(Photo/Wikimedia-Przemysław Wierzbowski CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Photo/Wikimedia-Przemysław Wierzbowski CC BY-SA 4.0)

On cinnamon challah and forgiving myself for parenting missteps

The margarine sizzles in the pan. My eyes, not quite awake, watch as the pale yellow blobs melt without complaint. The kitchen is quiet save for the sizzle. The whole house is quiet. It’s not quite 7 a.m. and my world is still softly dark.

Soon the sun will start to streak its blue-gray fingers across the sky. Soon they will all be awake and their breakfast will be ready. Homemade.

His brown eyes sparkle when I suggest French toast and his older brother mumbles an amenable “sure” when I offer fried eggs. I sprinkle a little salt on them while they’re frying and try my hardest not to break the yolk. “Sure” is a lot for a teenager with earphones — my heart squeezes when I hear it.

I beat the eggs with milk and slice the round cinnamon challah, left over from Rosh Hashanah. The spicy sweet aroma sticks to my fingers. It’s the only bread he’ll eat as French toast. The fork clangs quietly against the bowl. Sizzle sizzle clang. A gentle early-morning symphony of sound and smell.

I’m happy to be here, in the kitchen, making French toast and frying eggs before the sun and my family rises. I find myself here a lot lately: pulling chocolate chip cookies out the oven, a sweet treat just because; peeling bright sweet oranges to eat after football practice; marinating chicken for dinner; or counting how many cans of beans I need for the chili. We always seem to be running low on something.

I soak the cinnamon challah in the egg mixture and place it gently in the hot pan. The loud sizzle is oddly comforting. I’m content here in the kitchen, cooking, thinking, drinking tea.

It wasn’t so long ago that the constant, endless need for bread, milk and eggs deadened my soul and squelched every spark of selfish desire that dared to flicker through my veins. Not at all long ago that my kids were always hungry, always wanting — demanding food, school supplies, attention. Or so it seemed.

Their relentless torrent of needs depleted and exhausted me, until “Have a banana” was my answer to everything. Except we quickly ran out of bananas. The supermarket, the car, the grocery bags and especially the kitchen brought tears of frustration and despair as I struggled to find myself while in the cereal aisle or while driving carpool.

What kind of mother was I, who hated taking her kids to the park and repeatedly forgot the snacks?

Somehow, during my decade plus as a parent, I had confused my kids’ needs with my own.

The mommy-and-me music and baby-gym classes that once filled my day with joy and social interaction (when my oldest was a toddler) became frustrating and boring the third and fourth time around. No longer did I have the patience or the time to wait at the bottom of the slide at the park, and often I forgot the snack bags of goldfish that kept whining siblings occupied while we waited for karate class to end.

And I felt bad, guilty. What kind of mother was I, who hated taking her kids to the park and repeatedly forgot the snacks? Out of touch with the things that mattered to me, as a whole person and not only as a mother, I ignored my frustration, my resentment, my boredom and kept going until the best I could do was snarl “Have a banana” through clenched teeth every time one of them said they were hungry.

To find myself now happily awake before the dawn, preparing a breakfast that requires much more than a bowl and spoon, is a miracle of time, love, motherhood.

Standing alone in the quiet kitchen, I consider these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: a time for reflection and contemplation. A time to ask those we may have hurt to forgive us, and to open our own hearts and find forgiveness for those we feel wronged by.

Including ourselves.

I place the eggy bread gently in the sizzling pan, and make myself wait one minute more before flipping it over. Can I forgive myself for those years of impatience, anger and resentment? Feelings that still scratch their long, menacing fingernails along my neck and down my spine. Can I find kindness and empathy for myself during those exhausting years, when I allowed my kids’ needs to dangerously stifle my own?

The French toast is now just the right amount of toasty brown. These three staples — egg, milk and eggs — are all we need for a morning of bright eyes and coherent conversation. I save the bananas for the smoothies they all drink. The kitchen smells like cinnamon. And forgiveness.

Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is RedBoots.me.