Mornings — especially school mornings — are a particularly chaotic time when you have three young children. Much of the chaos centers on breakfast. And by “breakfast,” I mean “frozen waffles,” because in our house, there is no distinction. By the time my children are grown, I will have prepared an absurd amount of frozen waffles. If only my boys could gain an appetite for a different kind of breakfast, one that doesn’t involve standing at the toaster oven for three minutes, three times in a row, and then buttering six waffles and making three bowls of syrup for dipping.
Six years ago, I thought the emerging waffles-for-breakfast routine was just a phase. I figured it would disappear and then come again, like the boys’ cyclical taste for tacos or peanut butter sandwiches. I was wrong. At this point, if you take into account the rare instances in which we have temporarily run out of frozen waffles, an emergency situation to be discussed below, I figure that I have prepared approximately 10,220 waffles.
What is cyclical, however, is the boys’ preference for waffle type and preparation, so we have developed our own code words to differentiate. “Regular waffles” are the standard variety. Owen likes these with butter only and syrup on the side for dipping. Ford likes them buttered but prefers to add his own syrup, which is always too much. Owen likes his cut in two; Ford not at all.
“Square waffles” are the miniature waffles that are technically cinnamon toast. They can be broken apart into four separate squares and that’s the way Ford likes them. But if you dare break apart Owen’s serving, he will flop onto the ground like a seal that has underestimated the jump onto a rock.
“Waffle sticks” are actually French toast that can be broken into four sticks. Both Ford and Owen like them served whole so that they can break them and dip them into a bowl of syrup.
You probably noticed that I didn’t mention Lindell, our youngest, and his preferences. That’s because Lindell will eat anything, in any presentation, and therefore he usually receives all the cut-up, mashed-up, broken-apart waffles that were unsuitable to his brothers.
Now, if the wrong waffle presentation is enough to make Owen flop on the ground, you can imagine the calamity of not having any waffles at all. Ford and Lindell, who are usually pretty understanding about waffle mistakes, can be reduced to fits of rage on the mornings that we discover we have run out of frozen waffles. Because Owen previously has been so dramatic about ill-prepared waffles, he has but one last resort in these crises: not to eat at all. In fact, he will hardly speak if he can’t have waffles.
So you can see the predicament Dustin and I faced Wednesday morning when we opened the freezer and realized that there were only two servings of “waffle sticks” left. Three boys. Two servings. Lindell had already spotted the box and was dancing around the kitchen singing, “Waffle sticks, waffle sticks, we eat waffle sticks,” which effectively laid his claim to at least one of the servings. Ford and Owen were both upstairs, completely unaware of the waffle dilemma unfolding in the kitchen.
Dustin and I knew what we had to do, and we knew it wouldn’t be easy. It would, in fact, be one of those difficult decisions all parents dread. We’d have to choose between our two children. One would get waffle sticks, the other would not.
We weighed our options. Owen probably could not handle the heartbreak of watching his brothers eat waffles while he had none. We feared that he would slide off his seat, onto the floor, and perhaps curl up into a ball and never eat again. Ford would be disappointed, sure, but he usually is able to grasp the larger picture. And he never chooses not to eat.
Dustin put the waffle sticks in the toaster oven and began making a different breakfast for Ford. Lindell was still singing, “Waffle sticks, waffle sticks, we eat waffle sticks.”
The older boys came downstairs to eat. Dustin decided to overcompensate for the impending tragedy by being super-cheerful and accommodating. “Do you want some milk, Ford? How about orange juice, Owen?”
The children sat down at the table. No one noticed anything awry. Not even Ford, who was devouring his meal. Then Lindell started singing again. “Waffle sticks, waffle sticks, we eat waffle sticks.” Ford looked at his brothers’ plates and dropped his fork.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” he said. “They have waffle sticks.”
“And there aren’t anymore,” Dustin said. “There were only two servings.”
“So why didn’t you ask me if I wanted waffle sticks instead of them?”
And Dustin said, “Because we were afraid that you would say yes.”
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.