at first place it. Tears came, a reaction to the pain. A song playing hit an empathetic tone and I reached to increase the volume. I wanted to feel the vibration of the song in my chest, curve my body to it so it would fill the space now opening wider.

That’s when I recognized the pain – it was heartbreak. It was a heart shattered with loss, dislocated due to a discombobulated reality that was utterly unwanted and impossible.

Only then did the foolishness of my newlywed glee become so completely ridiculous to me.

There are many different heart breaks in life, I thought, and no one comes through unscathed.

What was losing my mother going to feel like? I had wondered during these last 700 days. It was going to feel like the worst broken heart I had ever had. And it wasn’t going to go away. Ever.

The heartbreak would be total, I knew, and irrevocable. Unlike the delivery of the shoebox of mementos ceremoniously returned to a ninth-grade boyfriend designed to facilitate a visit, a short talk, maybe a last kiss, any one-last-talks with my Mom would be out of the question. And contrary to what that guy in 12th grade told me as I cried, never speaking to my mom again was not going to make it any easier.

I knew, then, this whole heartbreak would have to be endured. Like I had done anytime I had bid farewell to treasured parts of myself in the form of boyfriends, outdated friendships or un-nurtured creative passions or the independence of single, childless life. Just get it done¸ I would tell myself.

The endurance is what gets you through heartbreak. You just outlast the most bitter parts and, at some indefinable nick in time, it ceases to sting so much. Your mindful memories remain and guide a new you, sewn together at surprising junctures. The wind moves around your chest warmly, but then doesn’t penetrate, because the heartbreak has made you stronger at the broken places.

Mary’s Mother: A Hostess with Amazing Most-ess

Spring is a busy time around the Bailey house. Mr. Bailey, being a pillar of the community, is involved with a variety of charitable organizations. There are galas, performances, silent auctions and fundraisers to attend.

Evenings become times for socializing, swirling drinks and scurrying home to pay babysitters. So we don’t host much during the spring.

I love to host!

But this time of warm and wonderful year here in temperate Bedford Falls, always reminds me of hosting fetes in home, which I love to do, am intimidated by, and dream of accomplishing more frequently.

It’s all because of my mother.

My mother always taught me a hostess should be the epitome of graciousness. Besides being welcoming, kind, courteous and benevolent, a hostess’ job was to make everyone in the room feel utterly special, treated and spoiled just by being at her event.

When I was younger I thought it was a rather old-fashioned idea, but as I grew to the age of wedding showers, baby showers and dinner parties, I began to understand the critical role of the hostess. My mother is the perfect model for this.

Another significant clue: A paragon of the party, when I offered to have showers for friends, they would firmly hint at the possibility of both my mom and I hosting. Her home, when you are invited for an event, is just about the most pleasant place to be.

The décor coordinates seamlessly with the season and event. Wisps of ribbon dance along chic white tree branches or flourishes of seasonal greens. Photographs of you, throughout the years, might be displayed sweetly on the buffet. Handmade signs will bear your name, welcoming you, celebrating this life-changing occasion.

There will be delightful music playing, but you’ll barely be able to hear it over the pleasant buzz of conversation and peals of laughter. Your handcrafted peach iced tea or homemade strawberry lemonade will be poured out of crystal pitchers into dainty glass cups with a corresponding ribbon tied to the handle.

If you are religious, a sentimental and beautiful prayer will be said on your behalf. It will mention you by name. If you’re not, a moment-encompassing poem will be read. If you are lucky, it might be something written by the hostess for this occasion.

The very best hostess I've ever known, my mother.

There will always be plenty of mouth-watering food, both light and satisfying and slightly sinful. Bread is a staple and comes in the form of buttery croissants from great-grandma’s recipe or fresh rolls selected from one of the top local bakeries. When you rise slightly to go back for seconds, the food you are seeking will be instead brought to you tableside for refills.

Dessert will be served in ornate porcelain tea cups – either a fruit brule or a chocolate mousse, alongside freshly brewed coffee and a silver tray of homemade biscotti or sugar cookies.

Everyone who attends will receive a thoughtful favor, typically containing something handmade, to take home with them. Cookies wrapped in cellophane and tulle are often presented, tagged with a hand-written note of love and gratitude for your presence.

So I understood when my friends implied about my Mom, and I gladly acquiesced. My Mom, for her part, relishes the entire exhausting process. She’s always loved to host. It provides a perfect theater for her nature – the ultimate caregiver, selfless mother, wife and friend.

As a result, Mom and I hosted probably a dozen showers over the years my friends and family were getting married and having babies. She was the genius behind them. Me? The server, the maitre de and coat check girl. But being an observer of her methods taught me a lot.

And once this season of galas and gallivanting are over, I resolve to host again.

 

Beware: The pitfalls of the O.F.

After several years of parenting, you learn to filter.

You can tell the difference between “Mom!” – Translation: “I’m kinda bored and want you to come entertain me” and “Mom!” – Translation: “Secondo is about to cut her finger off.”

One girl and her crayon

You develop an ability to expertly sift through statements like, “My stomach hurts,” to decode for either, “I don’t want to eat this healthy food you’ve presented me” or “I’m about to barf all over the backseat of the car” and act accordingly. This is an acquired skill.

Through trial and many errors, your filtering becomes more precise. While you can spring into action in a nano-second should something justify that response, parents also choose to ignore or stall the insignificant, avoidable and silly requests, comments and statements from your kids.

Once you start feeling confident at your ability to sift and filter, react and ignore, you realize there are times when you fall into the embarrassing trap of the O.F. – the over-filter.

It’s a laughably (hopefully) humbling event.

Since the beginning of the calendar year, Prima has mentioned about a handful of times that she needs new crayons at school.

“Mom, I need new crayons,” she would say.

“Prima, use the crayons you have, for now,” I would answer sometimes. Other times, I’d say, “Oh, uh-huh, sure, yes, we’ll get you more crayons,” then file that tidbit errand at the bottom of a bottomless list of “things to do” and promptly forget all about it.

Sometimes, I was incredulous the perfectly good 64 pack box of back-to-school crayons we had purchased at the beginning of the year had suddenly disappeared after only 6 months of use. Sometimes I was distracted. Mostly, I was just distracted and busy.

Fast forward to this morning; Prima, my early riser, was up and dressed an hour and a half before school, before the entire house could wipe sleep out of our crusty eyes.

She had eaten breakfast and packed her backpack before Mr. Bailey was even out of bed. This left her with plenty of time to realize that she had found herself a solution to her crayon dilemma.

While I was digging through her closet for a missing soccer cleat, she asked me, “Mom, can I bring those crayons I got at tutoring to school?”

Me, on frenzied morning routine overload: “No, no toys at school.”

“But, Mom, I’m going to use them. And I need new crayons.”

Me, half-listening, exasperated, “Where is your soccer shoe?! Sure, bring the crayons. This room is a disaster zone, Prima!”

She was so excited about the crayons, which I did not understand. She told me on the way to school how her backpack was heavy because of the crayons. She was so pleased about them.

Me, rushing to get her to school on time, coffee in hand: “Oh really, huh, that’s funny.”

Later on, running errands after I had picked her up from school, she persisted.

“Hey Mom, it was great having my new crayons at school today,” Prima said.

“Oh, really, good, good, I’m glad it worked out,” I said.

“Yeah, my crayons were so bad, all the kids in my class let me borrow their crayons.”

Me, now paying attention, “Oh really?”

“Yeah! Luckily, the boy who sits next to me has, like, a billion crayons and he let me borrow his all the time. Here, look at them, I brought the old ones home,” she said, and handed me a folded sheet of white paper, stapled along the sides and surprising light.

In it, my stunned eyes beheld the most pitiful assembly of a half a dozen worn, tattered, broken, bruised and dirty crayon scraps and nubs, missing most of their paper shells and barely graspable.

Prima's rag-tag lot of crayon stubs

“These were your only crayons!?” I shouted, the full weight of her justified need and shameful embarrassment flowing through my now burning face into my cracking voice.

“Yep. See, I told you,” she said calmly.

“Oh, my goodness, Prima, I’m so sorry!” I said, humiliated laughter rushing out in front of what should have been tears of guilty shame and regret.

My mind’s eye filled with images of her opening up her pencil case at school for, what, every other activity in second grade, and sighing as she set to work with this disgraceful rag-tag lot of pitiful crayons. Oh, the shame!

Then, the topper, said over my now nearly crying cackles,

“I kept telling you, ‘Mom, I need crayons,’ and you kept saying, ‘No, just use the crayons you have,’” she tells me, perfectly matter-of-fact and totally right, imitation spot on me.

Oh, shit. O.F.