The syrup-drenched bites that built me.
Ricotta Pancakes with Brown Butter-Maple Syrup and Blueberry Compote
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Growing up in my house, the kitchen was a battlefield. On Saturday mornings, no piece of bacon had even a second to cool off from the frying pan before being snatched up by the quickest fingers, and every dip into the grits pot was thoroughly documented by those still eating their first helping. Need to go to the bathroom? Fat chance you'll even catch a whiff of the debut batch of Mama's buttermilk pancakes. Even now, though we're much older and (some) out of the house, we still circle my mom in the kitchen like a pack of hungry baby birds, or wolves, whenever we're home for the weekend.

My mother is a nurturer, in the best way. Never over-indulgent, quite strict actually, she nursed us with a love that built us up without an ounce of coddling. She maneuvered the awkward years by torturing us into giving her kisses on the cheek in front of all of our friends (and crushes) in middle school at drop-off—and, no matter what, she always made breakfast.

Without fail, every morning of my childhood started with three sleepy-eyed, cranky kids piling up at our kitchen island for breakfast as a family. My brother, with his just-woke squirrelly eyes, and my sister, with her early-morning irritability, made quite the pair. Scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, and grits was the breakfast du jour more often than not; but some other crowd favorites were egg-in-a-hole and Mama's pancakes. (We can only wish heaven is made of those fluffy rounds, drenched in syrup.) There was always one complainer in the trio, always someone who didn't like the daily spread. On my birthday when I was turning twelve or thirteen, my mom had the audacity to make homemade blueberry muffins, which I had recently decided (most likely, not to her knowledge) that I absolutely hated. I cried. No matter our devilish behavior, the next morning we'd smell something cooking.

I look back now, with more birthdays under my belt, and see how much those mornings mattered in the long run. We were setting a daily precedent: to spend time together, talk things out, and laugh about our crazy dogs or family members; and it gave us a sense of closeness that would last. It's almost like, though my mom wouldn't see us all day long, she felt as if she could send us off ready to kick butt and take names if our bellies had her ham biscuits inside. She built us up, one breakfast at a time. And, just like with her embarrassing public displays of affection during middle school and her Sherlock Holmes-worthy detective skills during high school, it picked out a little place in our hearts to burrow until needed. When I think of what a mother's love looks like, it looks a lot like—amongst other things—our mom, at 7 a.m. in her robe, making sure all her chicks were fed and happy.

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Now, whenever we're all home at once, you'll catch us saddled up at the kitchen counter, fighting over who keeps stealing all the bacon; and Mama is laughing, mixing up her famous pancakes.