94: Cold Comfort

94: Cold Comfort

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Cold Comfort

Food is the most primitive form of comfort.

~Sheila Graham

My teenage daughter was pregnant and the whole family was in turmoil. I was upset. My daughter was scared. My husband was furious. My older son was mad at his sister. And my ten-year-old son — well, he just stayed out of everyone’s way.

I had plenty to worry about. But my immediate concern was mediating all of the emotions colliding under one roof.

One day, while cleaning the kitchen, I noticed a piece of paper lying on the table. Reaching for it, I recognized my younger son’s handwriting. I started reading.

My jaw dropped and my heart stopped. I had to sit down. I put my hand over my mouth in an effort to hold back the ache growing in my throat as I read my son’s troubling words:

My life is very difficult for me. I’m always picked on by everyone except my mother. She is always kind to me. My sister is all right, but she’s pregnant and you know how that can be. People don’t know how I feel inside. Really, I am a hurt little boy.

At the bottom of the page was a stick man whose outstretched arms begged for a hug. The giant teardrops flowing from his penciled eyes broke my heart. If the pitiful figure had worn a dress, it could have been me, for my own heavy tears were now steadily streaming down my face.

I was devastated. I felt so guilty. Had I had been so consumed by our family crisis that I had all but forgotten my youngest child?

“How do I kiss this hurt and make it go away?” the mother in me wondered.

A few days later I was driving through town when I noticed a fast food restaurant’s enticing poster of a luscious bowl of ice cream. It triggered a childhood memory. I began reminiscing about a special time that brought me more joy than gifts at Christmas, hearts on Valentine’s Day or chocolate bunnies at Easter. It was ice cream day.

Ice cream day didn’t come around often, but my brothers and I knew it was on the horizon by the way my mother looked at my dad. As soon as we spied that spark in her eye, we knew we were in for a treat.

The scenario was always the same: My mother would bat her eyes at my dad and say, seductively: “Big John” — that’s what she called my dad when she was trying to coax him — “How about let’s go and get some I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M?” She spelled it out like a special code.

Of course, we could spell, and we would jump up and down, yelling, “Ice cream! Ice cream!” until my dad gave in.

My dad let us order anything we wanted. I always got a large, chocolate shake. It was chilly and smooth. Deliciously sweet. Slurping that scrumptious ice cream through a straw with my parents looking on made me feel special. I felt loved.

Remembering the way my mother looked at my dad on ice cream day made me smile. Her playfulness was contagious. Her love for him obvious. And on ice cream day, she showed us how to convert that love to quality time.

Watching my quiet son stare out the car window, I suddenly knew just what he needed. I glanced over at him with a gleam in my eye. “Hey, we need to spend some quality time together. How about let’s get some I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M?” I asked, teasing him by spelling it out.

His eyes lit up and a big grin grew on his face. “Yeah, we need some quality time, Mom,” he said, trying to be serious. But his smile revealed his delight.

We dipped into our treats of crushed cookies swirled in creamy, vanilla ice cream. I didn’t mention his sad paper. The incredible combination of ice cream and my undivided attention seemed to be working its magic. I could see it written all over his face. He felt loved. He was happy.

As he got older, my son recognized times when I needed some attention. He’d look at me with that familiar twinkle in his eye and say, “We need some quality time, Mom. Let’s go for ice cream.” I was more than ready.

Over time, ice cream dates became a ritual. They didn’t solve problems, but they satisfied cravings for love and attention. They always said, “You are special.”

Now that my son is grown and life has settled down, I’m always on the lookout for the forgotten, mistreated or overwhelmed soul who might be longing for some attention. Right now it’s my twelve-year-old granddaughter. She’s a middle child, and you know how that can be.

When I realize some quality time might be necessary, I look at her with that comforting, grandmotherly gaze and suggest: “How about we go for some ice cream?”

“Sounds like a good idea,” she always says, as her face lights up with a smile.

I let her order anything she wants. As we lap away at that delectable frozen treat, our cares seem to melt with each lick. We both feel better, but most of all, she feels loved.

My son’s cry for attention made me realize that when life gets difficult, when the world is a hurtful place, we all need someone who will take the time to make us feel like the most important person in the world. We all need to feel loved. And as far as my family is concerned, love is spelled, “I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M.”

~Teresa Anne Hayden

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