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We’re at a disadvantage, Baby Bear and I.

You see, most of the stay-at-home parents around here (and by “parents” I mean “mothers” — there’s no Little Children action going on in this neighborhood) have had their current gig since their babies were small, portable and perfectly suited for catching up at Starbucks. By the time their half-tamed wolverines are ready to rumble, they know the parks, the storytime schedules and, most importantly, each other.

Yours truly came to this a little late in the game, opting to stay home around the time BB turned two. So my search for a few daytime companions — ones who can cut their own meat — has required a little more effort. Truth be told, it sometimes feels like I’m single again.

Then as now, the outfit is everything. Heavy on the ironic T-shirts (me), light on the licensed commercial characters (him), with shoes that are attractive yet impervious to fluids (both). And I’ve rediscovered the pre-party — the playground is a much happier place if we both get some snackage ahead of time. (Although I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s bad form to carry your leftover martini in a sippy cup.) From there, it’s a question of making small talk: Do you come here a lot? What’s your major? How old is she?

At this point the weeding begins. Because first and foremost, I’m looking for additions to my social life; BB can sulk about preferred playmates just as soon as he’s learned to sigh “Mooooooommm” in a voice that clearly denotes centuries of suffering and abuse. Are you relaxed, cheerfully overwhelmed and/or more than a bit cynical about the strange role we’ve opted to play? Come sit right here by me. Are you gunning for martyrdom? Or very careful to tell me all about the other friends and playgroups you already have? I believe you want the Lily Pulitzer-clad sanctimommy on my right.

Look, we’re all in this together. Why not spend some time at the park chatting up the new girl, or giving a friendly wave to the folks you see every day but never talk to? Because if we all stay in our individual (and sadly alcohol-free) silos all day, dinnertime ain’t gonna be pretty.

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Yesterday was Prince Charming’s birthday. In honor of the occasion, Baby Bear and I spent the morning making and frosting a cake. (Because, hey. Sugar. Butter. And did I mention the sugar? And, you know, the butter? I’d wish Dick Cheney a happy birthday if there was cake involved.)

In advance of this peaceful, sunlit mother-son bonding experience, I had picked up some cake mix during Monday’s trip to the grocery store. (Because while I’m not willing to trade real frosting for Sludge-in-a-Can®, I have no issues with faking the medium upon which it’s spread.) With the Toddler Doomsday Clock ticking its way toward a lunchtime meltdown, I quickly surveyed the flavors of boxed nostalgia on offer and grabbed… red velvet.

Now, I’ve spent most of my life below the Mason Dixon line. I like grits. I talk to strangers. My father took great pains to teach me about John Mosby. But although the Washington area is technically in the South, it’s still above the Sweet Tea Line, that fictional but no less influential border that marks the true start of the region, as well as what’s poured into your glass when you ask for “iced tea.” (North of Richmond, you’re generally given a choice. After all, you and/or you server are likely to be come-heres who don’t know any better, poor things.)

So all I knew about red velvet cake when I handed Baby Bear the open bag of benignly gray mix and pointed him toward the waiting bowl was that a) it looked pretty on the box and b) its chocolate-y flavor would appeal to Prince Charming. I didn’t really think, for example, about how you turn a chocolate cake red in the first place. Or its logical extension, what else could be done with a food dye that powerful.

Um, yeah.

During the first phase of cleanup, as the water in my sponge activated the red dye in the spilled mix, it looked as if I had butchered a clown. A day later, we’ve still got magenta spots on the counter. On the cutting board. Around the sink. On Baby Bear’s shirt and bib (because this stuff stains even after it’s cooked). I think it will come off the plates themselves; only time and our dishwasher will tell. 

(But the bits that made it onto our dessert plates were gooooooooood.)

On the Menu

Fish & chips & ketchup. Because in the good ol' U.S. of A., we like a little bit of processed to-may-to goodness with our British imports.