I Hope He Remembers the Smell of Cinnamon and Salt
Tucker wakes up so quietly. He is always up before his older brother, and he is awakened by hunger. He sits up in the bed and says Mommmmyy, in a voice so tiny the only reason I hear it is because I am Mommy, and I grew that little voice. He reaches his arms out to me, and I lift him from the bed, convincing the blanket to let go, static snapping softly from his pajama-clad legs. He hugs to me, his perfect head on my shoulder, and sometimes he says, my mama your hair wet. You take a bath? Because I do all my ritual early, in the dark, before the boys wake. Or he says, mama your bed clean, when we pass my room, and I’ve stripped the sheets for washing, and the quilt is folded neatly under the naked pillows, stacked one on top of the other at the corner of the mattress. By now, the light is barely seeping through all windows, and an early train (not the earliest) is going by. We move to the kitchen. He always sits on the counter between the sink and the stove, the under-cabinet string lights twinkling behind his small frame. He is three now, and has always been small and wiry. He sits with his bare feet dangling down in front of one of the drawers, and so when I need a knife or a teaspoon, I gather his ankles together in one hand and lift his legs up. He holds them straight out, helping me along. I imagine how this feels for him: a little stretch in the hamstrings, a morning breeze through the toes. He nearly always eats two breakfasts, one that we make together, which is a banana with raisins, or peanut butter on homemade bread. I carry him and his food to the dining room, and he reaches out with a sweet finger to flip on the light. But he always comes back to the kitchen, grunting as he pushes a bucket of pastry flour to the counter so he can climb back to the top. Then, we make second breakfast (and his brother wakes up). He talks to me about food.
Concerning pecans: These one nuts are the best ones, mom.
On knives: You can cut your finger really bad.
On mixing: I wanna do it. I wanna dump in all the cups and be stirring.
He tastes everything. Cookie dough. Raw oats. Flax seeds. Breading. I often think of the fact that he would never touch these things if presented to him on a plate, at mealtime. But he is a natural chef. Quality control is paramount.
It really really good, mom, he reports, looking me right in the eye.
Once something goes in the oven, he hoists himself down from the counter and runs off, making machine gun noises, or engine spurt sounds. But when the smell from the kitchen starts to move through the house, he comes back to see what’s ready. He usually comes charging into the kitchen as the oven opens, and I have to slow him down to keep him from careening into the hot oven door.
Today we are baking granola. It’s early spring, and I’ve opened wide the patio door leading to the deck, which is right next to the oven. He runs through, his fine hair lifting, past the patio screen and screeches to a halt as the granola is being sifted around with a spoon.
That so warm on my face! He cries.
I like to imagine that on these slow mornings, I can see the world dimly through his eyes. I used to wonder what his older brother would remember, too. He grew up on a farm, whereas now, we live in town. The eldest seems to remember well the softness of baby ducks. Perhaps even the smell of hay and manure. Possibly as far as the sun through a pea trellis and seeds on his feet. He remembers us stopping on a road to move a box turtle out of harm’s way. He remembers sitting in wet dirt. Will Tucker remember the morning quiet? The sight of a bed on cleaning day, the way mama lifts his toes gently to the scraping sound of an opening wood drawer? I hope he remembers the smell of cinnamon and salt, and a glide past the cold opening to the patio on a spring morning, followed by the warm oven air on his cheeks. I hope he remembers hugs and smooches from his mama while he sat on the kitchen counter and waited for food to cook, and mama leaned into him to smell his puppy smell, and watch him pinch off dry oats between his fingers and bring them to his lips.
I am not the softest, most patient woman alive. I’m like my oldest son. I want it all right the first time, and I am hardest on myself. I’m learning. More often than not in my mothering, I am filled with coarse guilt, and it pulls everything out of me like salt. But on food, we stick together, my boys and me. I think we strike a slight balance, and we get gentler, sensory-rich moments. I wield a bone deep hope on our life of food. I’m banking big time that there is enough sweetness there to carry us.