At one of the lowest points of my life, I found hope at the bottom of a bright red, 60-year-old, hand-me-down crockpot.
It was mid-December and despite my determination, Operation Shock and Awesome Christmas had hit a few snags … namely reality. With three kids under age 6, a full-time job, and my father in the hospital, I was constantly dropping the ball, which unfortunately is only considered festive much later in the month.
In my fantasy, I wanted to immerse my family in all the holiday traditions children of immigrants like me don’t grow up with. In reality, I just wanted a nap. So as Christmas drew near and the cookies burned, the garland drooped, and the cat threw up poinsettia, the vein on the side of my head grew larger by the day, like some sort of reverse Advent calendar. Move over, Elf on the Shelf — make room for Mom on the Edge.
Undeterred by my very real lactose intolerance, I decreed we would institute the tradition of cheese fondue for Christmas Eve dinner. Fantasy Me would prep the carefully purchased, locally-sourced ingredients before delicately layering them in a fully programmable, stainless steel slow cooker, as snowflakes drifted outside the window.
Instead, Real Me hastily dumped stuff in the stark receptacle of the crock pot we’d inherited from my husband’s 95-year-old grandmother, skeptically eyeing the primitive contraption as we dashed out the door for church — late as usual — in a howling snowstorm.
Not surprisingly, reality prevailed and we returned to find a gloppy, inedible lump. Dinner was ruined, but beyond that, the only family tradition this mom seemed capable of creating was a mess. It felt like the mother of all failures.
I lay awake that night until a warm, thick smell wafted upstairs. Wandering down, I found the crock pot, left on, had transformed the congealed dairy nightmare into a velvety, creamy delight.
I stirred the melted cheese, seasoning it with tears, and thought about the hands that had hovered over the pot before mine: those of a tough-as-nails woman who had buried her husband and daughter far too soon, her resilience now living on in the man I loved. I thought about my parents and their courage in leaving all they knew behind, struggling every day to melt past into present, and resolved to always carry their strength in my heart.
I warmed my hands around the crock pot and said a silent prayer of thanks.
That was the year I learned that tradition isn’t about any one recipe or fantasy. In reality, it just takes heaping helpings of love and patience simmered gently over time.
If anyone tells you otherwise, well, that’s a crock.