I was supposed to be hungry—NPO after midnight—the day my son was born, but instead I had a fried egg sandwich for breakfast.
Oozy yolk, melty cheese, crisp bread. Eight years later, I don’t remember if it was homemade bread or a sesame loaf from the bakery down the street. I do remember how my husband cleaned up the counter methodically before he got started cooking, as he always does.
He moved without haste as if it were any other day. But then he still thought our baby was going to be born the next day.
Henry was to arrive by planned c-section on a Wednesday, three weeks before my due date. Given the plan and those 21 days shaved off, I was pretty smug that I knew when my baby would be born. His birth one day earlier than planned would be the first of many lessons about expectations.
Late Monday night, I started spotting. A little anxious, though not alarmed, I called my doctor who said to call back if I had any cramping or contractions. I fell into the uncomfortable, fitful sleep of late pregnancy.
I felt a jolt and woke with a start. What was that? I think it was a contraction. Wait was it?
I waited and waited. Almost an hour. And then again.
I debated if I should call my doctor. Two contractions an hour apart. But my doctors had impressed on me that I should not go through labor, and after the spotting had said to call if I had any contractions.
5 AM. I called and woke her up. After reminding her about my case, she told me to come in for monitoring at the hospital at 8 AM. They’d check me out before my scheduled appointment at the office.
I quietly went upstairs and packed a bag and then I waited, letting Brian sleep as long as he could. Then I shook him gently and explained the change of plans.
“Do you want a fried egg sandwich for breakfast?” he asked.
I was hungry as I was so often those days, and we had a busy day of bustling from one appointment to the next. I was having more contractions, and I suspected that we weren’t going to wait until the next day to have this baby. I knew I wasn’t supposed to eat before surgery, but my doctor hadn’t said I couldn’t. . . .
So he wiped down the counter and cleaned a few dishes and sliced bread before heating up the pan for the eggs. All the while, I waited to get going.
I enjoyed that sandwich thoroughly, though I ate it quickly. It’s one of the last memories of before. At the time I watched Brian impatiently, wondering at his need to clean the kitchen before he started working, but looking back his unrushed approach was part of the normal of those last moments before life changed.
Henry was born that day. When the anesthesiologist asked when I ate last, I admitted to the egg sandwich as I signed consents and got an IV put in. Soon after Henry entered this world. Brian held him in the OR and chatted with the anesthesiologist about hiking in the White Mountains. Everything was OK, or so it seemed.
After Henry died, I fumbled around on his birthday for a while, trying to figure out what to do. One thing I settled on a few years in was making my self an egg sandwich for breakfast, a nod to the memory of the day he was born. These days we are just as likely to have cake and sausage for breakfast, a tradition that Henry gets included in though he wasn’t here when it began. Henry’s birthday is coming up. I think I’ll an early egg sandwich and second breakfast of cake.
I’ve listened to a few episodes of the Plan Simple Meals podcast recently, and host Mia Moran ends each episode with this question:
Tell us about one meal that made an impact on you, whether it was because of the company, the food, or an aha at the table.
She inspired me to start thinking about all the meals I could pick to tell about. It’s Wednesday—Write with me.
Tell me about one meal (yes, just one) that made an impact on you.
“I had an awesome day!” said my big girl as she got off the bus. Then as I was trying to get dinner ready, something shifted. She stormed up stairs, flung herself on my bed.
“Everything was bad today.”
At this point I sigh deeply and hope nothing is burning on the stove. I want to remind her of all the good things about her day, the ones she bubbled about when she got off the bus, the things we’ve done since. She hates it when I say things like, “It was terrible when you got pancakes for breakfast. And you hated having gym today. Then I made you play soccer.”
“Mom, STOP IT!” she says, annoyed but trying not to smile all the same.
I do stop. I let her tell me what was bad—the friend she didn’t to sit with at lunch, the project she wanted to work on when she got home, the bike she wanted to ride before it got dark. I acknowledge it is hard when we have to choose what to do, when we can’t do all the things we want. I get her calmed down enough to go check on dinner.
When we sit down at the table, I ask who has three happy things.
“Can I go first?” she asks. Turns out her day wasn’t all bad after all.
Her mood shifts strike me lately, coming as they do at dinner time or bedtime. I just want to get food on the table, get every one tucked in. I’m tired this time of day—and sometimes I get grumpy. Sometimes I need to refind the happy in my day too. The other day I posted this on Facebook:
3 happy things today:
- playing games with my kids in front of the fire this morning
- pre-dinner backyard soccer
- the gorgeous orange-pink sunset behind the bare trees spotted during that soccer game
It was a peaceful cozy start to my day. I admit, I didn’t really want to go out to play soccer, but my big girl’s enthusiasm was infectious and the fresh air woke me up. I found myself smiling even before she stopped the ball and said, “Mom, look at the sky!” We both paused to soak it in before she started kicking again. When we looked back, the color had faded our fingers grew cold, and we agreed to go back in.
We typically say something we are thankful for at the beginning of dinner, and perhaps that would be more appropriate in this season, but this week, at my neighbor’s prompting, we started saying three happy things.
Once we get started, the kids can’t seem to stop. They rattle off five or interrupt each other—”oh, oh, I have another one.” It’s not a bad way to spend dinner.
Today, the my little girl’s use of the word splendid during a game delighted me, bright sunshine fills me with joy, and finishing up a project that I’ve been procrastinating makes me happy.
What ‘s making you happy today?
My journals are filled with the sad, angry, worry, and confusion. There are moments of joy or contentment, but they tend to be briefer, less frequent. I write often to sort things out.
But happiness, hope, joy, and gratitude have a place too. Write about what makes you happy today. List it (a happiness journal rather than a gratitude journal) or choose one and freewrite about it. Start with sensory details. Take of a snapshot of this moment in words.
Share what’s making you happy today in comments.
“Let me take your picture before we eat,” I said imagine chocolate smears from the muffins all down her first day of school outfit.
As I grabbed the camera (I still don’t have a cell phone), she raced to the stand in front of the flowers where her sister had stood for her first day of school picture last week.
“Only with K!” she demanded wanting her sister in there too. Then quickly she changed to, “I wanna take a selfie.”
My preschooler wanted to take a selfie.
I didn’t go to preschool, but when I was in school, I didn’t know the word selfie because it didn’t exist. When my first day of school pictures were taken, my mom took them with a camera. With film. Long after school started, when we finished the roll and remembered to drop off the film and remembered to pick it up, we got that film developed and actually saw the pictures.
These days, my kids want to see the picture practically before I take it. “Let me see. Let me see!” Digital means you know if you got a good shot or not, but there’s no waiting, no anticipation. Sometimes it feels like everything is RIGHT NOW all the time.
But last week, my big girl headed off to school on Monday and the little one turned to me as the bus pulled away. “I’m bored. There’s no one to play with.”
Despite everything feeling “on-demand,” she had to wait for more than a week for her school to start. But today was her day. She was up early and dressed in the outfit she had picked out, the one that wasn’t my favorite on the rack, but was so her, bright and bold and sassy. She was all big grins that she had the same kind of muffins her big sister had had for her first day of school.
She waved her sister off and then hurried to the car. It was her day, and she was ready to start.
Both my girls are back in school, and I’m settling back into my own routine, including writing more regularly.
Are you writing today?
Think about what’s different now than when you were a kid. Make a list or zoom in one change. How do you feel about this change?
Four tomatoes hung in a small cluster, orange-red, with a bit of yellow on the shoulders. The other plants hold hard only green stones or tiny yellow flowers. I picked the first, held it warm from the sun. Every year when I pick the first tomato, I want to hold it up reverently, slice it ceremoniously, share it in the celebration of the first tomato.
Every year I remember that my kids don’t like tomatoes and my husband would think the first tomato celebration silly and a bit much. So I savor it myself, slicing it and sprinkling the ribbons of basil, drizzling the olive oil, sitting at the picnic table to eat because that burst of summer should be eaten outside. Or I stand in the garden, sun-warm tomato in my hand and eat it, slowly, juice dripping down my chin. Either way, a celebration.
I walk through my garden regularly, seeing what’s ready to be picked, what needs some attention, what’s going to be ready to pick. (Keep an eye on those zucchinis.) I enjoy all the foods that come out of my garden, but I don’t look forward to many of them the same way I look forward to tomatoes.
This year, four came ripe together and I bit into one in the garden, bursting its skin, the juice coming out with almost a pop. I ate the others under the pear tree, ignoring bickering at the dinner table and licking a bit of juice-flecked oil from my thumb.
More tomatoes will come and I’ll enjoy them fresh and slow-roasted with garlic. I’ll make sauce and simmer them into salsa. I’m looking forward to tomato bounty (fingers crossed against late blight, a problem I haven’t had yet, and septoria spot, which I have), but I celebrate that first tomato.
What part of summer are you celebrating right now?
Celebrating tomatoes is really about slowing down and savoring. It’s about finding and holding joy in small things.
What can you celebrate today? What can you notice? Think small and focus on your senses. Enjoy!
The day before your son’s eighth birthday, you stop at the market to get sausage for breakfast the next morning. You go to the bank, get gas, buy coffee. You meet a friend, eat quiche, drink coffee, write, like you do every Thursday. The checklist of errands, the routine of your writing day soothe you.
The day before your son’s eighth birthday, you notice the lilacs are fading quickly, though you still catch a ghost of their scent, but the deep purple irises have just opened near the back door. You stop to watch a butterfly hover and rest on a flower, its wings nearly black with white spots on the underside, with more yellow on the top. You stand and watch even though mosquitoes hover around you and the air is steamy and your garden is full of weeds. Your son taught you to slow down, to notice. You needed to relearn that lesson throughout his life. You keep trying to relearn that lesson now.
The day before your son’s eighth birthday you get your older daughter off the bus as the leaves turn up on the trees and the wind picks up. You wait for rain that doesn’t come. You hear a low rumble far away.
“Let’s make Thunder Cake!” your girls shout. It’s not the cake you planned to make, but you eight years ago you learned that your plans don’t always play out. You read the story with the girls clamoring on the couch around you. Then you set them to beating the egg whites in the old hand mixer while you measure out the other ingredients.
When you try to take the cakes out of the pans, one sticks and crumbles. You look at the mess and sigh. It will still taste good. Imperfect things can still be amazing.
The night before your son’s eighth birthday, you sit in the rocking chair and sing your girls their songs. You remember the song you made up for your son who should turn eight tomorrow. You remember singing it, tentatively, quietly, in the NICU surrounded by beeping machines and another baby who couldn’t stop crying and parents you knew only by sight and nurses. You remember how tense you were in those first days and feel yourself wound tight again. You take a deep breath and try to let your shoulders down.
You try not to yell at your girls who have to use the potty, see spiders, have “bad thoughts,” can’t sleep. You tuck them back in. You give them good thoughts. You say, “Be quiet. Its late.” You say good-night one more time.
On the night before your son’s eighth birthday, you make chocolate frosting, the really good one that takes a long time. You flip the mangled cake onto a plate, spread the thick frosting on top. You flip the other layer on top and smooth frosting on again. When you are done, you look at the cake. The smoothness of the top that will not be punctuated by candles breaks you for a minute. The tears that have been waiting come. You need them to come out. You don’t know if there are more.
On the night before your son’s eighth birthday, you plan out your morning:
egg sandwich early in the quiet before everyone is up
sausage and cake—your neighborhood tradition
get your big girl on the bus
snuggle and read with the little girl
tend Henry’s garden.
On the night before your son’s eighth birthday, you remind yourself that your morning probably won’t go that way. You’ll sleep late or the little one will be up early. Your big girl’s tooth will fall out or the little one will have a meltdown. Thunder will rumble and not bypass you this time. Things won’t go as planned. He taught you that, too, your boy, though letting go of plans and control is another lesson you have to learn again and again.
You step outside, look up to the ¾ moon bright in the sky. You want to feel him in the stars like you did one night in Maine. You want to feel him warm and sleepy up in bed. You shiver in the cool night air, feel the grass damp beneath your feet. You go inside and tuck your girls back in, shifting the big one’s feet back on the bed, wiping sweat from the little one’s forehead. You breathe deep this moment—the chill night air, the dog snoring on the couch, your girls cozy in bed. You sit with this moment. Right here. What is.
Tomorrow your son would turn eight. You plan to sink your hands into the soil in his garden. You plan to eat chocolate cake and strawberries. Maybe you will, or maybe not.
The day will unfold, just as his life did, on its own terms regardless of your plans. Tomorrow your son would turn eight. You will try to let go of your plans, hold onto your memories, and find beauty in the day whatever it brings.
My calendar is empty. I have no to do list.
I won’t be on a phone call with a group I meet with every other week or doing a training a client is offering.
I won’t be Christmas shopping or editing a chapter or paying bills.
And I won’t be online. Emails will wait. Facebook with chatter on without me.
On December 17, I’ll let the quiet settle around me. Settle within me.
I’ll take care of my girls. I’ll be with my family. I’ll be kind to myself. I might walk or read or write a letter. I might work on the needle-felted turtle I’m making for my niece, not because I need to get it done, but because the process is soothing. I’ll see what I’m moved to do.
I leave this day open every year. In the middle of all the bustle and festivities and end of the year wrap up, I make space.
I make space to remember and to sit with what ever emotions come. The emotions are hard, but that space, that quiet is beautiful.
You should try it.
Go ahead. Take a day. Let go of your “should do” list. Shut down the computer. Turn off your phone. Let things wait. Move slowly. Go outside. Soak up the sunshine no matter how weak or trace patterns in the stars. Breathe deep. Walk. Sit by the fire. Do what feels comfortable or comforting.
Let in quiet and stillness and peace.