Pop Tarts and Brussel Sprouts

Pop Tarts and Brussel Sprouts

Last-Minute Life Lessons for the Transitioning Parent

He’ll readily admit it’s been an easy gig: the segue from “youngest of three” to life as an only child. Hands-on parenting has been scaled back now to the well-timed tweak. “Any homework?” And parental diligence, replaced with the relaxed sort of attention his older brother and sister surely dreamed of... “Oh, you’re home. Hungry yet? Any plans for tonight?”

We live with an easy rhythm, Matt and me. In a four-bedroom house, it’s easy to find quiet space. When he appears nearby, I know it’s with intent. Last week he sat at the kitchen table reading the news on his phone as I answered emails. Eventually he glanced up. “Zak told me about the Pop-Tarts.”

“Oh yeah. I’d forgotten that one. What did he tell you?”

“That it wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts.”

I laughed. “No, it wasn’t.”

Zak stopped by for a quick visit a couple of nights later. “I know you have your group tonight, but I was in the area…”

We hugged. “I’m glad you stopped. I have a few minutes.”

He pulled hummus and veggies out of the fridge and chatted with me as I sprinkled shaved parmesan onto pasta and pulled a tray of Brussel sprouts from the oven. “Matt loves these with olive oil and some of that pink Himalayan Sea salt. "Try them once they cool down a little...”

We caught up while he swiped carrots through the hummus, and I assembled dinner food. I told him about winter coat shopping with his younger brother, “That high school letter jacket won’t cut it on campus next fall,” and Zak offered his help on readying the house for its eventual sale after Matt’s graduation.

I thanked him. “It’s a big job. Lots of changes ahead. I knew they were coming, but…” I didn’t need to explain that downsizing the family home was but a minor component of the life flip directly ahead of me. Then I remembered, “Matt said you told him about the Pop-Tarts.”

He laughed. “I did.”

“What did you tell him? I don’t remember it that well.”

“That it wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts.”

“But what happened? What do you remember?”

“We were at Target. Shopping for college stuff a few days before I moved on campus. I asked for Pop-Tarts.” Not an unreasonable request—sale-priced splurges occasionally co-existed next to the standard, low sugar breakfast cereal options in our kitchen pantry.


He smiled. “You flipped out a little. ‘Didn’t I raise you better than that? Are you going to forget everything I taught you?!’”


“It wasn’t about the Pop-Tarts, Mom.”

Ugh. “I know… I knew I was out of time. Worried about all the things I’d missed. And messed up. That you’d leave home, eat junk, and…” I looked at him. “You turned out OK.”

“So did you. You’re a good mom.”

He reached around me and grabbed a Brussel sprout. “These are good.” He snagged another.

“Aren’t they? People used to douse them in butter or cheese. Much better this way.”

He soon left. And a few minutes later I raced off to another Wednesday night meeting with my Cabernet Coaches group, smiling as I remembered another comment Zak had made: “I can’t even remember the last time I had a Pop-Tart.”

“You’re a good mom.”

It’s never about the Pop-Tarts, is it?

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