Chelsea turns 20 today.
Raising Chelsea has, without a doubt, been one of the most important experiences of my life. Is it what I expected when the doctor proclaimed “It’s a girl!”? No. In fact, Chelsea was nothing like what I imagined having a daughter to be. Which, to my immature, 27-year-old mind, was fairly predictable – tutus and ballet lessons, Barbies and dollhouses, pink everything, and endless hours of reciprocal hair brushing and styling. And of course, sweet compliance and a willingness to charmingly engage all who encountered her.
I knew that I had a different kind of girl when a well-meaning “friend” (who had a same-age son) said, “you know “XXX” (her son) is like a puppy. And Chelsea is, well, more “cat-like”.
What did that even mean? After much consideration I realized that what she meant (sorry, cat-lovers) was that Chelsea was aloof, not overly friendly and definitely not cuddly (do I need to mention here that I am no longer friends with Puppy-Child Mom?).
It was unsettling to hear that this was how my daughter was perceived. But I had to admit, what she said struck a chord somewhere deep inside of me. Chelsea was not so much shy as, well, “discerning”. It was a struggle to get her to say hello to someone, much less offer up a hug or kiss, and she rarely wanted to snuggle. And her hair? Well, she absolutely HATED having her hair brushed or styled in any way, so I’d be lucky to get it smooth and untangled and leave it at that. No french braids for moi.
But there were other differences too – she did take ballet lessons, but she was sort of a goofball in class, never really taking it seriously or trying hard to perfect her pirouette. So eventually I gave up and packed away her tights and leotards. And while she did have some Barbies and a great big dollhouse, what she was MOST interested in was……dinosaurs. And sharks. And whales. By the time she was 3, Chelsea could identify any and all of them, and it was always amusing to watch people listen as this adorable little girl with the long, glossy hair and big blue eyes spouted facts like what the largest living shark was (it’s the whale shark, by the way). Don’t get me wrong- Chelsea was very “girly” in lots of ways – she loved dresses and ruffles and frills. But there was always this undeniably steely core that was, in many ways, her true essence. And as a young, first-time mom, it took me a while to figure that out. And, more importantly, to accept, appreciate and respect it.
It didn’t help matters that, although she loved, loved, any and all Disney movies, who, inevitably, were her favorite characters? The evil villain – each and every time. Scar. Ursula. Gaston. I remember sitting in the school psychologist’s office when Chelsea was in kindergarten, convinced that I had done something horribly wrong to create this child who was so hard and tough and identified with the “bad guys”. What did this say about me? What kind of mother would raise a child – especially a girl – like this?
And I will never forget what the psychologist said to me. She told me 2 things: 1) that Chelsea was who she was from the day she was born, and that I would look back when she was 20 (which, at that time, was like, a million years away) and realize that she was still very much like the little girl I had right now. And, 2) that certain traits – while maybe not so easy to take on a 5-year-old – would turn out to be invaluable to her later on in life.
And she was absolutely right (thank you Dr. Anna, wherever you are). That same tough and steely toddler grew into the pre-teen who weathered the storm of her parents’ divorce, the adolescent who never let the mean girls see her cry, and the young woman who has gone f0r – and gotten – every single goal she has set for herself. Her chosen college. A much coveted internship. A highly selective study-abroad program.
And, along the way, something else happened. She softened. And sweetened. A lot. In ways that she demonstrates each and every day. Like when she lets her 2 year old brother – who worships her – come into her room and wake her on her day off (and, play with her Blackberry, iPod and make-up brushes). Or how, even while away at school and living her own busy life, she remembers to buy and send her grandparents the appropriate birthday and anniversary cards. Or, knowing how much I love all things Disney – and all things vintage – she presented me with this for Mother’s Day.
I love that I finally – and for many years now – have the girly-girl I always dreamed of. And I love to shop and talk clothing and makeup with her. But what I really love is that she still has that “edge” that also makes her one of the sharpest and funniest people I know.
And I feel very lucky that – thanks to Dr. Anna – I always tried to honor the little girl she was, which I hope allowed her to grow and flourish into the woman she is today. And helped me evolve into the mom I was destined to become.
Yes, my Chelsea is sweet and salty, which is why it’s so perfect that she loves this treat, and why I’m making it for her today, before we go here for her birthday dinner. You’ll note that it’s a tea room (doesn’t get much “girlier” than that). And, one named after a Disney character. That’s NOT a villain.
She even lets me braid her hair.
Happy 20th Birthday Chelsea Jane. I love you munchkee.
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
nonstick cooking spray (like Pam)
3 T. vegetable oil
1/2 c. popcorn kernels
1 1/2 t. baking soda
3 c. (600 g.) sugar
3 T. unsalted butter
1 T. kosher salt
Note: the smitten recipe calls for 2 c. of salted peanuts and 1/4-3/4 t. cayenne pepper. I omit the peanuts because of this peanut (read here for more on that) and the cayenne pepper because, well, she’s sweet and salty but not so much spicy. Feel free to adapt………..
Lightly coat two large, heatproof rubber spatulas, a large mixing bowl and two large baking sheets with the nonstick cooking spray.
In a large saucepan (one with a lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels.
Have the baking sheets and baking soda ready. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 c. water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking soda (the mixture will bubble up).
Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together (like you were tossing a salad), until the popcorn is well coated.
Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm (you might want to have a bowl of ice water at the ready in case you burn a finger or two). Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
This delicious recipe brought to you by Donuts, Dresses and Dirt