Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Legacies, Motherhood, and Pear-Cranberry Crostata

Seven years ago, I started a moms' group.

Though I'd never imagined that I'd be the sort of person to identify first as a mom, it started, as many convictions do, with rejection.  Another mother and I had tried to join a stay-at-home mom's group to make friends for ourselves and our one-year-old children, but there was one catch: we both worked full time.  As you might imagine, that didn't work out so well.

Desperate for connection with other local parents, we'd sometimes even take a vacation day from work, just to attend a playdate.  We hosted get-togethers on the weekends when we could, which no one attended.  We posted to the bulletin board online, trying to befriend the other members.  Our efforts weren't enough; finally, the leaders asked us to leave the group, citing the threat to group safety from people who weren't fully committed, who didn't attend enough meetings.

I don't remember which of us suggested creating our rogue group first; all I remember is that she asked me to be in charge.  Comfortable with overcommitment, I agreed.  No problem.  We decided to host the group on Meetup, and to see what might happen.

At first, we were small.  Five or six mothers who got together on a semi-regular basis with and without our children, none of us likely friends.  I remember watching the friendships form, thinking how funny it was that I'd somehow linked these random strangers, how eventually they found themselves unable to imagine a life without each other.  They were inseparable, in person, but especially--because we were all so busy--online.  They were lifelines for each other in the worst storms.  They watched each others' children, supported each other through separation and loss and divorce.  And though I was never exactly part of the network, I was satisfied with the knowledge that I was the glue that held them together, the connective node.

We grew, and though members came and went, the core remained stable, long after the stay-at-home-mom's group we originally left had dissolved.  Children grew up, more children were born.  Eventually, the members with the oldest children no longer attended playdates; they'd found the people they'd set out to meet, and they no longer needed the group to organize.  They'd send around invitations to each other to get together for drinks, or to birthday parties, or to  meet at the park.  I kept the group running, knowing that newer members still needed it, and watched the others go their separate ways, together, taking my glue with them.

Then, two summers ago, my co-founder, recently separated from her husband, was found dead in a hotel room in Atlantic City, her two children, then 3 and 5, trying to wake her up.  The police, the prosecutor, and so many people I talked with again and again on the phone and over coffee at my dining room table called it an overdose.  Thought we were never able to convince anyone with authority to believe us, those of us who knew her knew that the pieces didn't add up, that what happened was something much more terrible.

On the night before her burial, we gathered on the porch of the funeral parlor, some of us smoking, all of us blaming ourselves for not staying together, wishing she'd called us that night, promising to remember her, promising to see each other more often, talking smack about planting a tree in her honor, like the thin promises in high school year books.  I was angry, wondering whether her death would mean anything, even to these women whose friendship we'd made possible.

Still, I kept the group alive, half-heartedly, feeling like it was important, but not knowing why.  Only one of the members besides me remembered my co-founder, and finally I handed the reins to her late last year, feeling like I no longer had time or motivation to organize events.  Though my daughter is now the age of most of their children, I felt disconnected; acutely aware of the fact the my first child was so much older than theirs in conversations about feeding and bathroom habits, I realized I'm more like an older sibling than a peer.  It was time for me to step aside.

And yet, a few weekends ago, after initially declining the invitation, my daughter and I went to a birthday party for one of the members' children.  I wasn't sure I'd know anyone there, since it had been so long, wasn't even sure I wanted to go, but as the guests started to arrive, it dawned on me: most of them were members of the moms' group, the newest incarnation of the core.  Watching them connect and disconnect, looking after each others' children at the indoor playground, made my heart feel like it would explode.  It didn't matter that I didn't know them all that well.  What mattered was that we had laid a strong enough foundation for a sustainable future.  The glue had stuck after all.  For the first time, I felt at peace walking away.

I don't usually see ghosts, but I've been seeing my co-founder everywhere lately.  Driving a SUV past me as I'm stopped at a light.  Walking down the street, holding her children's hands, sporting her signature sunglasses.  Enjoying a cone at Rita's.  Every logical cell in my body knows that it can't be her, but every time, I do a double-take, and every time, I'm reminded of the ripple effects of my smallest, most inconsequential actions.  This is legacy: the continuity of belief, of ideals, of opportunity.

I know I'm supposed to be craving berries right now, or lemon, or things that remind me of spring.  But something in me still wants motherhood and apple pie.  I saw something like this dessert, which I made about a month ago, in the dining hall the other day, and I cut myself a generous slice, heart somewhere in my throat, grateful for the chance to make a difference, in this, and in so many things in my life.  Here's to you, S., and to the little legacies that matter, to one person, or to thousands.

Pear and Dried Cranberry Crostata

2 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 t. salt
3/4 c. very cold unsalted butter, diced
6 T. ice water

3 lbs. Anjou pears, peeled, cored, 1/4" slices
3/4 c. dried cranberries
3 T. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. ground allspice
3 T. Poire Williams (pear brandy) or other similar liquid

1 egg, beaten
1 t. sugar

For the pastry, combine the flour, sugar, and salt (preferably in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine). Cut the butter into the flour mixture butter is the size of peas. Add the ice water 1 T. at a time and continue to pulse or cut in until combined but stop just before the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball; flatten into a disc. Wrap the disc in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Roll the dough into a 14-inch circle on a lightly floured parchment paper. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Combine the flour, sugar, cardamom, and allspice in a large bowl.  Add the pears and cranberries; toss to combine.  Add Poire Williams (or other similar liquid of your choice) and toss again to moisten.  Turn the pear mixture out onto the dough, leaving a 1 1/2" to 2" border.  Gently fold the border of each tart over the pears, pleating it to make a circle.

Beat the egg and brush the edges of the crust with beaten egg.  Sprinkle coated crust with sugar.

Bake the crostata for 1 hour or until the crust is golden. Cover the edges of the crostata with aluminum foil and bake another 15 minutes or so, until bubbly.  Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.

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  1. What a beautiful post. And haunting.

    I tried to set up a mother's groups in my area after my daughter was born. I got about six women together, though we only all met as a group a handful of times. I know two went on to become good friends and another two set up a nanny share together. But I never really clicked with any of them, and though I spent many afternoons walking with each of them in turn, no friendships came of it.

    I still long for real connections with other mothers. I have a few "mommy friends" and they are very dear to me, but I've always envied the groups of women I've heard stories about, groups like the one you made. I think it's awesome that you created something that was so obviously needed, and that you kept it going until it could thrive without you. That is so awesome; and I'm sure all the women who still meet up appreciate it more than they could ever say.

    I'm sorry for your friend's loss. How tragic. I can't imagine.

    Abiding with you.

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  3. Gorgeous post. I feel the weight of your sadness about the loss of your friend.

    You've got me thinking about glue, about what holds us together and what it takes to dissolve or weaken a connection.

    Sticking to you, my friend.

  4. pretty nice blog, following :)


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