Right out of graduate school, I worked as a nanny for a wonderful family. I spent my days going to the pool, reading stories, playing games, potty training, and trying new things. We all grew during that period, and I still consider them part of my extended family. The nannykins are beautiful children, who will change the world one day. The Elderkin is all together confident, sensitive, inquisitive, thoughtful, tender-hearted, beautifully clumsy, and constantly in the know.  She is delightfully mischievous, but a terrible liar, so she always gets caught. The Middlekin, however, has an amazing poker face, and will be the one who is elected by her friends to talk to the parents and/or principle when they pull an epic stunt in high school. She is a tiny, but powerful, little spitfire with a prodigious sense of humor and sarcasm. Middlekin is strikingly beautiful. They all are really, but she will be the kind who grows up to be a knockout without having a clue about how attractive she is. The Babykin is a breathe of sweet, fresh air. She is, without a doubt, the happiest child I have ever met. She could sit and blow bubbles for hours, or patiently wait for her Mama on the front porch rocking chair. Her old soul is fresh with effervescent joy. They are each special and beautiful and unique and. . .strong willed.

On occasion, their strong wills stifled their ability to accomplish mundane tasks like getting dressed, eating breakfast, going potty, or existing among normal human beings. There were times when I felt like I was back in college and the only sober one at the bar, trying to convince my drunk friend in a tu-tu that it’s not appropriate to lay weeping on the bathroom floor. No amount of transition songs, silly dances, funny voices, mean Miss Ash looks, or time outs could ever convince them to do something that they had decided against. Creating spontaneous folklore was a fail proof method of getting them to complete almost any task. I crafted countless stories about sad pants, magic potties, kind princesses, and kids who turned into toads because they refused to nap. One of my favorite insta-tales was The Tale of The Ugly Pancake.

The day’s schedule was packed so tight that there was zero room for error, forgetfulness, or meltdowns.  The nannykins needed a happy, sizable breakfast, so I made their favorite, sprinkle pancakes and eggs. Middlekin was a bit late to the breakfast table, because she couldn’t find one of her shoes, which already put her on the verge of crocodile tears. As I was getting her plate ready, I noticed that the only pancake left was the Ugly Pancake. You know the one. It’s the first pancake that you make when the pan isn’t quite hot enough, and you haven’t mastered the exact flippage time. It’s edible, it just looks a mess. I knew that this precious child had very high standards, and would not accept a pancake that was not up to par. I decided to distract her by engaging her about the latest preschool drama while I stealthily slid the plate in front of her. She ate her eggs without noticing the doughy monstrosity on her plate, but just as she was about to go for a bite of her pancakes, she looked down and began to sob uncontrollably.

I pretended that I had no idea what had upset her, but I knew. I knew that she looked at that glob of dough on her plate and thought that it meant that she wasn’t as special as her sisters and their perfect sprinkle cakes. I knew that when a day starts with an ugly pancake moment, we have a tendency to look for other subpar situations during the day and classify the entire day as bad, just all around bad. I knew, because I am also a middle child, that she would one day look back and use this stupid Ugly Pancake as one of the reasons that the Universe favors her sisters. I knew that if she didn’t eat her breakfast, then she would have a colossal “drink your juice, Shelby” moment in a few hours.

“These are NOT sprinkle cakes…thee-sob-thee-sob-these are SAD CAKES. THEY’RE UGLY and SAD.”

“Well, I think they look just fine,” I said. I lied. They looked like sad cakes.

Elderkin piped in, “No, Miss Ash, those are some pretty sad looking sprinkle cakes.” Nothing got past that one.

“Well, then, you must not have heard the story of the The Ugly Pancake,” I said.

“Oh boy, here we go again,” shrugged Elderkin. Middlekin wasn’t buying it yet, so she just sat there and sobbed. Babykin was making sure that she was covered in syrup from head to toe.

“Well, the Ugly Pancake is the luckiest pancake in the bunch. It all started with the famous Pancake Pageant. All of the Pancakes in Pancake land wanted to win the title of Pancake of the Year.”

“Pancakes can’t be in pageants,” corrected Elderkin. She was one remark away from learning the truth about Santa. Middlekin put her head down on the table and sobbed harder. I had to think of a happy ending, and fast.

“Well, yes, there is a such thing as a Pancake Pageant, and it happened every year, until one special pancake won once and for all. Some of the pancakes had been topped with delicious ripe blueberries, and some added rainbow sprinkles. There were pancakes with pecans, chocolate chips, whipped cream, everything you can imagine. The chocolate chip was favored to win, because LG, the beautiful judge, loved chocolate more than anything in the world.” Middlekin perked up upon hearing her name, and then began to fake cry, just to make sure that I knew she was still unhappy.

“Well, the pancakes pranced across the stage, each one getting cheers and standing ovations. Then, the Ugly Pancake crossed the stage and no one clapped. It was shaped funny, kind of in a blob, and it had no fancy toppings like the others, just butter and warm syrup. Still, it stood proud and pranced before the Princess LG.” Middlekin was really listening now.

“Well, who did they pick?” said Elderkin.

“All of the pancakes lined up and waited for Princess LG to proclaim the winner. She declared that the winner, and the best pancake of all time was the UGLY PANCAKE. She also declared that the whoever received the Ugly Pancake from now on would be the luckiest person at the table.”

“Well, why did the Ugly Pancake win? That’s just silly. I would have chosen the Sprinklecakes,” said Elderkin. I wanted to say, “The stupid pancake won so that your sister will eat the blob of dough on her plate and we can get ready for school in peace.” Instead, I finished the story.

“The Ugly Pancake won because it was the bravest pancake. You see, all of the pancakes began with just a heaping of boxed pancake mix and water.” (No, I don’t make anything from scratch.) “The Ugly Pancake was the first one that had enough faith to jump in and try to become something wonderful, something more than just a glob of runny batter. The first try is never perfect, but it is the most important. If there was never a first try, then we would never be able to enjoy the nice, fluffy pancakes. First tries are messy, and rough around the edges, but they’re also brave, and full of faith, and they should be loved.” I waited for the Lifetime movie music to begin, but all I heard was sniffling from Middlekin and smacking from Babykin, who had crystallized from hardened syrup.

Middlekin finally grinned and said, “Like my first try at writing my name. It was pretty messy. And like B trying to put her pants on, they’re always on backwards, but she did it herself.”

“Yes, yes, it’s just EXACTLY like that. That is why the Ugly Pancake is really beautiful and lucky.”

“You’re missing one important thing, Miss Ash,” said Elderkin,”what does the Ugly Pancake taste like?”

“It tastes like hope, baby girl. It tastes like hope.”

With a mouth full of ugly pancakes, Middlekin looked at me and said “Hope is delicious.”

Yes. Yes it is.

Hope is delicious.

Cheers to first tries and starting new things. Wishing you all gobs and gobs of hope and brave Ugly Pancakes today.

Ugly Pancakes

Behold the Ugly Pancakes.

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