A letter, a reminder to have an open mind, and a reason to put olive oil in your dessert.
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You know when you looked me up and down last week and said Mom. What happened to your face. Is that lipstick? And then you laid into me about my chipped black fingernail polish and faux-ripped black jeans and you said I don’t recognize you, mom. And then you took on my double-chocolate olive oil cookies: Butter is better. Olive oil is for salad dressings. Why would you do that to a cookie?
Well, dude, give me a break. I’m in a new phase.
Do you know about the sympathetic nervous system? It’s what kicks in when you’re trying to run away from lions, tigers, and bears. For me, the early parenting years felt like one long fight-or-flight lockdown. I was all revved up to kill. But it turns out there was no monster to destroy.
Picking up the phone made my heart race. I said no to walks with friends. No to dinner parties. My external world needed to be predictable. Regulated blandness kept me safe. I needed cinnamon toast with butter, the Goo Goo Dolls, and lots of Grey’s Anatomy.
I did what I was supposed to do: I pinned you down as meltdowns unfolded into tantrums. I caught you before you fell out of windows, grabbed you as you climbed over fences, prevented the ingestion of bleach and peanuts and flame retardants.
I was scared you would die. I was scared I would mess you up. I was scared that I would never ever fall in love with you.
But I was wrong. You did what you were supposed to do: You learned to walk, to talk, to jump down the stairs ten at at time.
Last night, when I couldn’t sleep and I found you diagonally draped across my legs, I didn’t nudge you awake and away, instead, I held your strong bony shoulder for an hour-and-a-half and I swear I could feel your skin growing under mine. And I felt safe.
I have been watching you. The way you struggle and stumble and fly right back up to try it all again. You are the reason I am trying to be brave. Now you are teaching me.
2/3 cup non-alkalized unsweetened cocoa 2/3 all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (mild) 2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup white sugar 1/4 cup dark or light brown sugar 1 egg, room temperature 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips 1 to 2 tablespoons Maldon sea salt (to sprinkle on top before baking)
Phyllis Grant is an IACP finalist for Personal Essays/Memoir Writing and a three-time Saveur Food Blog Awards finalist for her blog, Dash and Bella. Her essays and recipes have been published in a dozen anthologies and cookbooks including Best Food Writing 2015 and 2016. Her work has been featured both in print and online for various outlets, including Oprah, The New York Times, Food52, Saveur, The Huffington Post, Time Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table and Salon. Her memoir with recipes, Everything Is Out of Control, is coming out April 2020 from Farrar Straus & Giroux. She lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and two children.