That’s the noise the milk made as it fell as a clump – rather than pouring as a liquid – into my measuring cup.
I closed my eyes and stifled a scream.
Although I had 87 other things I should have been doing, I was trying to make muffins. Upon opening the fridge that morning, I discovered a mason jar of expired milk I had previously stashed away. Our grocery budget is tight these days, and a Google search had assured me that it was okay to bake with milk a couple of days past its “best before” date. Clearly, though, too many days had elapsed, and I was now wasting my precious free time on an iridescent beige glob of rancid milk.
I felt my inner rage-o-meter rising into the red zone. This small-scale disaster felt symbolic of how absolutely nothing is going right in these “unprecedented times.”
As I gripped the counter and tried to collect myself, my 10-year-old came down from getting dressed. I led him over to the kitchen table, saying: “Hey, why don’t we look at that worksheet from your teacher?”
His eyes instantly brimmed with tears. “Mom, does the worksheet have lines to write on or empty boxes to fill in? Because I just don’t think I can do it anymore.”
I know how you feel, kid.
We looked at each other, both our gas tanks on “E”. I had the overpowering urge to crawl into bed with a teddy bear. Somewhere in the back of my head, a tiny voice said: Use that.
“I understand, sweetie,” I replied. “What if we get one of your stuffed animals, and you could hug him and keep him with you while you do your worksheet?”
The tears stayed in his eyes, but didn’t fall. He nodded and quickly fetched a beat-up plush penguin, which he clutched tightly to his chest. “Toby will help me,” he whispered. We eventually got through the worksheet, and Toby became a permanent fixture in his workspace.
I went to check on my teenager, who had retreated to his room due to a particularly grumpy mood. I opened his door a few inches. “Feeling any better, dude?”
“I don’t know,” he sighed with a touch of classic teen melodrama. “I just have so many worries.”
I felt like retorting: “Oh, really? I bet if I jotted down all my problems, the list would be a mile long.”
That’s not a bad idea, said the tiny voice.
I quietly picked up a notebook and pencil from his desk. “I know that worries can sometimes feel overwhelming. Would it help if you wrote them down, and when you’re done, we could talk about them one at a time?”
He paused. I braced myself for a snarky “no”. Instead, he mumbled: “Yeah, I could try that.”
His list had 24 entries – some expected, some surprising. We reviewed each one together while his brother read a comic book in the next room.
After lunch, I announced that the three of us were going for a walk around the block. Both boys were initially reluctant, but once their boots hit the sidewalk, they spent the whole time chattering to each other about race car drivers and science fiction characters and everything in between. I walked behind them, gratefully savouring the fresh air.
Later, as the light faded outside, I brought them both to the couch. I covered them with a blanket, turned on the TV and put on a random episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. It was a completely dopey storyline where Patrick got a job at an ice cream place called the Goofy Goober.
It was perfect.
As the oven preheated for dinner, I joined them for a few minutes and had a few giggles at Patrick’s expense. The spoiled milk didn’t feel like such a big deal anymore.
While these anecdotes had generally happy endings, this is not to say that I have it all figured out. Far from it, in fact. In the time that elapses between me writing this and you reading it, there will have been multiple instances of crying, whining, blowing up, and melting down. (And the kids will have had their struggles, too.)
These are trying times, so I guess that’s all we can do: keep trying. We will take it one day at a time, one deep breath at a time. We will listen for the sensible little voice in our heads. We will try to encourage each other, like I’m encouraging you now. Hang in there, parents. You can do this.
And, if you find a jar of expired milk at the back of your fridge, for the love of calcium, just pour it out and move on. Trust me.