This Bagel Is Delicious

We had five minutes to make it out the door on time. If we left a stitch later, we would be late, again. Not for work or for an appointment, but for preschool. The kids were dressed, even down to their shoes. The back packs were stuffed with folders and lunches and hanging off the stroller, filled water bottles included. The only reason we were operating on a slight time surplus that morning was because I had promised my four-year old that we would stop for bagels on the way to school if everyone could get ready fast enough. There was no time for the luxury of coffee shop bagels now, though. I threw open the freezer and tossed two mini-bagels into the microwave to thaw them enough to separate into halves for the toaster. I slapped some whipped cream cheese from the grocery store on each one and handed them off to the kids.

Another broken promise, I thought to myself. Why can’t we do anything on time? It’s not that hard, maybe it’s because I’m selfish about my time. Or is it that I’m lazy? It’s probably that problem I have with attention to detail. I hope I don’t pass this on to the kids. My mind whirled with these thoughts as I stomped around the house, grabbing an extra pack of wipes and turning off the lights. “This bagel is delicious,” my oldest daughter said. I nodded and ran to the bedroom to grab a sweater. I clenched my teeth as I passed the pile of laundry large enough to encroach onto a second cushion of the couch. “This bagel is delicious,” my daughter said again, as if she weren’t eating a bagel that had been in the freezer for the last three months. Good, I said, putting the cream cheese back in the fridge and tossing the knife in the sink. Should have unloaded the dishes right when I got up, I thought. In fact, I should get up an hour earlier. I could do so much with that extra hour. The dishes and the laundry, for example. “It’s sweet and salty. And very chewy,” she said from her spot next to the door. I stopped for a minute and watched her examining the last half of bagel in her hand, and I smiled as I noticed the cream cheese on her face and fingers. Part of me wanted to tell her to hurry up and finish the bagel so we could leave, but instead I handed her a paper towel and we headed out the door. “Thank you for the bagel, mommy,” she said as we stepped out of the elevator.

Reflecting back on this exchange, I thought about a passage called Cookie of Childhood in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Peace Is Every Step. I had originally read it during a time of crisis, and I skimmed over it then as advice on mindful eating that was the least of my problems at the time. In Cookie of Childhood, Hanh describes how his mother would bring him a cookie from the market when he was four years old:

I always went to the front yard and took my time eating it, sometimes half an hour or forty-five minutes for one cookie. I would take a small bite and look up at the sky. Then I would touch the dog with my feet and take another small bite. I just enjoyed being there, with the sky, the earth, the bamboo thickets, the cat, the dog, the flowers. I was able to do that because I did not have much to worry about. I did not think of the future, I did not regret the past. I was entirely in the present moment, with my cookie, the dog, the bamboo thickets, the cat, and everything.

Reading it again in the context of my daughter’s bagel, the passage struck me differently. My daughter was living “entirely in the present moment” with her bagel, whereas I was internally conversing about the past and the future, sometimes at the same time. My daughter found joy in noticing the tastes, textures and smells of her bagel. On the other hand, I was preparing a full indictment of my perceived slights and already two weeks into a future world where I had fixed myself entirely and there were fancy bagels, a clean couch and on-time departures.

Children instill a remarkable amount of wonder into everyday moments like these. We see them trying things for the first time, bathing themselves in the joy of the discovery, unhindered by distraction. What a gift. Getting up an hour earlier and unloading the dishwasher the night before will help my mornings run more smoothly. But the lesson my daughter taught me with her basic bagel is probably more important. As Hanh reminds us, “[t]he present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”