It’s sometime after ten pm, and I’m running back and forth between the house and the car, looking for a chicken. I’m not sure if it is three days before opening day at the cafe, or two days before we open. I have stopped counting time. Time implies waking hours and sleeping hours. I’ve surrendered the idea of sleep for this week, yet seem to be sleeping while I am awake.
And somewhere, between the car, the house, the cafe, and the farm, and all the endless trips I’ve been making between each place, I’ve lost a frozen chicken.
My chest tightens. I know this shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is. It’s a simple thing to keep track of. Something that anyone in the course of a normal day can do: go to the farm. Pick up a chicken. Bring it home, and put it away.
I tell myself that the disappearing chicken is merely a symptom of the week. This is the big crunch. It’s to be expected.
But that explanation doesn’t sit well with me.
As I’m tearing around the car, looking under seats, pawing through trunks, finding the girls’ damp bathing suits, Bob’s tools, the piles of discarded mail tossed in the back, I am mourning this chicken.
Every Saturday night, we’ve always roasted a chicken. I put it in the oven on a timer in the morning before we leave for the farmers’ market, and it’s ready when we come home. I toss together some fresh vegetables, Bob pours martinis, and we sit out on the screen porch with the kids, feeling rich. Saoirse and Ula love our ritual so much, they decline playdates if it means missing out on our family chicken dinner.
We’ve done so much work preparing for this cafe opening. We’ve done sales projections, tested recipes, painted trim, researched equipment, scrubbed floors, practiced latte art, gone over and over and over and over where every dime is going to come from. We’ve accounted for how it will affect our family vacations, how it will impact my writing schedule, how we will handle the homeschool schedule.
But I never thought about the chicken dinner.
Saturday night will no longer be our celebration night. We’ll need to run around on Saturday night to source any ingredients we might be running low on. We’ll need to wash up, sanitize, clean the bathroom, clean the floors. As soon as possible, we’ll need to get to bed, because we need to get up early on Sunday. I need to make the fresh sticky buns, dial in the espresso machine. On Sunday night we have to do the same clean up again. On Monday I need to place orders for the next weekend. We need to can pickles for next year’s cafe supply, to make fresh pate. Tuesday, we need to start cooking for this week. Wednesday we need to pick up supplies. Thursday and Friday there will be more cooking, Saturday will start it all over again.
It is sleep deprivation, perhaps, that makes me get weepy as I hunt for the chicken. But what the lost chicken represents to me is shattering my heart: It has been a symbol of our slow life:…our sense of rhythm and routine, our family’s lazy time together. My ensuing panic as I ponder the loss of these things has become so infectious, everyone in the house is now looking for the lost chicken..
And as I see our home turned upside down (really, from all the chaos, it’s been torn asunder for a while…could we make it any worse?), I wonder if I’ve finally, officially, stepped in over my head, dragging my entire family into the quagmire with me. I recognize the threat this stress poses to my health, to my marriage, to my relationships with my parents and kids.
I step away from the car and close the door. In the dark I can see the stars. I breathe in, breathe out. I force myself to remember all the dreams that led up to this week: what a cafe would allow our family to do, the experience it would give the girls, the fun it would give us as a family, the joy it would give Mom and Dad, the pleasure it would instill in our community.
And I ponder that fine line that I’m forever walking, that fragile boundary between pushing a new frontier because there is new growth, adventure and joy; and taking myself over the edge, potentially destroying all that is sacred and beautiful in my life. I could protect all that is sacred and beautiful by turning my back on new ventures, but then I’d miss the growth, the learning, the new thrills. Both sides of the border come with their price.
“Mom!” Saoirse calls to me from the porch. “Dad found the chicken! You’d actually put it away!”
She waits for me to come inside, takes my hand, and pulls me upstairs. As they’ve done since they were toddlers, both girls crawl in bed with me to read. I don’t remember putting the book down. I don’t remember falling asleep.
The next morning I roast the chicken, but not for us. I make it into soup for the cafe.
And on opening day, there is mayhem. Lots of customers, lots of confusion. Kate shows up to help. So does Betsy, one of our former interns. Mom has called them in for reinforcement. Saoirse and Ula jump into action, carrying food, clearing plates. I don’t have a single conversation. I only keep making coffees and prepping plates, pushing the chicken dinner thought from my mind. Kate and Betsy make jokes and keep me smiling. Kate slaps the next order down next to the espresso machine and offers words of encouragement: “We’ve totally got this.” Betsy keeps the dishes washed. Ula hussles to clear plates. Saoirse dances every time she comes behind the coffee bar. Mom forgets what she’s doing, then bursts out laughing at the madness. Her laughter is infectious.
At the end of the day, I ladle up chicken soup into everyone’s bowls. Dad comes down from doing chores. We all pile into the kitchen and make ourselves plates of food — salad, chicken soup, cornbread. The customers are gone, but we have a full house. We are laughing at our mistakes, talking about the day. We are rich with new adventures to share. There are more of us than just Bob and me and our girls. Our Saturday night world has expanded just a tiny bit.
I don’t know when I will next have a roast chicken dinner. Maybe it will be next week. Or next month. Or next winter. Right now, I have to surrender my need for that. I need to ride the unpredictable current until our keel is back in the water. And if I am going to keep myself from going over the edge, then I need to be at peace with that. I need to trust that we will learn a new routine, and we will find new peaceful moments. But we won’t find them if I keep desperately searching for the old ones.
On Sunday morning, I arrive at the cafe to find a beautiful orchid beside my door, left for me by a neighbor, with a card that reads “Thanks.” I take a moment to enjoy it before starting the new day.
Thanks this week go out to my dear friend, Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer,” who came out to help us launch our opening with a few photos. For those of you following the blog, Troy enjoyed a plate of egg salad.