The Maps We Draw to Get Back Home Again


I just came from breakfast with my Fodder Father at his regular haunt -- The Pancake House. We meet there often and each episode follows a similar script:

I drive in the parking lot to see his car already stowed in one of his three usual spaces, park my VW station wagon alongside his Ford sedan (he’s a labor arbitrator, he buys American).

Even when the waiting area is full, the proprietors wave me back “Your Dad’s waiting for you,” and I see him sitting with a cup of coffee, maybe working on the crossword with his reading glasses on, wearing a plaid flannel shirt or short-sleeved button down depending on the temperature. Regardless, he has his check book and a pen in the chest pocket.

After greeting me with a smile and a hug, he marvels over LTYM and this whole internet business. He inquires after my kids, my husband, or my girlfriends he’s known since we were actually girls, and then updates me with the latest casualties from The Saddies.

We often order the same thing; a half order of pecan pancakes and black coffee.

He peppers the rest of our conversation with not-so-quiet observations about other restaurant patrons:

“Is that baby Hindu or do you think that’s just a scab on its forehead.”

“I don’t want to ruin your breakfast, but I have one word for the toddler behind you: Drool.”

He relays moments from his recent work travels:

“These two guys behind me on the plane start singing -- well, chanting -- and so I ask them why are they chanting? Is it for fun? For religious purposes? What? And they say we just like to chant and I say great. Just what Madison needs! More chanting.”

I double-check. “You actually said that to them?” and yes, most of the time he did actually say that to them.

Dad flirts with and teases the waitstaff. Once Mildred tickled his chin after warming up his coffee. This, right after my Dad told me way too much about a pair of 50-year-old women who tried to pick him up on a flight. I’m not sure whether the idea of two women trying to seduce my Dad, the likelihood that they might’ve been serial killer-dominatrices trying to lure him to his demise, or Mildred’s blatant coffee overture -- troubled me the most.

He turned 70 on Thanksgiving. So odd considering he’s only 43. These regular pancake breakfasts, along with his spontaneous weekend 20 minute stop-overs to see the grandkids, feel like well-worn and dependable routes etched on the map of my life. But -- like a childhood full of walks to and from school -- the seasons, the time of day, and color of your tights vary. Sometimes my kids join us, sometimes my Dad chooses a half-order of Eggs Benedict English muffin well-done please, and sometimes he muses aloud how it’s tricky enough to recognize someone you haven’t seen in 16 years, but especially when they’re wearing a blonde wig on their head -- all while said person may or may not be within earshot.

As much as I loved living in Chicago for 10 years, I always yearned to come back home and raise my kids alongside my family and friends on these familiar and metaphorical streets. We moved back home to Madison in 2006, but if you analyzed where I put the mileage on my car since then, a vast majority were probably spent on the 7-minute drive between my house and my Mom’s.

My Mom and my regular rendezvous also follow a somewhat predictable script. Instead of pancakes, we drink overpriced coffee-house drinks while Four eats more than his share of courtesy candy. We have a late afternoon glass of wine and process about life, while the boys watch Cartoon Network or play board games nearby -- all set to the tune of an assortment of ridiculously delicious artisan cheeses. We laugh at ourselves, my mom apologizes again for all the traits I got from her. I compliment her on something I like that she’s wearing and within minutes or days she insists I keep it.

Last night Seven asked me “Mom? When I go to college will you draw me a map so I can get back home?”


I hope by the time my son becomes a young man, that map is already worn with comfortable and familiar paths. If I do my job well, he’ll want to explore secret passageways, and set out to chart his own course. Inevitably he’ll look for short-cuts (we all do). But like his younger brother’s auto-pilot to my bed many nights at 4 am, I hope home remains the true north on his compass -- whether that “home” is here, someplace else he settles with his own family or friends, or The Pancake House. God willing it’s here.



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