Don’t do math at breakfast

While eating pancakes a few months ago, I was doing some math and nearly started crying. I realized that best case scenario, I realistically have less than a year’s worth of breakfasts left with my father. And this is assuming that nothing terrible happens to either of us, and that we both live for another 25 years or so.

Breakfast has always been a time that reminds me of my father. When I was 5, and my younger sister was 3, my father was in night school getting his MBA. I think at the time we would proclaim that we were growing girls, but looking back; we probably just missed him. Regardless of the cause, several weekday nights each week, we’d slip into my parents bedroom sometime between the hours of 2 and 3 AM and pull him out of bed, insistent that we were way too hungry to make it through the night without a snack.

We’d tromp downstairs and make pancakes together. My father’s approach to life, like baking, has always been risk-prone, unlike his cautious daughters. He’d dump in an unknown quantity of mix and ingredients, mix it together, and then regardless of the consistency, throw it in the pan. Sometimes we’d get thin silver dollar pancakes, other times, pancakes as thick as a paperback, with the center a gooey mess. Regardless of quality of the pancakes, it was 3 AM and we were eating pancakes with our father, so we couldn’t have been happier. Thinking back he must have wanted to kill us at points (because, sleep) but he always seemed to have all the time in the world for us.

Maybe that’s why time with my family has always seemed infinite to me. Growing up, family obligations seemed never ending, and I remember my efforts to evade them to meet up with my friends. There would always be another family dinner, another night to play hockey on the pond, another drive with my father to Best Buy to “just see what’s there.” Time always seems infinite, until it isn’t. In fact, it’s terrifyingly finite.

My parents are in the Midwest, and I live in San Francisco currently, and don’t have any plans to move back in the next few years, if ever. I currently see my parents about 2 weeks a year, which to me seems pretty great, particularly given the distance. Even when we’re together though, sometimes my dad goes to work before I wake up though, or I grab breakfast with friends, so I’d say that I only have breakfast with my father about ⅔ of the mornings that we’re in the same place. That gives us 9.333 breakfasts/year; we’ll just round up to 10 to be generous. My father is nearly 60. Let’s assume that I can continue seeing my parents this often, and that they continue to live until 85 (also generous considering that the average life expectancy in the US is 78.7 years, but my father often eats beets and kale for breakfast, so I’m hoping that buys him some time). That gives me 250 breakfasts left.

And what if of those 250 breakfasts, I’m staring at my phone and reading the news for half of them? Then maybe I only have 125 actually with him. What if my father has a heart attack at 70, or knowing my father, finally convinces my mother that he could be a semi-responsible pilot, takes flying lessons, and then is taken down by a storm cloud he flew into to “see what it looks like inside”? Then I only have 100. What if I only go home a week a year, and they come out a weekend a year? Then I only have again, only 150. Or worst of all, what if all those things happen? Then I have 30 breakfasts left with my father.

Regardless of the exact number of breakfasts, I nearly cried that morning because I realized there were far too few breakfasts left. And I want many many more than I will get. I want an infinity of breakfasts to hear my father explain to me for the thousandth time what a dividend is. And why it’s not what you make, it’s what you spend. And that the most important decision you ever make is who you marry, but even though you’re 26 and perpetually single, he’s never worried for a second. And to discuss again whether we think we actually should be gluten free, because we hear that’s good for you.

And to have my mother roll her eyes and say, “you two are always gluten free until there’s cake around” and then to have my little sister say that if we’re making pancakes she wants one with chocolate chips and raspberries, but she wants to make it herself because we always flip it wrong. And my middle sister is making coffee, but she’s mixing hot chocolate in too, and does anyone want some of that concoction? No? That’s fine, there’s only enough for just her anyway.

I won’t get as much time as I want. None of us do. I wish sometimes that we all lived forever and maybe one day we’ll have robot hearts that beat for us and and we’ll be eating kale pancakes and drinking green tea. But actually I hope not, because overpopulation, but also—the finite number of days we get is part of what makes them so beautiful. And so there will be a day when I won’t have my father around to debate the pros and cons of gluten with. But I’ll try my best to appreciate every one I have left.

And one day, when my children get hungry late at night I’ll make them pancakes. And I won’t measure.

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