Nothing I served trumped her first taste of oatmeal mixed with bananas.
Which is surprising, given the time I spent in the kitchen that first week Kara and her newborn were home from the hospital.
Not the chicken fajitas I made for their first supper. Not the quiche and lovely fruit salad I fed her on Friday. Not even the roast beef dinner with all the trimmings on Wednesday or all those pimento-cheese and chicken salad spreads I stuffed into fresh baguettes for lunch. Nothing I made measured up to that seventy second microwave oatmeal, which I learned only later, was Kara’s favorite meal of the week.
But looking back on it, why am I surprised? Even now, I recall how Kara’s eyes widened with her first bite. And how an inescapable “yum” followed her second. And as I reflect upon it more, I realize Kara’s response to bananas mixed with oatmeal was not so dissimilar from my own — though unlike Kara, I tried very hard to keep my pleasure under wraps.
It was years ago that I was sitting in a fancy restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in mid-town Manhattan. And except for the fresh flowers at the center of the table, I was quite alone. Like all the other thirty-something aged business executives waiting to give breakfast orders to a team of waiters as starched as the table-cloth that brushed my dress-for-success attire, I was in a hurry. And I wanted something that could be prepared quickly — that might already be waiting in a pot to serve.
And since it was a gray winter day, I wanted something warm. And maybe because I was feeling anxious, anticipating the jump-through-hoops, three-ring circus meetings I would soon be part of, I wanted something comforting. So when the waiter came, I ordered simple coffee and oatmeal. And he, looking up from his order pad, asked whether I might like bananas on top of my oatmeal. And covering my surprise — because I didn’t want him to know I’d never heard of bananas on top of warm cereal — I volleyed back a quick and confident ‘yes,” deciding I could eat around some slightly cooked bananas if I didn’t like them.
It’s funny that what happened that day at the office is not nearly as memorable as what happened at breakfast. But I imagine it was just another day of my pretending to know all the answers to a set of highly creative “who-thinks-up-this-stuff” kind of business scenarios. I learned early in my tax career that it wasn’t good to speak words like, “I don’t know”, when talking to people who paid big bucks for you doing just that. So I stalled when answers didn’t fall off the top of my head, hoping those who were asking would get sidetracked. It wasn’t all that hard.
Except it was. Because after a while of pretending to be this or that, it became easy to forget what was true and what was false, and which was really important. And I find it interesting that what I remember today about those five stressful years of my life, is a simple breakfast meal I had one day before going into the office.
What we remember is often interesting. There are times when I can’t remember where I’ve placed my keys. And yet, how easy it is to recall in rich detail that first serving of bananas and oatmeal right down to the starched white tablecloth.
Can it be that we remember those moments when our senses are most engaged — whether it’s taste or smell, like a favorite food from our childhood — or hearing the sounds of a certain song which transport us back to a different time in our lives — or the way something or someone once made us cry?
And on the flip side, how easy it is to forget moments — like where in the heck we’ve placed those keys — when operating on autopilot, or when living a lie as I once did, pretending to be what I was not.
Right now I’m wishing I had said “Yum” all those years ago, sitting by myself at that pretty table in the Grand Hyatt restaurant. I wish I’d said it loud enough for all my fellow starched-shirts to hear my unsophisticated surprise. But since I can’t rewind time, I’ll do the next best thing.