My piece from the the anthology, Homeward.
I don’t remember exactly when my stomach began to hurt.
I know it wasn’t when we were all piled on my parents’ bed, amidst the Sunday funny papers, the dog, and the giggling. And I know it wasn’t when my mom suggested we start our day with waffles for breakfast. But sometime between the breakfast suggestion and the rest of Sunday, the dull ache started— usually well before the yelling and screaming.
No matter what I did, I found myself powerless to stop the outburst, although sometimes it felt like I could forestall it through impeccable behavior. Controlling my behavior was the only superpower I possessed; but unlike invisibility, teleportation, or alchemy, it never proved very useful.
Yet every week, I would give it a try. I would scurry about, helping with chores as best I could. Despite my effort, the explosion would eventually arrive. Someone in the house would invariably trip the invisible wire and KABOOM: my mom would go crazy, personifying the term “ranting and raving.”
By evening, the storm would pass, but not the wariness lodged in my stomach. And thus, most Sundays would end with me and the dull ache settling in to watch The Wonderful World of Disney and Wild Kingdom.
As an adult, I knew I wanted Sundays to be both the same and different. I wanted the time in bed with the whole family, the laughter, the reading, and the playing with the dog—followed by a yummy breakfast. I longed for the sense of belonging that clung to those memories of Sunday mornings. I just didn’t want the dread and fear that followed.
In the early years of marriage, my husband and I would start Sundays off reading the paper in bed with the dog at our feet, followed by a run and a breakfast of potatoes and eggs, and then a second cup of coffee as we enjoyed more of the Sunday paper. As our family expanded and the paper moved online, we continued with mostly the same tradition. First, the kids would climb into our bed and we would read books together, amongst the dog and the laughter. We’d get up for a run that first involved a stroller and eventually kids on bikes, followed by Sunday breakfast.
It sounds good now, but for years I found myself peeved almost every Sunday morning. It wasn’t the heaviness or stomachache of my childhood, but it tempered the mood. The irritation would start as we headed home from our run, when my husband said he would get a breakfast of eggs and potatoes started. Sometimes I suggested we go out or make pancakes or waffles instead, but he would override the suggestion. Even when the rest of us voted for waffles, his vote would win. It sounds like nothing, but it irritated me. And even when I didn’t suggest something different, I still felt overridden. Because it seemed so petty, it took me years to mention this.
When I did finally bring it up, something amazing happened. My husband told me that when he was growing up, his family also had many rituals, including one on Sunday mornings. And when his parents got divorced in his early teens, most of these rituals were discarded. Neither of his parents was inclined to continue their family traditions, choosing instead to start fresh. From then on, he craved the sense of connection that ongoing rituals provided. Eating the exact same thing every Sunday morning felt important because it was a routine he could easily maintain.
Truthfully, I had never considered the contents of a weekly meal ritualistic. Sure, I loved serving my Nana’s special dressing on Thanksgiving and always made cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. But in childhood, when my family gathered at Nana’s every Friday night, what we ate wasn’t the point. And the weekly potato breakfast? I just hadn’t thought of it that way. But when he shared why he wanted potatoes and eggs every Sunday, my ire disappeared. Suddenly, it felt like an honor to share that same breakfast each week.
Now our kids are grown and flown. They still come home for vacations and weekends here and there, but their day-to-day lives play out a thousand miles away. When they do come home, they always try to schedule their departure sometime after potatoes and eggs. It’s a ritual they have come to count on and love.
As for me, I appreciate how our family’s Sunday morning ritual evolved when we melded the good parts from our childhood memories. By combining the pieces we loved into something meaningful, we were able to rewrite negative parts of our childhood scripts and create something we both cherish.
The Waffles vs. Eggs debate helped me to see that I actually had another superpower after all. Alchemy is the practice of changing something ordinary into something extraordinary. It is that bit of magic that transformed something as ordinary as a potato and egg breakfast into a ritual that creates a deep sense of rootedness and belonging.