Want to be my kid’s hero? Feed her pancakes.
Early this summer, I drove Bee a few hours south down the winding lane of my parents’ neighborhood – all mailboxes and pine trees – and walked into the front door framing the same four walls I grew up in. The same welcome sign swacked against the painted door, same familiar groan of the hinges. We were here for a sleepover, among other things. Just the girls.
My mother set to work mothering Bee in the same way she mothered me years ago, and as I watched, the shared muscle memory flooded my now-older limbs. Her, still a mother. Me, still a daughter. How many times had I witnessed the familiar intonation of her story book characters, counted the peach-speckled tiles in the bathroom whilst spitting-and-rinsing away peppermint paste?
In the morning, I find myself drawn toward my old chair at the family table – only now, with a few more empty chairs. Where my towhead middle sister once sat on my right is a different towhead – my towhead – legs dangling, asking for sliced strawberries.
My mother serves chocolate-chip pancakes, a Saturday staple. I pile berries onto my stack, a few walnuts. The maple syrup tastes like a single childhood summer, like late afternoon bike rides and skinned knees and green, chlorinated hair. When I breathe deep, I can smell DEET, sun tea.
I love Grandma Mary’s house, Bee says, her fork stabbing a piled-high plate of pancakes, syrup dripping down her chin, her forearms, her elbows.
Me too, I say.
After that, it was only pancakes on Saturday.
In some minute of the seventh hour on any unnamed weekend, I can be found in the kitchen surrounded by a symphony of egg-cracking, banana-mashing, cinnamon-sprinkling. I mix the batter, serve my generation’s version of my mother’s generation’s version – a banana-egg pancake that offers both nutrition, speed. Simple clean-up.
It doesn’t realllllly taste like Grandma Mary’s, Bee says, even though she eats it just the same.
This is what it means to be a mother: balancing, forever, the ways you learned with the ways you will teach.
It was my girlfriend who first mentioned the idea of pre-made pancake batter, the kind that just sits there, ready-for-anything on your fridge shelf. Straight from the carton, she says. Open and pour, she says. Couldn’t be easier! she says.
She swears by it for those frenzied, rushed, off-to-school-in-under-20-minutes mornings.
Our mornings don’t feel that way, not yet, but something tempts me when I hear straight from the carton.
Bee wakes late, bedhead and a foggy brain. It’s Saturday.
I have a surprise, I whisper, and we tiptoe to the kitchen to heat the skillet.
The real kind, I tell her. Like Grandma Mary’s.
Her eyes light up, and I think of my own mother. Was this her drug, too? The meeting-of-needs, and then some? The above-and-beyond? The lighting-of-her-daughters’-eyes?
I pour my coffee, heap a tall tower of pancakes onto both of our plates. We eat by the forkful.
And this is what it tastes like: the space between ease and work. Syrup. Berries. The familiar spark of tradition, the beginning of a new memory. Pecans. The simplicity of a ready-made breakfast – ever-so-practical – made special at the hands of a mother.
Did you know Grandma Mary used to call these panda cakes? I ask Bee, keeping our voices low so we don’t wake Scout.
That’s funny! Bee says. What else did she say?
I watch her chase a pancake around the plate with a fork. I watch her stab for a pecan, and miss. I watch her dip the last bit of strawberry into a pool of maple, hands sticky, the counter a mess of crumbs, of breakfast chaos.
Everything, I think, and I remember it all.
This is an essay for Revolution Foods, and the everyday heroes who rely on ’em. Win a month’s supply of your kids’ favorite foods right here (Dinner Hero included!). Thanks for reading.