The day started out in a mood, the fog thick and low to the ground.
Though some might find this objectionable, I always welcome these cool, damp mornings. It's as if Mother Earth has something to say.
She speaks at low volume, so we tilt our heads and open our ears, listening. We might hear whispers or nothing at all. But it's still important to try and keep our hearts open. On this particular morning, her every breath exudes mist that swirls in barely visible droplets. I only really notice it when I look up at one of the kid's faces.
We've gathered out at an apple orchard just north of Bellingham, about five miles from the Canadian border. It's Kingston's preschool's first field trip of the year and we're here with the children, their families, Ms. Sarah and Ms. Gregory to pick the last of the Jonagolds.
Ms. Sarah explains that with our hands, "we twist, then pull," to remove each apple. Almost as soon she finishes speaking, it seems her wagon is nearly filled to capacity with fruit from her eager helpers.
The fog has an odd effect. The light remains bright yet diffused. Sounds seem muffled or distant yet immediate and close. I'm not sure how the science of this works, but there is something both magical and vaguely unnerving about it. You can't see or hear clearly. You remain slightly disoriented.
This suits me fine, as lately I've been in a reflective mood. Today happens to be Kingston's fourth birthday and I've been thinking a lot about him growing up, about what kind of boy and eventually, young man, I hope for him to be.
It's been on my mind a lot because the past month has been especially challenging. Throughout most of it, I couldn't help but think about a friend of mine who said that when her son was around this age, there were days when she was ready to run away and join the circus.
I get it.
The time between the tail end of three and the start of four has been the toughest. That will! And the force of it! The assertion of independence. The quick change of feelings and volatile behaviors.
At times, walking a tightrope or flying through the air on a trapeze seemed like it had to be easier than this.
And yet, it was all basically normal, what these boys go through trying to make sense of a world where so much is new and beyond their understanding. It's as Ms. Gregory puts it, an awakening.
I have a lot of empathy for boys. When I worked as a child therapist, the "wild," under-fives were the ones I really enjoyed.
I was that little girl who was always expected to sit still and be quiet (basically, to act like I didn't exist) while the adults were speaking. So, as an adult, I came to love the boldness of these boys. Their willingness to just be who they were and act upon every feeling as it occurred -- that felt like freedom to me.
I knew it was so hard on their parents and I felt for them, but I still cherished the spirit and physicality of the boys. I still do. But as a mom in the thick of awesome displays of preschooler power, I've had to pause and remind myself of the specialness of these little guys.
I've had to rememember that in their early years, their right brains - the side focused on spatial concepts - are much more richly developed than the left side. This explains their interest in the way blocks and pieces fit together and why they need to spread out their toys (AKA a big, huge mess!) over a large area. They just need more room to play, to move.
It also means they tend to take longer to develop verbal skills. Girls are way ahead here. There have been times when watching a group of little girls chatting and holding hands would elicit a feeling of envy in me because my child wasn't one of them. A girl.
I know how it sounds, but I would guess that nearly all parents have had some similar feelings during the course of their child-rearing careers. I've had to learn to accept these sorts of passing thoughts in myself.
The main thing I have learned from our three-going-on-four experience though, is just how much our little boys need us. The caring, loving adults who can remain solid with them when they are stomping their feet, hurling hard objects, or shouting angrily at the world.
When I say solid, I mean non-reactive. Ever-patient. Wise enough to know that this moment will blow over and that afterward we'll have a calm chat about it, exploring different ways to handle our feelings next time no matter how overwhelming they are.
For a little guy to know that it is okay to fall apart, to feel sad, confused and yes, fragile, is just about the greatest gift we adults can offer up. If we can also demonstrate that we will still love them, even like them, not in spite of who they are but because of it, that's even better.
It's taken a lot of reflection on my part to understand that I have to be willing to weather the storms with Kingston if I want him to grow into a young man able to cope with what's inside. I want more than anything for him to live authentically, fully in touch with himself. Deeply connected to the people in his life.
These are simple and comforting, just what is in order during quiet moments of thought and reflection. They are toothsome and not too sweet with apple flavor brought out by the addition of lemon and cinnamon. These are to be enjoyed by all, whether wild boys, well-behaving little girls or bewildered parents. No matter what, a bite of this will set everything to rights again.
Adapted from Bon Appetit.
Makes 10 buns.
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
1- 1/4 ounce package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour
Filling and Finishing
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2-3 medium apples (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/4" chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
A smidge of all-purpose flour for work surface
2/3 cup whole milk yogurt
3 tablespoons maple syrup
In a medium bowl, whisk together the two flours. In a large bowl combine milk and yeast. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until mixture is foamy. Add egg yolks and vanilla, combining well. Stir in butter, then salt and sugar. Add the flours into the wet mixture and combine until a shaggy dough forms.
Turn dough onto a floured surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is no longer shiny. Form into a ball and return to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel. Set aside in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough is twice its original size.
In the meantime, toss apples with cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice. Set aside.
Shape dough into a 15-inch log, then roll into a rectangle 6 inches wide and about 1/4 inch thick. Spread butter over dough. Spoon the apple mixture evenly over the rectangle. Roll lengthwise away from yourself to form a long log. Pinch seams to seal.
Cut log at 1 1/2 inch intervals. Separate pieces and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Some apple chunks may fall out. Just press them back in. Cover with plastic wrap then a towel and set aside in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until they are about 1 1/2 times larger.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix together yogurt and maple syrup. Set aside.
Uncover buns and place on middle rack of oven for 35 minutes until golden, or slightly darker if you like. Allow to cool slightly then spoon yogurt mixture over the buns.
Serve warm or at room temperature.