I ordered a Chicken Caesar Salad. There was so much chicken in it, really more than I needed. I found myself cutting and sorting, making a neat pile of the grilled chicken on one half of the plate.
Robb would have loved this salad. He would have had a lot to say about this salad, I thought, poking food around on the plate.
When he traveled, our conversations were minimal. Other than two calls a day to check in (“Good morning, I love you” and “Good night, sleep so well” sprinkled with the perfunctory “I miss you, but yes, I’m fine”), texting was our lifeline.
I always felt like we should have more to say.
Probably other couples have more to say, I told myself. Probably other couples pray on the phone and read the Bible aloud to one another.
But, in general, I learned that it was good for us to choose what worked in our relationship based on what actually worked in our relationship – not on the expectations we imposed on ourselves based on assumptions of marriages we perceived as stronger, more engaged, more connected, more in love.
We just didn’t talk a whole lot when he was traveling. We did a quick check of the marital pulse and called it a day. Don’t overthink it, T.
But there was this one time – I remember it so well. I opened my email, and his name popped up in my inbox. I opened it to see two full paragraphs.
What a gift. Two paragraphs!
I went on to read that he had met a colleague for dinner the night before, and Robb had ordered a Chicken Caesar Salad. It was apparently the most amazing Caesar Salad ever in the history of his life.
Oh, the chicken.
You wouldn’t believe the chicken.
More chicken than you can imagine.
Enough chicken to have some with every forkful.
Oh, the chicken.
Two paragraphs: Chicken.
That’s what he wanted to tell me.
At the time, I was woefully disappointed. I’m sure I was jealous that he had dinner out with a colleague while I was managing the scattered evening routine of meals and mess and baths and bed.
But I was also annoyed that all he could tell me about was the blasted chicken. Honestly? I wait and hope for a connection, and this is what you send me?
Oh, Tricia. What an entitled bride I allowed myself to be sometimes.
In retrospect, he had a great dinner, and he wanted to tell me about it. He had enjoyed a delicious meal, and he knew I could appreciate this. He knew I was sleeping, and he wanted me to awaken to this story in the morning.
I’m the girl he wanted to talk to about chicken.
That’s actually quite an honor. A silly, little, deep and profound metaphor of an honor.
It’s good to have that somebody. It’s great to be that somebody.
“Mommy! Stay away from that squirrel! If he bites you, you could get BOOBIES!!”
I think the word you’re looking for is rabies.
Thanks for the heads up, kiddo.
“Mommy, how many humps do camels have?”
He’s sitting in my lap during the safety break at the top of the hour. We have two towels wrapped around him; he’s a small and shivery five-year-old.
I run through my mental list of camel facts.
“I think they can have two or three, buddy.”
“I think they can have one hundred.”
This is how our conversations go: he asks a question, he corrects my answer, and I just agree. There’s no point in altering the dance steps.
“Mommy, what are the signs of the end of the world?”
I run through my mental list of the apocalypse. “Well, there are lots of them.”
“Can people break brick walls?”
“They would have to be very strong. But maybe some people can.”
“Wrecking balls can, Mommy.”
“They can. You’re right.”
“And we do. In Grover’s story, The Monster At The End Of This Book. He builds a brick wall, and we knock it down.”
“You’re right again, Ty.” There’s a matching app on my phone that lets him do the actual destruction with his fingertips.
“I think that’s so selfish of us. We are selfish.”
“We are. When we break Grover’s brick wall. He’s just trying to be brave and strong. He works so hard. And we break it down. That’s selfish. We are selfish people.”
Oh, sweet Tyler. The depth you found in that one page of the story we’ve read a million times. I adore your mind.
I love how you think.
It was the morning after the night before.
The morning after 9:17.
I woke up with puffy eyes; I had cried myself to sleep, even cried in my sleep. That’s the deepest kind.
I whispered a gentle “good morning” to myself.
I checked my wounds, scaling a 1-10 on the damage done the night before.
Be gentle with yourself today.
Take it slow. Go easy.
Yesterday was rough.
“Good morning, Mommy.”
They’re stifling snorty giggles.
I open my eyes.
They stand at my beside, each boy wearing one of my bras.
Bras are the new fascination. Ever since they found a naked and shapely Ariel doll at the swimming pool, they’re pursuing an independent study on the topic of the bra.
One of them offered to hook mine for me the other day.
No thanks, kiddo. I’ve got this.
I shooed them out of my room with a slurred reprimand for taking clean clothes out of the laundry basket, and I asked the tall one to turn on Netflix, the short one to get yogurt for everyone.
Back to assessing the damage.
Go easy. Take it slow. You’re puffy and tender, all over.
I heard a pillow fight happening downstairs.
This agenda of slow is a no-go. Yet, depression wrapped herself around me, standing between me and the bedroom door.
I brought myself down the stairs.
Coffee. Muffin. Netflix. Yogurt.
I stared blankly for an uncertain amount of time. The noises of our home happened around me, and a little bit to me.
And then I decided. “Today, I will bake.”
I opened my cookbook.
I winced at his handwriting on the card inside the cover: Robb’s homemade salsa.
I glanced through the laminated pages;
they have gathered dust for 18 months.
I have served only what came from a box or the bakery or the deli section or someone else’s kindness.
Every recipe is a memory.
Perhaps marriage is really just a series of meals.
I put the cookbook away. I’ll need to make myself a new one: a cookbook that doesn’t hold so much more than recipes.
I looked deeper in the drawer.
I stumbled onto his cookbooks. Titles like, Men Making Dinner and The Real BBQ.
I slammed the drawer closed. My mouth tasted sour. I’m not sure I can do this.
“Today I will bake.” That’s what I said a few minutes ago. It’s still today.
I opened the drawer, slowly and silently, as if his cookbooks were rats asleep. I found a new one – several years old, but barely touched.
I’ll do this thing. I’ll find recipes. I’ll start new. Because it’s today. And today, I will bake.
My friends, I did it.
I made a menu. I created a list. I took a shower.
(The boys were playing astronaut in the van while I was doing the psychoanalysis described above, and they loaded our car with blankets, pillows, and three dozen super heroes for their trip around the moon. When it was time to go, this pretending left little room for our land travel, but I didn’t care. I chose to embrace the charm. I took the astronauts with me – after we counted to three and moved the imaginary boulder from behind the van. Sure. Three can play at this game.)
The trip to the grocery store involved two spankings and perhaps some shrieking. I can’t be sure. Astronaut Mom lost her cool shortly upon arrival. I was thankful I had neither dried my hair nor put on any makeup. My parenting was in cognito.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right: My friends, I did it.
At the end of the day, I served the first-ever Dinner For My Family.
Okay, not the first ever. But the first on this side of the Great Divide. My children have no memory of Mommy in the kitchen. They were amazed that my skills surpass powdered mixes.
We had beef stroganoff. (Not Robb’s recipe, since I couldn’t bear to go near his cookbooks or mine, let alone inside his head. That recipe is one-third documented and two-thirds intuition. So I started anew. And frankly, my recipe is easier – and perhaps as good. Don’t tell him I said so. He would stage a bakeoff in no time at all and ask you to choose sides.)
Honey Wheat Bread.
Chocolate Cream Pie.
And, they cleaned their plates.
They were impressed and satisfied.
My friends, I did it.