On a previous trip to the Dallas area, my friend and colleague Carla invited me to her house for dinner. Sitting at the table with her youngest, Tori, the three of us make small talk while Carla works on dinner. Carla places a bowl of shredded cheese on the table near me and when she isn't looking, I take a pinch and put it in my mouth. Tori was looking. So a few minutes later, she does the same thing and - busted - mom catches her. When Carla tells Tori to stop, I explain it is my fault, I did it first but that I just love cheese so much I couldn't help it.
"I love cheese too", Tori says, "I am in a cheese club." I ask if I can join. She says no. Then she begins to explain the complex reasons beginning with, "You have to go to Memphis". What? Why Memphis? No satisfactory answer is forthcoming. I continue to plead my case as Carla's oldest, Charlotte, comes in and wants to know what we are talking about. When I tell her, she says she also wants to be in a cheese club so that seals it, Charlotte and I decide to form our own club right then. Tori isn't happy with us and now wants to be in our club. I tell her that I will get with the other members (currently just Charlotte) and we will vote on it and let her know. When the middle of Carla's three girls, Caroline, comes home, we let her in the club. Tori is never given a decision regarding her pending membership on that trip.
But now, I am coming back and Carla and I have decided to surprise the girls with a cheese club meeting and I have the perfect name: The Outer-Memphis Cheese Club. My customer's office is right next to a specialty grocery store so on the way out of town, I stop and pick up supplies: 7 types of cheese (Smoked Gouda, Edam, Dublinger, Manchego, Kickapoo Blue, Camembert and Lemon Goat); 3 jams (Fig, Pricky Pear and Super Fruit); 2 kinds of crackers; honey; butter cookies; and most important, an assortment of chocolate truffles. Carla has agreed to supply the venue and the beverages.
When I arrive Carla and I set about making a nice layout. She has nice dishes and platters out and even champagne glasses for the girls for the sparkling grape juice (which 2 of the girls happily don't like, leaving most of the bottle for me).
Someone is very interested in testing the truffles and I almost caught them in the act. Ironically, Carla also picked up chocolates. Great minds. It is an impressive spread. There are also meatballs, two kinds of smoked sausage and Hawaiian rolls.
While waiting on Tony, Carla's husband and our only male member, to get home we decide to come up with some club rules. And because Caroline immediately sits down next to me and starts to write them down, she is voted in as our club secretary.
- You can refuse to try 2 items per meeting.
- There must be chocolate at all cheese club meetings.
- All meetings must have a minimum of 4 cheeses.
- There will be at least one new cheese at each meeting.
- If you are late to the meeting, you forfeit your chocolates.
- You are not allowed to cut the cheese during the cheese meeting.
Carla made us some sheets where we could rate each item. We would also go around the table and read our comments out loud. The plan was to try each cheese at the same time but some of the members were very impatient and/or invoked their "no try" clauses. Here is Caroline's rate sheet.
As the comments are read by the girls, they read it all. So for example, when Caroline reads her comments for Kickapoo Blue we hear: Makes me want to barf exclamation point frowny face broken heart exclamation point frowny face broken heart. When we get to the next one, Camembert, that practice has to be discontinued.
Struggles - like this one over the comments being read - begin to break out. The girls generally want us to go faster and not worry about telling our comments. Tony is very detailed in his comments (all of the comment sheets are at the end of this post) and some of the girls grow agitated and impatient...there are chocolates waiting. They complain, they yell at each other. One of the girls reveals herself to be something of a "scorekeeper", taking me back to my own days as the mother of 3 young children. My daughter would count the donuts in the Mrs. Baird's bag of powdered sugar donuts and inform the rest of us how many we were allowed to have. Never mind that I purchased said donuts. There are issues with the seating arrangements at one point because two of the girls can't sit by each other. David and I regularly heard, "Blake's looking at me". You try not to freak out after the 35th time and scream, "IF YOU WEREN'T LOOKING AT HIM YOU WOULDN'T KNOW HE WAS LOOKING AT YOU".
So when I say I'm not sure how I survived, I don't mean the cheese club meeting. I mean my own days as a full-time parent. Being at Carla's always reminds me of how hard it could be at times to have three so close together. There was an article (click here to see I am not making this up) on Today's website I read that says 3 is the most stressful number of kids to have. The number both Carla and I have.
Me and my kids at Six Flags. They are roughly the ages in this photo that Carla's kids are today. The big difference is me. Carla is two years younger than me and this photo was taken more than 15 years ago. My kids are 23, 24 & 26 now. I have three grandkids. One of those grandkids is only a year younger than Tori, Carla's youngest child.
Don't get me wrong, Carla & Tony are great parents and they have great kids. But being a part of the noise and chaos that inevitably go along with family life reminds me of how hard it can be some days. And I don't envy them. I can't help thinking "Thank God my kids are grown". At my house it is clean, no school books and backpacks laying around. It is quiet. When I am at home working during the day, David is at work and the only noise at my house is the dull hum of the electronics or the heating/air conditioning, or if I choose, the radio in my office. Every now and then, the dog barks.
So I watch Carla and Tony and I know what they are going through and I know where they are headed. They have some fun and wonderful and hard years ahead. The teenage years. Middle School (the worst in our book) and High School. And I hope that someday, like us, they enjoy their empty nest days. Some people think I am mean or cold when I say that I don't miss the days of my kids living at home. I love my kids. I did it all back then while also working full time: coached softball, attended PTA (even ran the clothes closet for a while), took them to church and sports practices and games and dance recitals and choir concerts. Parent-teacher meetings. Chicken Pox. Head Lice. Birthday Parties, and trick-or-treating, Valentine's boxes, playing Santa. They have their own lives to lead now and I so do I. I had my first child when I was barely 19 and all three before I turned 23. I don't think it is wrong to want this part of my life to be for me. I think I earned it.
After the meeting I had the great idea for us to play Apples to Apples but unfortunately, things continued to deteriorate. People's feelings get hurt when their answer doesn't win. Some of us are hyped up on chocolate and sparkling grape juice. Someone is hungry. Finally, after the second game (which we played with sped up rules), the girls are sent upstairs to bed. We are all participating in a 5k in the morning so they need to get some rest, wink, wink. I go to the guest room and close the door. Once the noise upstairs dies down, I hear Carla come downstairs and she approaches my door and stops. Listening for sound I assume. I don't make any.
If she had heard me up, she might have felt obligated to entertain me further but I need to be alone in the quiet of this room now. And I consider this a gift to her as well. While the kids are quiet and she has the opportunity, I hope she goes and enjoys a moment with Tony, or a long, hot bath or a chapter of a book. Whatever makes her happy. Because tomorrow, there will be one that doesn't want to go to the run at all, people will have tummy troubles and other assorted ailments, Tori will get her finger smashed in a recycle bin by Caroline - allegedly at least - and there will be crying and accusations.
But there will also be breakfast with warm syrup and laughing after hugs and high-fives at the finish line.
I think Carla summed up our first meeting perfectly: "Eating cheese can be a really messy business". But she and I both know she isn't just talking about cheese.
Me and the junior members of the club: Caroline (bottom left), Charlotte (top left) and Tori (right).
Rate sheets for the rest of the club, if you are interested:
Carla, the club treasurer
Tony was so detailed in his responses that when he wasn't in the room, 3 of the 4 remaining members voted for him to be our club president. Tori was NOT happy. She wanted to be president. We pointed to her rate sheet as the reason she couldn't be...
We eventually made her sergeant at arms and I try to convince her it lets her boss people around.
Vice President Charlotte
Me - Historian, of course