Jack plunked down the bulk-size bag of pancake mix just as I pushed the button to lower bagels into the toaster. “But I wanted PANCAKES,” he complained. I explained that Charlie had asked for bagels and fruit, so we were going with that instead.
It was early Sunday morning, and Joe had been away in Vegas since Thursday. I turned from the counter in time to see Jack’s face screw up in anger and his hands begin to wave in the air. “We need pancakes today. Today. Pancakes.” Here we go, I thought to myself.
Could I have made both? Of course I could have. But something inside of me refused. Some tiny seed of stubbornness deep in my gut said I am not making pancakes he can eat a bagel like everyone else.
I cursed that tiny seed all day.
Within minutes Jack flew into a rage, chanting pancakes pancakes pancakes over and over. He started to bounce around the kitchen, moving fast around the perimeter of the room.
I tried to figure out what was behind his distress. It certainly wasn’t hunger; he spitefully shoved an entire bagel in his mouth and mashed it between his teeth when he realized pancakes were not going to make an appearance on his plate. “Eeewww!” Henry squealed. “I no want to see YOU FOOD Jack!”
Every time I asked him why pancakes, why they were so important to him today, he whined and clapped his hands over his ears. While I cleaned up the counter he hid under the kitchen table muttering and moaning, popping out every now and again to scream about the injustice of bagels for breakfast.
Getting desperate, I used a tactic our psychologist once suggested, where we have Jack come up with a solution to the problem. “Jack, how can you make this morning better for yourself?”
“By eating pancakes.”
I began to seriously resent a city called Las Vegas and anyone who dared to visit there.
The talk turned to the Super Bowl. Joey and Charlie were very excited to wear their new jerseys and watch the entire game. For the past week we had planned the menu and they were very specific about what they wanted; piggies in a blanket, cocktail meatballs, nachos. Jack broke away from his pancake mantra long enough to sneer football is so stupid. I tried to draw him into the conversation, to flip the pancake switch inside his rigid brain, by telling him how the coaches on each team were brothers. He looked up quizzically for a minute. “Brothers? How can they be BROTHERS?” I shrugged and said it just worked out that way, each brother was the coach of a different team and now they had to play against each other.
“But then NOBODY WINS.”
I considered his point of view throughout the course of the morning. I know many people hoped for this Harbaugh match-up, to see two brothers duke it out for championship rings in the name of football. But it made me uncomfortable. I don’t like to think of two boys born to the same family intent on defeating each other. Because, as Jack put it, no one really wins when a brother loses.
I had arranged for a babysitter to come over so I could go to yoga, and after spending the morning arguing about pancakes I was glad for the break. I thought maybe it would give both Jack and I a chance to regroup so we could have a fresh start to the day, but when I returned an hour and a half later, sweaty and relaxed, Jack met me at the door with a furrowed brow.
“I can’t believe. You didn’t make us pancakes.”
Without taking a breath, he launched into his tirade. He was going to cancel the Superbowl. He was going to take the cabinets off the wall and throw them away. He was never going to school again. As he followed me up to the shower he reached for words he’s been scolded for, the very worst words he could think of, gleaned from top hits by Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry and Rihanna.
“I want those SEXY PANCAKES NOW!”
For the rest of the day, he raged and perseverated. Unless you live with a child like Jack, it’s probably difficult to imagine the level to which an eight-year old boy can obsess about something as trivial as a breakfast item. The word pancake started to lose meaning for me after Jack repeated it upwards of a thousand times—it no longer stood for fluffy ivory discs I’ve enjoyed with blueberries and syrup. Instead, it stood for everything that was wrong with my morning, my day, my life.
My mind trailed back to the Super Bowl brothers. When one team won, another brother lost. Not so different from the bagel vs. pancake standoff. Maybe somehow Jack felt as though he’d lost an important breakfast battle, that he’d given something up, that Charlie and his bagels were the victor.
Later that evening I stood at the kitchen sink, preparing our snacks and appetizers for the game. We had just returned from an afternoon of skiing, and Jack was in a chatty mood, the way he always is following a few hours of exercise. “I just wanted EVERYONE to have pancakes for breakfast, that’s why I TOLDED you it over and over.”
And suddenly I realized that the day hadn’t been about competition or winning or losing after all. It was about sharing and including. It was about Jack enjoying his favorite meal together with his three brothers and one sister.
And so I reached into the cabinet and pulled down the griddle. This Sunday, while we watched the Super Bowl, our family munched on piggies in a blanket and cocktail meatballs and nachos. And stacks of sexy pancakes swimming in deep pools of amber syrup.
Wherever the Jim and John Harbaugh are on this post-Super Bowl Monday morning, I hope they’re able to have breakfast with each other. Because some days, it’s small things like warm pancakes that make brothers happy.