Buttermilk Pancakes

new parents

new parents

Eli has been alive for 17 days, and today I yearn for buttermilk pancakes. My need is primal. It’s a return to unhurried pleasure, a lazy Sunday morning, something that no longer exists. For the past two weeks, when I have been lucky enough to eat breakfast, I have eaten it standing up, hunched over the counter with a bowl and spoon, stuffing my mouth like a dog.

Today, I crave pancakes.  Not the kind you find at most breakfast joints, heavy and airless as manhole covers. The pancakes I make are light and crisp, tangy with buttermilk. They’re dotted with blueberries and bananas, covered with maple syrup and a dab of butter. Steam rises from their depths.

God help me, I will eat pancakes. And they will be glorious.

***

He bolted into the world four days before Easter, wide-eyed and screaming his lungs out. He had a tangle of rock-star hair from the start, a dark birds’ nest that never fell out and drew the same comment ad infinitim from every friend and stranger we came in contact with: “Lookit ALL THAT HAIR!”  

Andy and I couldn’t believe our luck. He slept and nursed. We lived inside our little cocoon of love. I hardly slept at all, but it didn’t matter—or so I thought.

***

With luck, I will have fifteen minutes to enjoy my stack. So I get to work: Break the eggs, mix in the dry ingredients and buttermilk while the pan heats up and my window slides shut with every tick. I stir the batter knowing Eli—whose fuzzy head rests on Andy’s chest in the living room—could wake any minute, bawling for his next meal on the breast-milk express. I wonder whose need is more primal, his or mine.

I stand over the stove, a stoop-shouldered vulture, the burner turned up to medium-high. I imagine lifting the fork, crispy perfection melting in my mouth.  Please God, cook these pancakes fast. In my left hand, a plastic spatula is poised. But the pancakes aren’t cooking nearly fast enough. Are they cooking at all? They do not bubble or hiss or curl around the edges. Instead, as I drum my fingers on the countertop, flaccid little pools congeal in the Teflon pan.

My left hand twitches.

I am so tired and hungry. My head throbs. A needle of pure impatience slides up to my throat. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that ten minutes have passed. My window of opportunity is about to slam shut.

Then, a spasm. A flick.  Thwack! Tired of waiting, I’ve slapped my spatula on the stovetop. For a split second, it feels so good, this release of exhaustion, hunger, hormones. But then, horror: The ceramic shatters in front of me, slick black spiderwebs spreading out in all directions.   

***

Sometimes, I feel as if I’ve slipped out of my skin. There are the middle-of-the-night crying jags when I rock him, sing to him, plug him with the pacifier and he still will not go down. He has become a squirmy infant who, I could have sworn, just chuckled at my exhaustion. I sprint down two flights of stairs to scrub another soiled onesie in the basement sink (His third diaper blowout of the day! A record!) and race back up to find him mewling at the plaster ceiling. I pour a bowl of Cheerios for a mid-afternoon snack (always hungry!) and swallow a single spoonful before Eli wakes from his catnap and howls for a feeding. These are the moments when I feel I have shed an integral part of myself. I no longer steer my life. I mutter ugly words under my breath and then scold myself for losing control.

***

My moment of anger will haunt me. For months, our ceramic cooktop will sit, all but unusable. In the lower left quadrant is a jagged hole roughly the size of, well, a pancake. From there, hairline cracks extend in three directions. We cover the unsightly hole with a blue plastic cutting board and order a replacement immediately, but it is out of stock for the next six weeks.

We microwave a lot. We make no eggs, pancakes or pasta.  The jagged hole remains, a constant reminder of my loss of control.

When the replacement finally arrives sometime in late May, we open the box and discover that it has broken en route. We send it back, and another arrives two weeks later—broken as well.  We cancel our original order and switch online wholesalers.

Midway through the summer, a third replacement cooktop arrives, packed this time like the remains of an Egyptian mummy. I say a little prayer as I inspect it. This time, it is fully intact. We pay a handyman to install it, and shortly thereafter one of its burners stops working. The repairman returns, fixes the burner connection—and later that day, the electronic display begins to flash wild and indecipherable messages.

In my guilt-ridden head, the control panel blares OUT OF CONTROL in neon green. It chides: YOU LOST IT.

I deserve all of it.  I’m lucky, really. It is only a stovetop.

***

Shouldn’t I have expected all this? Isn’t this what countless new parents have gone through forever? I can’t be the only one swinging between all-consuming love and resentment.  But I can’t imagine I would feel quite this way if I gave birth to my first child at 23, or even 30. I am 43. While most parents spend their 40s growing accustomed to empty-nesthood, I’m doing it in reverse. I spent the first two decades of my adulthood with my nest all to myself, and it set my ways in concrete.

Sometimes, I want my old life back.  

In that life, I could head off for a five-hour bike ride on a whim. I could stay up past two watching movies, or go to an all-night diner. I could fly to Boston, or Indianapolis, or  San Antonio, write an 18-inch newspaper story while wedged in my seat, then work eighteen-hour stints for days on end, armed with a notebook, laptop, and tape recorder, going on nothing but caffeine, room service, adrenaline and the promise of a story on the sports cover. I remember the exhaustion and satisfaction that brought.

Finally, I have the baby I’ve dreamed of.  But the days fly by, and I’m swept further away from the shore, toward some barely visible dot that never gets closer. The bike sits in the basement, gathering dust. I still read movie reviews, even if I never see any movies. I tickle Eli’s chest with the stuffed day-glo banana, float the little blue whale around his head while he cackles with abandon. Yet I can never lose myself completely in his joy. Instead, I’m churning my legs, fighting the long curling wave. It carries me away from the beachhead, away from lazy pancake mornings, from a life that already seems to have been lived by somebody else, a stranger.


About the Author

Pamela Schmid is the creative nonfiction editor at Sleet, an online magazine, and the recipient of a 2013-14 Loft Mentor Series award in nonfiction. She was named runner-up for the Sycamore Review’s 2014 Wabash Prize for Nonfiction and spent more than a decade as a staff writer for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, River TeethBlue Mesa ReviewSweet: A Literary Confection, Tahoma Literary Review and elsewhere. She holds an MFA degree in creative writing from Hamline University and is completing a book of essays exploring the power of silence and words.

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About The Author Pamela Schmid

Pamela Schmid is the creative nonfiction editor at Sleet, an online magazine, and the recipient of a 2013-14 Loft Mentor Series award in nonfiction. She was named runner-up for the Sycamore Review’s 2014 Wabash Prize for Nonfiction and spent more than a decade as a staff writer for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, River Teeth, Blue Mesa Review, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Tahoma Literary Review and elsewhere. She holds an MFA degree in creative writing from Hamline University and is completing a book of essays exploring the power of silence and words.