It’s 5pm. There are two extra kids at our house, a sinkful of dishes, and piles of discarded clothes festering in sparkly pink clumps. The kitchen table is layered with paper flotsam. The fridge is full of unaccommodating raw ingredients which need shaping and pulling and massaging into something resembling dinner. My 8 year old daughter, Rose, and her friends are shrieking, ramped up like teenagers on spring break. They’re suddenly in new outfits; it’s like a nudist convention for how many clothes have been tossed aside in the past hour. Col, 10, has drawn a cloak of quietness around him, sitting at the table drawing airplanes.
“Do you think he’s changing?” I asked my husband recently.
“How so?” He wondered.
Like he needs us less, like he’s pulling away, separating a little. More backtalk, more defiance, more sister-directed snark. He dodges my goodbye kiss when I drop him off at a friend’s house.
And still, every morning Col tucks his sleepy body into my own folds and crevices. He murmurs, “You’re the best Mama for me,” and I remind myself to take what is offered with gratitude rather than grasping. He grabs my hand when we’re walking home and our limbs swing together, long and short, until a ice-sheeted puddle beckons and he detaches.
I miss the little boy who once needed large doses of my lap daily. And I want to be the mother he needs today. This is new territory, as is every other layer of childhood that has adhered to the children’s bodies like their own limbs stretching and elongating. This parenting is like a progression of dance moves, where children start out literally in your body, and move increasingly further away; it’s beautiful and terrifying. As usual, I’m being called to get with the warp speed program of impermanence. Don’t look back, the kids seem to say.
I begin clearing off the table when Col announces, “I want to make dinner tonight. I want to create a new recipe.”
“OK. What do you want to make?”
“Something with eggs and cheese and carrots and raisins.”
“How many eggs? How many carrots?”
“Four eggs. Two carrots.”
“Get a piece of paper, write it out,” I suggest. We approximate amounts. We nix the raisins. He gets out the grater and starts grating exactly two carrots. “We need spices,” he tells me. He adds kale upon my suggestion, beats eggs, grates cheese, dumps milk, sprinkles in rosemary. Rose’s friends get picked up and she tractors around the living room, lifting bundles of clothes into her arms. We pour the batter in a heated cast iron pan and I clear the table while dinner bakes. It comes out of the oven and everyone gathers to admire its puffiness, its kale- and carrot-confettied beauty, its ready-to-eatness. We flood Col with compliments and he beams while we devour it. He calls it “mungo.”
My ten year old made dinner. I feel the sting of grateful tears building. I can do this. I can be the mother my children need in this moment, and the next. We devour every last crumb.
1 cup flour (we use tapioca)
1 cup grated cheese
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cooked, shredded kale
2 carrots, grated
3 TBSP butter, melted
1/2 TBSP each rosemary, salt, garlic powder
1/4 cup salsa
* this recipe lends itself to much fiddling. Add sausage, add other veggies, get creative.
Mix all ingredients in bowl except salsa.
Warm a large, greased cast iron pan at 350F.
When cast iron is hot (approx 20 mins) pour ingredients in.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until browning on top. Spoon salsa on top. Turn off heat and let stand in oven for five more minutes.