By Kate Fries
When my husband travels, my sons and I have pancakes for dinner.
It’s a ritual that transcends space and time. We’ve repeated it in different spaces as my kids have grown up.
I am listening to iTunes in my kitchen, bopping along to Rilo Kiley. It could be 2006 or it could be 2015. In 2006 we are in a suburb of Chicago, my kids play on the floor while I measure ingredients and wash fruit and the cat snakes her way around my ankles. We have just returned from a late summer walk. We talk about the “yucky mushrooms” we saw growing on neighborhood lawns and our upcoming trip to Disneyland. I am tired in this moment, dreading the witching hour without my husband to tag team with me, but we are happy.
Now, in 2015, we’re in Central California and my kids can help make dinner but they’re just as likely to be found lounging in front of the TV. The meal is the same, their requests are the same.
(“Can you put blueberries in the batter? Can we have whipped cream on top?”)
There was another house, another city, in between Chicago and here. There was a too-small kitchen and a window that looked out on the rosemary that grew abundantly in the backyard. I could watch my kids ride their scooters on the deck while I mixed and poured and flipped and sang along with the radio. That was the house I loved, despite its too-small kitchen and aging appliances. It broke my heart to leave.
But here we are in a new city, a new house. I grieve the loss of those former lives and years. I try to embrace what we’ve been given here. I try to heal myself as I come out of a fog that has lasted too long. There’s a dog now, instead of a cat, and I am working outside of the home so these evenings of solo parenting are more somehow more chaotic than they were when my kids were needy toddlers. My kids don’t chatter about Thomas and his friends or roll their Matchbox cars around my feet, they’re absorbed in handheld games, they’re reading Harry Potter and Jurassic Park. They talk about algebra and avoid talking about girls. And I am a little older and a little sadder than I was in Chicago.
I know I will miss these days, too.
I plate our pancakes, do a little shimmy in time to the Rilo Kiley song coming from my computer’s speakers. I sing along to the part I like best:
“You’ll be a real good listener
You’ll be honest, you’ll be brave
You’ll be handsome, you’ll be beautiful
You’ll be happy.”
Caught up in the music, I raise my spatula in the air, triumphant. I sing across time to my Chicago self and my Bay Area self in those other kitchens and tell them all of this will be okay.
My happiness has always seemed precarious and hard-won when others seem to have it abundance. Where we are right now—enjoying this exact moment in my newest kitchen, the one I never asked for but got anyway—is a victory. If my kids are listening to the lyrics I sing at all, I hope they understand I am trying to be my best self for them.
The pancakes are gluten free because that’s how we roll these days. We’re out of syrup tonight so we top our pancakes with Reddi-wip. Things are different and things are the same. Both can be good.
Kate Fries lives in Central California with her husband, tween sons, a labradoodle puppy, and a cat who came with the house. A full-time journalist at a mid-size California newspaper, her work has also appeared in Good Housekeeping, Huffington Post, Mamalode, and Club Mid. She can often be found running and listening to comedy podcasts.