As many of you know, the spawn had a rough time of things between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and as people who love children know, when they are unhappy, you are unhappy. It’s just the way of things. So, with Christmas approaching, and the spawn sad and anxious and not really wanting to do much, I pondered what to do with the holidays. He’d opted out of Thanksgiving with the family because he was feeling overwhelmed, and he asked for a day at the movies and take-out instead, and I’d agreed. Dr. Strange and Fantastical Beasts were great. But there was Christmas, and Santa. I’d posted lightly about what was going on the Book of Faces, and a Friend from high school had offered to do Christmas for us because I couldn’t think a thought through. But I worried.
And so, I said to Deanna, “What do I do?” And we thought. And she had an idea. She was in Gibsons, with her parents that weekend, across the border and the continent. But she told me that her aunt had a recipe box. It was old, and it was special. “What if we fill it with recipes for him?” she asked. “What if we ask the people to send him their recipes?”
The spawn loves to cook. He loves to be in the kitchen with me. I tell him stories about how I used to cook with my grandmother, and how his father loved to cook. I have taught him that feeding people is a way to love them. He’s been to cooking camp, and he watches cooking shows. He makes pickles and chicken and lasagna and he’s learning to make the meatballs I’ve spent a lifetime perfecting.
And, so, when Deanna proposed the plan, I said, “Okay. Let’s try it.” I wasn’t sure that I could muster the faith that anyone would help, but I said okay. And Deanna posted the message to the Book of Faces on her page first. And people responded. They asked for our address. They asked what they could do to help. And she managed this (soon to be overwhelming) project.
I was distraught and worried about the spawn and the bills and all of the adulting that needing doing. But about a week later, and because Deanna said that lots of people wanted to help, I posted it, too. And people began messaging me. My friends. My framily. Strangers to whom the post had been shared. Professional chefs. Restaurant owners. People I didn’t even know could cook. I was stunned.
I’ve written some pieces for Pantsuit Nation, and those folks are clever. So they looked at my page, and they began messaging and asking if they could send recipes. And so I said, “Of course.” And they told some friends.
By the time Christmas arrived, the spawn had already played Santa to some families at school, and things had settled down. At a point in mid-December, I’d had to explain the cards that were piling up in the box I’d set aside. I told him it was a special gift, and I explained the recipe box, and nothing else. The spawn loves his Auntie Dee, and so he went along. But we didn’t open the envelopes at that point.
On Tuesday, he had a terrible migraine and had to come home from school early. He was miserable. The headaches are becoming more intense, his arm is hurting in the cast, and he’s feeling a lot of anxiety. So, I made a decision.
I pulled out the boxes of the cards, and all of the other things that had arrived, grabbed a letter opener, and we got to work. The first thing I let him open was the recipe box from Deanna’s aunt. It is spectacular, and it also has a rooster on it, and while it’s not a metal chicken, I do have a fondness for the poultry because it’s at the heart of so many friendships. Yeah, I know. It’s weird.
And then we opened the box from Williams-Sonoma sent by someone awesome who must have known that the child likes to have his own tools. Also, the smaller, professional tools are much easier for him to use!
The recipes came next, and we read each card. I explained to the young one that each person that sent him something had thought about him. Each card that was written out for him had come with love from people all over the world. And they did come from near and far. From Philadelphia and the Shetland Islands and Australia and London and Scotland and Germany and Japan. Some of the people printed their favorites online, some folks typed them, some wrote them out by hand on beautiful stationery. There are old family recipes for things like Jambalaya from a friend in New Orleans and new ones for fun things for him to like homemade Chimichurri sauce. There were stories about how the sender makes the recipe, or with whom s/he learned to make it. There were stories about the first time a couple of the senders had made the recipe on television. There was history, too. Stories about Persia and the history of the dish for a family and another about why a Mexican one was so special that it’s only served at weddings. I was overwhelmed at the time and thought that had gone into it all. The spawn was quiet as he absorbed the enormity of what was there and what the little recipe box meant.
He immediately wanted to try one. He’s 10 after all, impulse control is a work in progress, and honestly, I’m all about supporting anything that has
nothing to do with Cheeseburger and Fries, the wayward hermit crabs who have become creepy the banes of my existence and whose musical stylings could be the soundtrack of any Stephen King novel.
And so he made us macaroons, from a recipe that Deanna’s most excellent “extra” son sent us on lovely stationery. And they were delicious.
Is this a story about how the internet is a wonderful place full of wonderful people? I’m not that naive. But maybe we should be more hopeful. We’re all feeling the anxiety and hate and anger and frustration as we head into uncharted waters in our country, and the interwebs are not feeling like any kind of proverbial “safe space” for anyone these days. Friends are fighting over things that might never happen, the political divide is so deep it feels unbridgeable and we’re quick to unfriend people who simply disagree with us.
Yet, there was this astounding outpouring of kindness and generosity of spirit for my child. People gave him their time, energy and stories. When we want to be, we are amazing creatures who take care of one another. A 10 yo boy who has a chronic illness and breaks bones and suffers from blinding headaches has a box filled with the love of people from all over the world now. When he’s feeling sad or, as his mother likes to say, “needs to work some shit out,” he can head into the kitchen with his very own collection of amazing recipes to do it, and he’ll remember that people he doesn’t even know from all over the world took some time and wrote out a card and told him a story and wished him well. He will know that he matters in this world. He has concrete proof of it, in a little box with a rooster on it. So maybe it’s a cautionary tale that we shouldn’t give up on humanity, or each other, just yet. When we want to be, we are amazing creatures who take care of one another.
So do I. And so do you.
Thanks, everyone. Our plan is to make one or two recipes a week over the next year, and take photos and post them in lieu of thank you notes. So stay tuned. And remember, when we ask for kindness, we find it in unexpected places. We’re still us, and we’re going to be okay.