Early yesterday morning, I got hungry for the first time in weeks. The day before, we’d had our first hot breakfast since bringing Graham home. The food wasn’t that special—chicken sausage, a couple fried eggs, some buttered toast. I might have made the same breakfast on a weekend, a few long weeks ago, without any significance, but this time, it seemed like a big deal. I’d cooked the sausage’s skin to within an inch of its life, the way I love doing links. Only, it was the first time I’d made this particular brand of chicken sausage (the little ones from Trader Joe’s), and I was surprised by how much the exterior tasted like the perfectly crisped skin of a roasted chicken. Jim and I sat at the real dining table—the way we do now that Graham is here, so we can watch him sleep in the cradle right next to us while we eat—and chomped down sausage after sausage, pontificating on the possible advantages of chicken over pork. (Roasted chicken flavor, minus the dirty roasting pan. What’s not to like?) But for all of April—my, how the days pass!—the things I put in my mouth didn’t do much for my brain.
Then boom, at 4 a.m. yesterday, that chicken skin flavor came back to me, and I realized, with a little relief, that I might actually be hungry again. (I’ll admit a period of fear: What if having a kid somehow took away my appetite? Wouldn’t do much for job security.) Listening to the pounding rain, my brain meandered toward the refrigerator, and I realized, with a little shock, that my milk was letting down. Oh God, I thought. What if my shirt gets wet every time I think about chicken skin? It would be disastrous. And very messy, because there are few things I like more. And what if my brain found something more exciting than chicken? Who knows what my body might do.
Then I realized that while my mind was on chicken, my eyes were in fact still on our little boy, and my response was in fact quite normal. Issue resolved.
Anyway—I’m hungry. Actually, we’re all hungry, all the time, because food is quite an effective substitute for sleep. Luckily, most days, our refrigerator is full. We’ve been siphoning off the kindness poured from other peoples’ kitchens, and on our plates and in our hearts, it’s been delicious. There’s been high-brow tortilla casserole, great gooey macaroni and cheese, and enchiladas cuddled under a snow of scallions. Long-simmered carnitas, delivered with all the fixings and home-pickled jalapeno slaw. Delicious frozen lasagnas, to pop into the oven whenever we feel like eating. Sandwiches from Picnic. Banana bread. Angel food cake with berries and cream, left on the porch after a quick knock on the door. A pot of strawberries abandoned on the front steps, because goodness knows I won’t have the presence of mind to plant my own this year.
It’s been delicious, and ohso appreciated. Having a baby in the hospital was no cakewalk, but having people drop food off for us—to help, when we’re still trying to find ourselves as a family—has been one of the hardest parts about having a premature baby.
See, when we left the hospital last Wednesday, Graham got a clean bill of health—but having him home with us, getting early hugs and kisses, means he’s not still inside, building the stronger immune system most term babies have. The doctors recommended taking no visitors whatsoever until his due date, May 23rd (to avoid germs), and being extremely careful for a good bit afterward, too. It’s basically house arrest, minus the criminal record, which is all well and good until someone comes to the door with a lasagna.
I won’t lie. I don’t have the energy or leisure to sit and chat for an hour right now, or to do dishes after a dinner party. (Last night we actually grilled bratwurst, and even that was pushing it. I managed to break the grill.)
But a crucial ingredient in the food people share is the people themselves, and this last week or so, with this whole quarantine business, I’ve really missed them. I’m counting down the days until I don’t have to stand at the door, Graham in my arms, and wave, rather than hug, my hellos. Until I can say Yes, come in, please wash your hands. Until I can say Can you stay to eat this with us? Of course, I’m also selfishly looking forward to a bit of show-and-tell, too. He’s six and a half pounds now, and it’s mostly cheeks.
For now, though, it’s eating and running. Or eating and sitting, rather, while the cook runs away. We’ll spend Mother’s Day together right here, at this table next to the cradle, probably eating food someone else made with their own family. Everyone seems to understand. But someday very, very soon, I’ll cook for real again. I’ll open the door, and invite the neighbors over, and cheeks will be pinched. Then I’ll go back to the stove, and keep stirring, so I can put something in the freezer and drop it off later for someone else who’s still learning what it means to be a family.
Thank you, all.