We slide into the diner booth, scooting along the faux leather benches as our server hands us an impossibly large menu. My husband sits next to me and my dad in the seat across from us. Going to a place like this reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in New Jersey where diners are about as common as Starbucks in the Chicago suburbs. There's one on every corner, each with giant, plastic-covered menus showcasing all kinds of omelettes, skillets, French toast, crepes, sandwiches, and anything else you could possibly think to eat for breakfast or lunch.
I scan the menu as we catch up about my husband’s job and my dad’s new house. I try to keep the conversation light, but my heart feels heavy—maybe even a little guilty. Having my dad and stepmom in town is a gift, but over the last week I’ve been so weary that I feel like I’ve missed out on being with them. I take another sip of my coffee and internally lament the fact that my stepmom had to stay home with my kids just so I could have a few minutes of uninterrupted conversation with my dad.
Our plates arrive, and we drizzle on syrup and request refills of coffee. My dad looks at me and asks the question I hoped to avoid. “How are you doing? Really?”
It’s the “really” that gets me. The addition of that little word tells me I can’t get away with a scripted answer. My emotions sit too close to the surface, and any effort to hide them proves futile.
My cheeks grow hot and red, and my eyes water. I don’t know how to answer him. On the outside, I’m fine. I’m more than fine. I’d made progress in my writing goals, my kids were happy and healthy, we live in a great house five minutes from my husband’s office. I have so much, and I wrestle with guilt that this life I love can feel so hard. Because what in my life is truly hard? What is hard about having everything that you need, and even when you run out of what you need you have a safety net around you to fill back up? What was I doing wrong that I felt so tired and depleted almost all the time?
The tears start to fall. My dad interrupts the questions in my head with his own. “What do you need?” he asks.
“That's the thing. We don't need anything. We have help and family and everything that we need, and I still can't pull it together.” I look down at the table and poke my fork around. “I don't know why I can't pull it together.”
I see the wheels turning in his head. I don’t know if he’s trying to come up with a quick fix or scrolling through memories in an effort to problem solve from personal experience. Either way, he doesn’t say much—at least as far as solutions.
He shares a few struggles of his own from the past 40+ years of parenting, while I lift another cup of coffee to my lips. We sit for a couple somber moments until our server breaks the silence with a smile and the check. We walk toward the register to pay, and I feel worn. But I also feel seen.
It’s hard to be seen. Friends or family ask how I am, and I say I’m fine. Often I am—until suddenly a wave of emotion sweeps over at the most inopportune time. I want to be open and vulnerable, but I don’t always know how to answer. My inability to articulate what I’m feeling cloaks me with invisibility. Those close to me want to see me, and I want to let them. But I can’t quite frame words around the cries of my soul, and it becomes all too easy for me to stay hidden.
I don’t always know the answer to how I’m doing. I can’t always explain why I feel the way I do. But I need people in my life who won’t let me hide—friends, family, a counselor. They give me space at times, sure—but not for too long. At some point, they ask, “How are you? Really?”, and then they let the question hang in the air until I’m ready to answer. They look at me across the table and offer their stories instead of trite answers for how to resolve my own. Rather than giving advice, they lift up the corner of that invisibility cloak and crawl underneath, seeing me and sitting with me.
Sometimes we’re looking for a solution or a quick hack to try. Other times we need directions when the path seems unclear. But many times, we simply need someone to sit with our incomplete answers, our questions, our awkward silences. Even ordinary life can feel heavy, and sometimes what we need most is someone to help carry the weight.
At Coffee + Crumbs, we love our little corner of the Internet where we can connect with women and share both everyday and extraordinary stories of motherhood. But we also believe in the power of sharing those stories in person. There’s something about being face to face with others who echo our laughter and provide an actual shoulder to cry on. This space on the Internet is a gift, but nothing replaces the gift of proximity.
Last year we presented our first ever Mother’s Day Brunch, and more than 250 women (!) signed up to host gatherings in their homes. Many of you told us afterward this was the “nudge” you needed to practice hospitality and go deeper with your mom friends.
We want to do the same this year. Will you join us on May 11th by gathering women around your table?
We know it’s not always easy to add one more thing to the schedule, which is why we’re giving you as many resources as we possibly can. We’re giving you a digital invitation to text or email your friends, menu + recipes, place cards, a printable for each table setting, a playlist, and a photo challenge to break the ice!
All you have to do is sign up here to host a brunch on Saturday, May 11th, and we’ll send you everything you need. You can make it as elaborate or simple as you’d like, whether you invite two women or twenty women. The point is to simply gather, celebrate the good, walk through the hard, and practice being the village.
We’re better mothers together.
French Toast with Cherry Compote + Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
Compote Recipe Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Yields 6-8 servings
4 cups frozen, pitted cherries (or use fresh)
¼ cup brandy*
1 Tablespoon sugar (I like using raw sugar, but granulated sugar will work)
Add all the ingredients to a medium saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the mixture bubbles. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until it reduces and gets a bit syrupy. This should take about 10-15 minutes.
Transfer to a container and let cool slightly. Serve over French toast or store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use. This also tastes amazing on yogurt, pancakes, waffles, and oatmeal! This recipe yields about 2 cups of compote.
*You can sub in a variety of liquids here. The alcohol gets cooked off as you make the compote, so you’re just left with a hint of sweet brandy flavor. You could also try bourbon, or use orange juice if you prefer not to use alcohol.
Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream
1 cup cold heavy cream (cold cream whips more easily)
1 vanilla bean (or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
Add the cream and powdered sugar to a medium bowl. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then use the edge of a knife to scrape out the seeds.** Add the seeds to the bowl with the cream and sugar.
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip on medium-high speed until medium peaks form. Serve over French toast or whatever else you like!
**Don’t toss out that vanilla bean pod! Add it to a jar with granulated sugar to give the sugar an amazing vanilla flavor, simmer it with your favorite hot chocolate recipe, or use it to make a vanilla-infused simple syrup.
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pound loaf of day-old, thickly sliced bread, preferably brioche or challah***
Neutral oil and softened butter for greasing the pan
Powdered sugar (optional)
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Preheat a griddle, cast iron skillet, or nonstick pan over medium heat. Coat the pan with a very thin layer of oil and then a thin layer of butter. (Using both butter and oil keeps the butter from burning. For the full recipe, I use about a tablespoon of oil and 4 tablespoons of butter.)
Dip a slice of the bread in the egg mixture, turning to fully coat, then transfer the bread to the hot, greased pan.
Cook for a couple minutes until golden brown, and then flip and cook the second side. Repeat the process with the rest of the bread, making sure to coat the pan with more oil and butter as needed.
Transfer to a serving plate, and dust with powdered sugar if desired. Serve with the cherry compote and vanilla bean whipped cream. Enjoy!
***Using thick (¾”-1”), slightly stale bread is ideal because it will help keep the French toast from getting too soggy. I also did not add any sugar to the egg mixture because brioche tends to be sweet, and this recipe gets topped with plenty of sweetness from the cherry compote and whipped cream. But of course, you can always make the French toast with whatever tried-and-true recipe you like!
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on Motherhood + Loneliness