I read somewhere that in every Seinfeld episode there are anywhere from nine to twelve, or more, boxes of cereal lined up on Jerry’s shelves. I love that little fact because it reminds me of Kevin.
Cereal wasn’t his favorite food ever – that honor would be a tie between pepperoni pizza and filet mignon – but it was his favorite snack. There were at least two or three boxes of his cereal on the top shelf in our pantry. Rice Krispies, Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops. The flavors varied, but Kev followed one hard and fast rule: No “healthy” cereal – it pretty much had to be something a ten-year-old boy would eat, with any relation to corn or oats far, far, far removed from its present incarnation, and completely processed with as much sugar and artificial flavor as possible. And he ate it out of a large serving bowl; regular bowls couldn’t handle the tsunami of milk he poured over his treat.
If he had trouble sleeping in the nights before we found out his restless leg syndrome was linked to the massive tumor growing in his colon, he’d get up for a midnight snack (and a few minutes of The Godfather) and I’d find an empty bowl in the kitchen sink the next morning. In the days that followed his colonoscopy and surgery, and during the endless weekends of chemotherapy, a lot of foods didn’t taste good or wouldn’t stay down – but a big bowl of cereal remained his steadfast friend. When a local store temporarily stopped carrying his favorite Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, I scoured two nearby cities for as many boxes as I could find. Nutritious? Not exactly. But it was a food he craved and after watching him fight through chemo’s debilitating nausea over and over and over again, I would’ve driven twice as far to find it for him.
The other day was hard and I don’t really know why. A lot of little things finally added up, I guess. I felt like I was crying or on the verge of crying all day. I knew August would be difficult; it’s the month we had our first date and, a year later, our wedding. Some of the busyness of the paperwork that shadows a death is nearly over and now that I’m not filling in blanks on another form, a million thoughts of Kevin crowd my head. Some of April’s numbness is wearing off, and I feel fresh pain as I’m starting to realize the last four months haven’t been just a bad dream. He is really gone.
I know seeing my tears is hard for my daughter, my baby sweet who only wants to hug away my sad. She wants so badly to take my grief on her seven-year-old shoulders. But she’s struggling to process Kevin’s absence herself and that’s so challenging for her, with her straightforward, matter-of-fact expectations of the world. She perceives things so differently, but she feels emotions so deeply and some of those tears and fears are swelling up now. I see it and I’m thankful that I’ve moved to a place in my own grief where I can really help with hers…but mostly I wish that I could just take that pain from her.
So when she wandered out of bed at 9 o’clock that night, I didn’t send her straight back down the hallway with a stern admonishment to go to sleep. What actually came out of my mouth surprised us both:
“Hey, want some cereal?”
A grin like you wouldn’t believe lit up her face.
“Now?!” she asked incredulously and I carried her to the kitchen, where we clinked spoons over two bowls of vanilla almond Special K. She kept looking at me, her Kevin-blue eyes sparkling, giggling like we were on some big secret adventure, and finally asked, “Is this really happening, or am I dreaming up this cereal party?”
We sat there, cozy in the little breakfast nook, her cold feet pressed against my legs, milk dripping from her spoon on its precarious voyage to her mouth. I told her how Daddy liked to eat cereal as a midnight snack and we laughed and shared “Remember when?” stories about Kevin and I couldn’t let that magic end. I carried our empty bowls to the sink, then turned back to her. I know she was expecting me to now hustle her off to bed, but there were bubbles of joy in the air – something we’ve been missing so much lately. I couldn’t let it go…not yet.
I scooped her up on my hip, her long legs dangling to my knees. “Monkey hug,” I instructed and her arms tightened around my neck and her legs cinched around my waist. I hauled my Baby Kev monkey-bear to the front room and laughed at the astonished look on her face as we settled into Daddy’s recliner and I picked up our book to read another chapter.
When I finally tucked her back in bed, both of us brimming with happy and contentedness over the unexpected late-night caper, tears welled in my eyes when she murmured, “I’m going to remember this night forever, Mama.” She sighed, clutched her Dora doll tightly and rolled over to sleep.
Me, too, baby bear, I whispered and pressed another kiss onto her cheek.
I don’t know if Kev was acting as my Jiminy Cricket that night, sitting on my shoulder and showing me the way to a moment of joy our daughter and I so desperately needed, but if he was, I’m so glad I listened…and offered cereal instead of censure.