Finding the Zen: Messy Pancakes

The recent chilly, week-long school holiday prompted my 9 year old son to ask, “Mom? Can we make Messy Pancakes again?” They are his longstanding favorite breakfast food, based on a recipe I discovered years ago and tweaked into one that has become fully our own family tradition- including the name.

I grew up on just-add-water, mix-and-pour pancakes, ready in minutes! Following a recipe for pancakes used to be akin to asking me to hook up the wire on a lamp before screwing in the lightbulb. Why would I… and could I even, if I tried? Seriously. It’s a good thing I’m into raw foods, let’s just say that much.

At the time, I was married to a chef in the Coast Guard who had been at sea for weeks and the kids and I both were craving something more than cereal or frozen waffles for breakfast- an easy rut to fall into as an effectively single mom trying to get kids out the door for school in the morning. It was my first Winter in New England as a California transport. I was fuh-REEZ-ing and finding things to do indoors was becoming an increasingly challenging and creative endeavor. So, I checked my ingredients, waited for the weekend, when I knew I would have the time- and patience, and decided to give it a try.

Amazingly enough, I took and kept a photo!

Having kids in the kitchen is a wonderful thing for many reasons- not the least of which is excusing horrible food disasters by way of tiny hands. I also let the kids measure and pour, which is good for their developing motor and mathematical skills. Aiden was born with a helpful heart and has always been excited about trying new things; his earnest love and complete lack of attachment to the outcome gave me a freedom I had never encountered when facing my own creations- edible or not. So, I approached the recipe with a handful of (mostly) abandoned reservations and a pair of freshly washed four-year-old hands and set to work.

We pulled out all of the ingredients and began to cut, measure, mix and pour- all before I’d realized we were out of syrup. (Pancakes I have to bust my ass for with no syrup?! UGH!!) I could feel my zen slipping… then remembered something I’d seen then-hubby do before to make a fruit compote: add corn starch. YES. Yes. Okay. Still got this… (Enter chorus of swaying hippies, lighters lifted, chanting, “We shall over coooooooooome, we shall over cooooome” in my head) I checked the freezer and found a bag of mixed berries that I plopped into a saucepan with a couple tablespoons of apple juice, stirred in another few spoonfuls of the soft, white powder, (I’d never really seen it before!) put the burner on low and got back to overseeing the mixing.

They took WAY longer than I had ever spent making pancakes- or anything, really, ever before. When we were through with our efforts, we had procured several brown, lumpy, oddly shaped wads so thick and heavy, I was pretty sure they were going to skip being eaten to put on some flannel and grab a chainsaw to finish a hard day’s work at a lumber mill. I could  have said about the same for the syrup/sauce/fruit goo.

This was a giant, leaping bound away from the light, fluffy pancakes of yore. My spiced oatmeal pancakes looked and smelled like Rudolph had used the serving tray as a personal port-a-potty. (Going with the unicorns-farting-rainbows theory, I’m assuming magical reindeer poo also magically smells of cinnamon and vanilla) My not-so- abandoned reservations were screaming in my face, SEEEEE? Dude. Yuckballs. Leave the cooking to the professionals, eh? Despite the encouraging eyes of my toddler companion, I kind of wanted to cry.

I couldn’t make the even, beautiful stack of pancakes to drizzle golden maple syrup over that I’d envisioned. I had  procured congealed lump juice to scooge (that’s a technical term) out over steaming reindeer turds. MMMM, yeah! Breakfast of champions! Supressing tears and determined to at least make the best of the experience, despite the seemingly abhorrent concoction before me. I piled the “pancakes” and eh.. “sauce” together on a plate and handed it over with a smile, setting down plates for myself,  my then 6 and 1 year olds, as well. Before I had even finished setting down glasses for juice, Tobin (6) was protesting. “I can’t even EAT these! They’re too messy!”

It felt like an arrow to my already sinking heart and the lump in my throat began to swell. I knew I was no chef. I knew he didn’t mean it as a personal attack. I also knew that he was telling the truth; they were messy. The pancakes crumbled and broke right along with my spirit. My ego was telling me to just throw them away, never to be attached to my name or spoken of again… when I noticed Aiden, who was- wait… eating them? …. and liking it?

To-men ‘eesh are MESHY pancakesh!” he said between never-empty-mouthfuls. “We MADE ’em. ‘ey’re GOOD!”

With that small insight, the burden of my expectations and ego were lifted. Aiden had never had an agenda aside from wanting to spend time with me- and wanting a hot breakfast. He had enjoyed every minute of the feel of the flour mixture, the satisfaction of successfully cracking the eggs, the stickiness of the dough, the participation and the company. When it was through, he loved the outcome with no reservations and simply called them as he saw, “Messy Pancakes”… and they were the best pancakes I’ve ever tried.

Starting, in my case, with pancakes.

I ate and loved our messy pancakes that day, once I let go of my ties to my expectations of them- and myself. They were a favorite at first bite, despite the initial appearance. By the next time I made them, I was more prepared; I knew that I needed to shape the pancakes myself if I wanted them a certain way and that they were going to be filling, not fluffy. I also knew they were good no matter how disheveled they looked- you know… like we all are, first thing in the morning.

In short, I found happiness when I stopped expecting my pancakes to behave like a ones from a completely different mixture, just because that is what I was used to; when I stopped giving so much energy worrying about the work to come, the inevitable imperfections and my own misconceptions. I wondered how many other things (and unfortunately, people) in my life I have mentally set aside and labeled as too messy, too hard, too _____, instead of letting the uniqueness, the beauty, the fun and the lesson to be learned flow by allowing myself -and others- the freedom from my ego and desire.

Like this:

My children and my love for them have been my greatest teachers in life. Labels can help me classify and process things, but they can also make me stuck. I’ve learned that it’s important for me to always keep an open mind toward progress, always with love in my heart and wonder in my spirit… even about something as simple as pancakes.

PS: Yes, yes…. the recipe is coming! 😉


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  2. Awww. I love this. It's just not about the pancakes, is it? I have two boys. My youngest loves to get in the kitchen with me. (and his hair is messy and long like your son's-*winks*) This is a great perspective! Thank you.


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