Dear Drudgery: Setting The Table For Thankfulness
The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun. Now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter! It helped.
I’m not sure if there’s a right way to teach gratitude. (I do know that endlessly repeating “You should be grateful!” is not as effective as you might think.)
And kids aren’t the only ones with gratitude issues. When I’m feeling drudgey, counting my blessings is just one more damn thing I’m not getting done. My crabbiness about preparing another dinner obscures my great good fortune that I have something to prepare.
But I’m convinced gratitude is a muscle—you work it, it gets strong, and suddenly you’re flexing all over the place.
My husband, without even trying (OH HOW TYPICAL) hit on a way to get us to work that muscle hard. In the beginning, neither of us had any idea he was striking a blow against drudgery and for blessing-counting.
Anthony’s announcement appeared on a Friday—a single sheet of printer paper taped to the inside of our front door, where none of us could miss it as we stumbled downstairs toward consciousness. He’d used clipart of the Extra, Extra guy—you know, the one brandishing a newspaper, from the Chance cards in Monopoly.
Coming soon! he was shouting. Hot Breakfast Wednesday!
Neither the Extra, Extra guy nor Anthony was providing further detail, so for five long days we waited. Anthony had never announced a Big Thing before. To be honest, Things were kind of my thing.
On the Wednesday in question, I stayed home to witness. (Our both-parents-work rhythm typically involved me heading to the office very early while Anthony did mornings. I got home in time to produce something edible for dinner.) And OH MY! The fully set table held waffles and fruit and warm syrup in pitchers. Sausages! It was like Christmas morning but WAY BETTER, because I hadn’t been up until 2 a.m. wrapping things.
Every Wednesday, Anthony told us, he would make a legit breakfast before school.
Hot Breakfast Wednesday became instant legend. And, like anything awesome, its name was soon nicked—even the acronym HBW wasn’t short enough. “Woo hoo!” hollered Middlest the following week, banging down the stairs at 6:55 while groping his way into a t-shirt “It’s time for HBDubs!”
You’d think I’d be thrilled, too, right? Super grateful? There was my husband, being all awesome! Taking his own steps to undrudge-ify our lives, not looking to me to do it!
I was, mostly. But this one little corner of me was kind of a dick. It couldn’t help but notice that I produced dinner regularly, with no formal announcement.
“And dinners are way harder!” that bit of me whined.
The kids gushed about HBW to their friends. I tried to imagine anyone saying, “Guys! My mom does the coolest thing. Almost every night when I come home, there’s dinner! No joke—hot dinners, like constantly!”
But Anthony figures out the waffle iron, and suddenly he’s this big hero?
I hate when I get resentful and pissy. I do it anyway.
* * *
What’s for breakfast? Anything, everything. Pancakes, of course. Eggs all ways. Beans and rice. Hash browns—from potatoes we grew in the garden or a bag we grabbed in the freezer section. Scones. BACON. No vegetable? No worries! Breakfast is a very forgiving meal.
Like any cultural icon, HBW was soon rich with ritual and unwritten rules:
1. The table is set. Whoever’s home sits down. We talk to each other.
2. Except for clearing their dishes, kids aren’t asked to help.
3. HBW goes on hiatus whenever school does.
But the most interesting convention of HBW was so subtle that I didn’t know it existed until a not-us person broke it. One Tuesday evening, a friend of Middlest asked what must have seemed like a reasonable question:
“Hey, what’s for HBDubs tomorrow? Ask your Dad if you can have. . .”
Anthony and I, overhearing, gasped and looked at each other. Who was this punk?
“Dude,” said Middlest, “We don’t ask.”
The unspoken (till now I guess) principle of HBW is that it is the product of divine intervention. Like snow days, manna from heaven, a letter from Hogwarts—HBW happens to you; your only job is to receive it with thanks. Anthony must have instilled this somehow. Wordlessly, which is his way.
We mixed up the rhythm and I got a stint as HBW master. One week I apologized for a particularly lame offering: “Sorry, guys. I didn’t get to the store so it’s just oatmeal today. I toasted some almonds, though.”
And Youngest replied “Mama, it’s hot breakfast! This is awesome! Thanks for making it for us!”
* * *
HBW was so over-the-top wonderful that our kids couldn’t help but express their gratitude—flex, flex, flex. I’m glad they were older (Youngest was in sixth grade) when Anthony started it. It wouldn’t have been a miracle in Kindergarten, but when you’ve been getting your ownself out the door for years—and then, suddenly, a weekly feast appears?
Middlest took a gap year. When he returned from his travels to live and work at home, the job he finally found kept him working past midnight. But there he was each Wednesday morning, chatting delightfully, saying THANKS THAT WAS SO DELICIOUS! (and then, usually, going back to bed.) When asked why he set an alarm, he said:
“I just figure. . .Hot Breakfast Wednesday is a two-way street.”
And so Anthony’s brainchild became a canvas on which what’s best about our family got writ. A midweek moment where we show up and no one bickers and we are our best selves.
But what about my own petty resentment, that little, drudgey place in me that had been crabby about. . . uneven thanking?
I got over it. I’m an all-in HBDubs fangirl.
* * *
Gap year is over, and Anthony just dropped Middlest off at college on the other side of the country. He emailed me:
“We picked up the boxes at Bed, Bath & Beyond. As the clerk rang us up, [Middlest] looked at me and said, ‘Thanks, Dad. Thanks so much to you and mom for buying me all this stuff.’ The clerk nearly wet herself. She said, ‘Now, that’s what I’m talking about. He’s the first kid I’ve heard this week thanking his parents.'”
And then that nice clerk threw a 20% discount onto the entire order.
HBDubs doesn’t get all the credit, but I know it helped get our gratitude muscles in shape. So, Hot Breakfast Wednesday? Thank you.
Illustration by Christine Juneau
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