“The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.” -Seneca
This morning I made pancakes for my two young children. This may sound insignificant, but I assure you it was nothing but. Like many things in life, perhaps all things in life, context matters. It is not the conclusion but how we arrived there. The journey not the destination. The process of learning how to cook pancakes, not the pancakes themselves.
When I was twenty-six years old, I worked in a warehouse and was the safety chair for the union for the 3am shift. Our operation had a particularly high rate of accidents, some of which were rather severe, so when we finally made a whole month with no accidents the safety committee decided to host a pancake breakfast for the entire warehouse.
The preparation for the pancake breakfast was easy. Syrup. Griddle. Pancake mix. Oil. Measuring cups. Whisk. Bowl. We were ready! Afterall, I had been to culinary school so there was no one better suited than I to lead the pancake making effort. The safety committee was lucky to have me. Except for one minor detail. I had not only never made a pancake, but I had also never had one made for me. I literally had zero pancake experience.
The directions on the back of the pancakes seemed simple enough so I followed them exactly. And the pancakes were terrible. So terrible that no one, including myself, wanted to eat them. I was embarrassed, but more so, I was confused. It must have been the mix, I reasoned and started to problem solve on how to get better pancake mix quickly to feed the masses that were sure to be starving after a long shift.
A fellow coworker came to my aid. She looked at what I was doing and asked if I had ever made pancakes before? I nodded my head “no” in shame and asked her if she would show me how to do it. She dumped my batter out, dumped a bunch of powder mix into the bowl, took cold water from the water cooler and mixed it for a bit. Then she took some more mix and a minute later added a little bit more water. She didn’t even touch the measuring cups I had set out for her. She showed me by lifting the whisk up out of the batter that there should be a continuous line of batter if it is the correct consistency.
The pancakes my coworker made were perfect. Everyone loved them. They were light and fluffy and perfectly brown. The pancake breakfast was a success because of her intervention to my pancake making efforts.
That night, I thought about everything I had learned in culinary school and in the eight years I had been working in professional kitchens. How was it that I never made a pancake? I thought about the breakfast cooks who always prepped the pancake batter the night before and how I had never really seemed to be on the hot line when breakfast orders came through. Perhaps, I actively avoided it. There was something else going on in my subconscious regarding pancakes.
A few months later, I found myself in the company of three young children and I offered to make pancakes. I had after all watched someone make them once, so I was now an expert. My pancakes were terrible. The kids ate them and were thankful, but I could tell by the mass amounts of syrup they used that they were not the type of pancakes they were used to. I felt a sting of rejection that bothered me more than it should have. The inkling that I had a resentment against pancakes was rising in me once again.
Several more years passed with intermittent attempts at making pancakes and failing. Then one day during a visit with my ailing mother she started rambling about how ungrateful her kids were and how they didn’t even remember how she made pancakes for every single day for a year. It was clear that she did not think I was her daughter, so I inquired which child she made the pancakes for, since I had no memory of her cooking breakfast. She mentioned the name of my oldest brother who is a decade my elder. Then it all started to make sense. My resentment of pancakes started with my mother guilt tripping my brother for not being grateful enough to her for feeding him breakfast.
Armed with the knowledge that my relationship with pancakes was indeed quite complicated and like many things in my life, stemmed from childhood neglect, I was ready to dominate pancakes.
It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I was given the opportunity to practice my pancake craft. At first it was rather effortless as I learned about how to use cold water instead of warm and to let the batter sit a bit before using it. It helped that I had found a great mix at Costco that was rather idiot proof. My pancakes were average, not gourmet, but most importantly, they were editable. My son loved them, and I gleefully made them for him anytime he asked.
Then my son became rather ill, and we discovered he was lactose intolerant. He had to forgo all dairy until he could start gaining weight, at which time we could try introducing it in very small amounts. This meant no more buttermilk pancakes. This was a complication that I did not have a simple remedy for.
For the next eighteen months, I tried many recipes and mixes for dairy free pancakes. I quickly learned that making the mix from scratch produced better results, so I focused my efforts on trying a few new recipes a month until I found one that he liked as much as regular pancakes. We even went to dairy free restaurants and tried their pancakes, none of which replaced his beloved buttermilk pancakes.
Finally, I had it! I found a recipe that had him asking for pancakes a couple of times a week. Every time he asked, I feel my heart jump a little as I was so happy to make him a breakfast he wanted to eat and at the same time, I was making breakfast for my inner child who didn’t even know what she had been missing.
By this time, we had a daughter as well and she was just entering the pancake game. She did not care for the dairy free pancakes. She hadn’t ever had a regular pancake, but it was like she just knew that it was a little different and she’d take a bite and leave it.
As time passed it was suggested that we reintroduce a little bit of dairy into our son’s diet to see how he handled it. Turns out, buttermilk pancake mix from Costco is exactly the right amount of dairy to not bother his tummy. We were back in business. Our daughter, finally got to experience the joy of buttermilk pancakes together with her brother. It was a very happy homecoming of sorts.
This brings me to present. I was sick the last few days and laid in bed listening to my dear husband wrangle the children. Our son was home sick too and our daughter went off to Montessori so there were a million things to do with a million distractions. My brave husband dominated while also caring for me. It is a terrible thing to be sick but even in those moments I could find gratitude in the care afforded to me by my partner in life.
This morning, I found myself refreshed and ready for the day. At 4am. After over 24 hours in bed, I was anxious to get started and made a huge breakfast for my family which included pancakes. As I cooked, I was overcome with gratitude. I am healthy enough to wake up and cook for my family. I smiled as I poured out little tiny pancakes for the kids on a perfectly greased griddle and watched with satisfaction as they evenly bubbled up and when I knew it was the exact time to flip them. I made over a two dozen pancakes without a single fatality. It was one of my most pleasurable pancake making experiences to date.
When my children appeared a little after 5am asking for a “snack” which is our toddler’s version of breakfast, and my son disappeared with the tv remote, I was ready. I handed them each a little pancake that fit perfectly in their little hands and they ran away with it like it was gold. Four times each they returned asking for another as I continued to cook. Then when my husband woke up, we sat down to eat more pancakes, fruit, oatmeal, and eggs. Everyone went on their way with a full stomach and a happy heart.
Today, I see failure differently than I once did. I failed at making pancakes because the pancakes were a symptom of unresolved emotional pain. Once I was able to work through this pain, I was able to make pancakes. This is notable but what stands out to me even more is that because of my experience, I hope to find the gratitude in pancakes for the rest of my days. The lightness in life is what seeps in through the cracks made by our experiences, it is in these spaces that life is most full.