On a Sunday evening shortly before the holiday break, Caroline approached me with tears in her eyes. She was overwhelmed by the prospect of the upcoming week, by the demands of her school schedule peppered with concerts and extra events, with looming tests and projects piled high on her plate. She was exhausted, not feeling especially well, and I could see she was on the verge of losing all hope.
How do you rally someone in such a dark moment? How do you access her will to fight on?
Well, when that person has passed the point of reason, when logic has long since flown the coop and all forms of stoicism or wheedling pep talks have disintegrated like ash in the face of her awful despair, then only one resort remains while the entire universe hangs in the balance.
Some call it bribery. I prefer: enticement.
But it can't be something vulgar and banal like cash, cars, or ponies...though I could certainly be enticed by a pony!
No, when it comes to Caroline, it has to be destination enticement. It has to incorporate collaboration, creativity, and fun...and it's best served up with plenty of options.
So I wiped her tears and whispered: Caroline, if you can get through this next week then you may choose one of three things: 1) a trip to Sprouts to buy gummy worms which we'll take to the library and hide away for the rest of the afternoon, 2) watching a cooking show together, then we'll make the dish they prepare, or 3) taking a long walk in the desert, then we'll come home for hot chocolate.
She perked up right away, I could see it. It wasn't like she jumped up and started marching around the room, mind you. No, she continued to lay there like a limp noodle. But I could see it. I could hear the gears moving.
Of course, by the next day I'd completely forgotten my promise according to the capacity of my brain, which rarely retains anything beyond a period of five minutes. Not Caroline, though. She clamped onto my words with a vise-like grip and didn't forget them for one minute. They must have burned brightly in her mind, illuminating her spirits through her darkest moments, because on Friday after school she burst into the house exclaiming, "I made it! I made it through the week! And now I can't decide which of our three activities to choose!"
I stared at her blankly.
But as Caroline has a tendency to speak every thought aloud, it wasn't long before she brought me right back up to speed.
After much deliberation and second guessing, she settled upon the cooking show option.
So we sat down and watched our very first episode of The Barefood Contessa. On this particular show, Ina Garten demonstrated how to make her world famous chocolate cheesecake. It was marvelous! It was divine! We watched in wonder as she melted chocolate in a bain marie, as she reached into a large glass bowl filled with luminous eggs, as she pressed a button on her food processor and zap!--instant graham cracker crumbs.
We heard her say: clean hands are a chef's best tools. We gazed at fresh bunches of herbs and beautiful frying pans. We saw her husband Jeffrey appear out of nowhere just in time to sample the finished product.
In short, we were completely smitten.
But time got away from us and even though I collected the ingredients and secured a springform pan, it wasn't until last weekend, the day of Sophie's graduation dinner, we found a free moment in the kitchen to make a world famous cheesecake for our dear graduate.
We had clean hands. We had luminous eggs. We had the time of our lives.
And that cake was something else, I'm telling you. By way of warning I recommend the slightest pinch, the faintest sliver. In fact, I recommend admiring it from afar. Better yet, run for the hills. You are completely over your head with that cheesecake, dear reader. You are like a lamb in the lion's den. You think you're going to eat it and move on with your life, but that creation has other plans. Even now, as I write this, I feel something watching me and I know it's the cheesecake.
But the promise of that cake got Caroline through a week she was certain she could not survive. And the serendipity of making it on the occasion of her sister's graduation party was almost more happiness than her little heart could bear.
Which was almost more happiness than I could bear, too.