Seasons of life have tastes.
I've found this is primarily true when I encounter a certain food and am taken back to a time long ago, usually a specific summer.
Whenever I order an Angel Food smoothie from Smoothie King, I'm taken back to that summer when Emily and I ignored the sparks between us and kept our relationship friendly. We snuck into the YMCA three times a week to swim or work out and after we finished we drove to Smoothie King and doubled up on Angel Food. The summer of 1997 tastes like cold strawberry puree.
Frozen burritos - it doesn't matter the brand - means the summer when my mom went back to school and lunches or afternoon snacks were whatever we found at home or the babysitter whipped up. Sam's sold entire bags of microwaveable burritos for pennies and I must have eaten a few hundred during the course of her getting a graduate degree. Reheated beans and tortilla remind me of what it's like for a parent to chase down a dream.
Barbecue chicken and canned corn is my first summer job back in middle school, working in the clubhouse for the local minor league baseball team. Sunflower seeds are summers spent traveling and preaching around the southeast. Pizza dipped in ranch dressing is orientation freshman year and mashed potatoes with just enough garlic is the summer we moved into apartment 1202 together.
And parenting? Parenting tastes like leftovers.
I'm in the season of life that's not as much defined by summers as it used to be. Working in June is akin to working in August or November or March. Most Mondays are like those that came before it and until summers matter to my daughter, all I have to distinguish this season of life isn't a calendar but rather a mindset. Leftovers take me back to the time I tried to figure out this whole parenting thing and it takes way more than a summer.
I eat what she doesn't, finishing yogurt cups and bowls of granola, the soggy end of an ice cream cone or a slice of cheese with bites taken out of the corner.
Parenting tastes like this and looks like this - you picking up after and chasing after and running behind and negotiating and packing too many stuffed animals and wiping up after everything that happens in a given day. And in between all of that you eat what they don't and before you know it you've amassed a season worth of leftovers.
Parenting a toddler is blurry at best, a flash of time and food and family and growing and sentences that start fine but go nowhere but you listen with rapt attention to watch their brain send words to their mouth as they struggle hard with a thought that means a lot to them. (You're watching an idea take shape live and in real time, for God's sake!) Time is less defined by some calendar and instead moves from one inconvenience to the next.
Leftovers aren't sexy, they're seldom remembered, and they sometimes stick around longer than you might like. But I know this stage of parenting won't be here forever. The witnessing of the idea formation and all the cleaning up and the stuffed animals mattering - it'll turn soon, just like cereal standing in milk until lunchtime. Better lap it up while it's fresh.
Soon life will be in another season when she has summers of her own to taste and they remind her of peanut butter M&Ms at the pool or cool watermelon slices that accompany long morning walks to the farmer's market. Her summers may be full of smoothies enjoyed after working out with a boy she can't muster the courage to tell him how she feels or maybe she'll one day be reminded of camp friendships when she shows her kids how to make s'mores.
And as she develops those tastes I hope she invites me to eat alongside so that her seasonal tastes can be mine, too.
The beautiful thing about leftovers is that some event preceded it - some meal or intent created in the bonds of community or family that harkens back to a deep feeling of love and belonging.
That's what it means to eat leftovers, and maybe one day I'll get to eat them with her.