It’s been more than a decade since I wrote the article below for Infozine Magazine in Kansas City. I found this copy when I was clearing out old files from my computer and when I re-read it, I had tears spring to my eyes. I would like to share it here:
Sometimes an event intended to move us forward into the future takes us on a trip to the past instead.
The Chef Apprenticeship Program at Johnson County Community College has an excellent reputation in the culinary field. Their competitive team does well and wins honors on a regular basis. The culmination of each student’s studies is a graduation luncheon for six that he or she is entirely responsible for planning and preparing. The student is given a budget and certain foods that they are required to prepare, but otherwise they can be as creative as they dare.
I was fortunate enough to recently be an invited guest to one of their graduation luncheons, and can only rave about the outstanding meal I enjoyed. Of course, you have to understand that I have a somewhat biased opinion. The student chef who invited me to join her was my daughter Meagan.
It was very difficult to see her face through the window of the kitchen without mentally superimposing the remembered face of a chubby three-year old over the face of the calm and collected twenty-one year old who was ruling her kitchen with authority. I spent most of the afternoon drifting back to the days when I ruled the kitchen and the kids were much-loved nuisances who ran in and out and were generally underfoot while I tried to prepare the budget meals we survived on.
As the first course of Veal Pate’ En Croute with Dried Fruits and Mango Salsa was delivered to the table, I saw all the Pop Tarts that I had to shove in Meagan’s hand each morning as we ran to the car to try and get her to pre-school on time. Meagan always woke up early and was a cheerful child, but was easily distracted. No matter how hard we both tried, we just could not make time to feed her a good breakfast and still leave the house when we needed to.
A delicious Guava Sorbet was served to cleanse our palates between the fish course and the main course. It was wonderful, but it just didn’t seem that long ago that a trip to Baskin-Robins for ice cream cones was the closest we came to palate cleansers. The trips resulted in a car full of happy but sticky children, and Meagan’s white blonde hair and toothy grin were always a comical contrast to the cheek-to-cheek chocolate she’d end up wearing.
Meagan’s main course was Roast Rack of Pork, Shiitake Mushroom Bread Pudding, Ginger Sautéed Spinach and Sesame Tourne’ Carrots. The bread pudding was spectacular and the pork was some of the best I’ve ever had. In the memory game my mind insisted on playing, though, all I could hear was Meagan’s exclamation of delight the first time she sat down to a candlelight dinner. She was only four at the time, but her response was a big intake of her breath followed by an exclamation of, “How elegant!” Who knew that she would later be setting the family standard for elegance?
The final course was Chocolate and Espresso Bavarian with a Cinnamon Tuile Cookie with Port Crème Anglaise and Cherry Coulis. The presentation was charming and the Bavarian melted in your mouth. It’s difficult after that meal to see how they’re connected, but I’m sure all the cookies and loaves of zucchini bread she cooked when she was in junior high were the perfect preparation for her chosen profession.
We’ve all spent our adult years dealing with our children growing up and into their own people. We know and accept this from the time they are born. Somehow, though, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the day when a child of mine would impress me so thoroughly with her adult skills and creative talents. I know everyone else who saw her that day saw only the accomplished woman she’s become, but I know I saw a little tow-headed pixie peeking out from behind that woman.
In the years that have passed since this was originally written, time has left its imprint on both Meagan and I. I became single; Meagan got married. I worked on my career; Meagan had to change hers to accommodate the birth of a son. I quit my job to pursue my own interests; Meagan is ending her marriage to pursue the same.
Through all these changes we have drawn closer and closer. Despite being Mother and Daughter, we can, and do, speak freely with each other. However, no matter how close we are or how openly we talk, I still get occasional glimpses of the tow-headed little girl she used to be. I believe that time is not linear, it is more like a book: the experiences layer on top of each other, much like the pages of a book. Sometimes it feels like it’s as simple as flipping through the pages to be right back in a moment that may or may not have been significant at the time.
Raising a child is a job that is never done. There is never a moment when you can say “There, that’s it, no more.” My mother always told me that she carried me under her heart for “nine long months.” What she never stated was that any child you carry under your heart will always stay in your heart and that no matter how old or wise they become, they will always be your baby.