When I was in elementary school at Englewood Elementary in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, school mornings went pretty much like this: â€śKristi, this is the final time Iâ€™m coming to get you up. Now. Get. Up.â€ť I would snuggle into my favorite Minnie Mouse doll and promptly return to sleep.
So, inevitably the door would fling open again to my mother singing, â€śItâ€™s time to get up./Itâ€™s time to get up; Itâ€™s time to get up this MORN-ing./Itâ€™s time to get up./Itâ€™s time to get up./Itâ€™s time to get up to-DAY.â€ť My mother is not very good at singing. She plied her ragged, former-head-cheerleader voice like a crowbar, forcing us out of bed. There was also clapping.
So, I would roll out of bed, Minnie in tow, and land on the sofa where she had already hauled my little sister, Kacie. Weâ€™d watch "Inspector Gadget" or "Scooby Doo" while Mom headed for the kitchen. Mom isnâ€™t very good at cooking breakfast.
She would emerge from the kitchen, her brown hair frizzing, after approximately one minute with two warmed Pop-Tarts for our consumption. Invariably, they were either brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts or cherry Pop-Tarts, and the pair always matched. If it was a brown sugar cinnamon day, our Pop-Tarts would be broken in half, on the pretense that they were easier to eat â€“ like you might slice a sandwich. However, the jagged fault line was also a clever disguise for nibble marks.
The green and white wallpaper of our old kitchen curled at the edges. The yellowing linoleum mimicked a tile pattern unsuccessfully. The cabinets were dark brown like squares of a chocolate candy bar. Given my motherâ€™s absent knack for cooking, the kitchen felt surprisingly lived in.
Approaching my middle school years, I started to feel more independent. If I wanted to shave my fuzzy legs, I would. If I was hungry, I would not wait on my mother to fix me something. That is how I found myself -- like lots of girls -- asking my mother to hand down her prized recipe.
â€śMom, how long do I put the Pop-Tart in the microwave?â€ť
â€śFor ten,â€ť she said as she kept folding our tee-ball jerseys and picking up our troops of Barbie dolls.
I skipped across the linoleum, and with the upper body strength my short stature mandated, hauled myself up onto the countertop. I sat alongside our microwave with its faux wood sides and mint green numbers aglow. Tearing open the spacey silver twinset, I found two brown sugar Pop-Tarts. I swaddled one in a paper towel, as I had observed my mother do, and set the oven to radiate for ten.
Having the time to, I sealed the severed twin in a Ziploc and nested him carefully in the Pop-Tarts box. I tucked the cardboard flaps back down and shut the cabinet door. I hopped down from the counter and tiptoed back into the living room to secretly watch Momâ€™s soap opera.
But there again, was Momâ€™s craggy voice, yelling, â€śWhatâ€™s burning?â€ť Her question was soon swallowed by the deafening bleat of the smoke alarm.
She ran into the kitchen. â€śKristi, what did you do?â€ť
â€śI set it for ten minutes, just like you said!â€ť I protested.
She waved her way through the acrid smoke. Yanking open the door of the microwave to stop the timer, she stooped into a ball of laughter, punctuated by heavy coughs. â€śI meant ten seconds!â€ť she exclaimed. She was doubled over the countertop now.
She rescued the singed raft of a Pop-Tart from the microwave, and I grabbed her Redbook magazine, giggling my way onto a chair to wave it in front of the smoke alarm until the air had cleared.
A few years later, I had safely learned how to make bologna and cheese sandwiches and sworn off Pop-Tarts entirely. Kacie had started school. It was mid-May, and I drifted into our kitchen (always immaculate from disuse) after softball practice to grab a Gatorade when I noticed it, a gem of elementary school crafting. A single index card was wedged in the tines of a plastic fork, which was held upright in a small canister by plaster of Paris.
The Crayola blue in my sisterâ€™s stilted young handwriting read â€śPop-Tart: 1. Open the Pop-Tart package. 2. Put the Pop-Tart in the toaster thing. 3. Eat.â€ť
My mom materialized behind me, a grin spreading her across freckled cheeks. â€śFor Motherâ€™s Day, they told the second graders to write down their momâ€™s favorite recipe.â€ť