A Love Letter to Mom: I Remember the Sweet Parts

A writer bridges pain and love, one sweet vanilla pudding at a time.

Illustration of moments and images from the essay

Simply Recipes / Hennie Haworth

Dear Mom,

Remember how Rebekah and I came home for lunch every day from middle school through high school? It was one of the perks of living in town instead of on a farm, like most of my peers. I always enjoyed the brisk five-minute walk to our quiet house, away from the drama and chaos of school. 

My twin sister and I walked home in the stifling heat of August, through the bone-chilling winters, and every day until the end of the school year. We walked through the screened-in front porch to see you coming out of the bathroom. You’d meet us in the kitchen, sit on the corner stool, and listen as we talked and made the same lunch every day. These memories are so strong, even though it’s been over 20 years. Who would’ve guessed that those ordinary, every day lunches with just the three of us would stand out in my mind.  

The funny thing is that I didn’t particularly enjoy the lunch I made. The whole wheat sandwich bread with a thick slice of cold ham became soggy almost immediately, but I powered through and didn’t leave a bite on the plate so I could get to dessert: always pudding. I held the small plastic Snack Pack container in one hand and methodically spooned the pudding into my mouth, scraping every bit off the sides and licking the bottom of the lid. 

The pudding came in three flavors: chocolate, chocolate swirl, and vanilla. And while I enjoyed them all, when I think back to those days, it’s the taste of vanilla that I remember. The subtle vanilla-scented, cream-colored pudding was sweeter and silkier than the other flavors. The smell tapped into happy childhood memories of dabbing vanilla onto my wrists as mosquito repellent during summer. The pudding’s loose and creamy texture coated my tongue and left behind a sweet flavor. To this day, I find vanilla irresistible.

Pudding for lunch was special, especially since we didn’t buy cookies or have other sweets in the house. Why was lunch the exception? I know you had to make every dollar stretch and buying pudding for us was an indulgence.

"In all those years and through all the struggles, you never missed one single lunch together."

While we ate our lunch, you asked us to fill you in on everything that had happened in the three hours since we left for school that morning. I talked about who was going to the dance together and the school projects I needed to work on. But what we didn’t talk about—and what I wanted to talk about—was how helpless I felt. I had always confided in you, but who could I talk to now that the problem had to do with you?

I tried to stop you from spending endless hours in the bathroom picking at your skin. I tried to tell you that you didn’t need to burn candles or do any of the illogical cures for the physical sensations you felt. But I couldn’t help. And you couldn’t quit. They just turned into fights that I couldn’t win, so I stopped trying. I pretended that our relationship was the same as it used to be.

It’s not surprising that help didn’t come sooner. The first story I learned by heart was my birth story—how the doctor was shocked to find another baby right on my heels. If they didn’t know you were having twins, how could these rural doctors have helped you with a more complicated issue.

I know you now wish those years were different. I know you wish the diagnosis came sooner and that you could have healed yourself. I know it’s painful to talk about the years dominated by delusions. Mom, I want you to know that it wasn’t your fault. I did not understand what was happening then, but I do now. I also know that having lunch with Rebekah and me was a priority to you—I appreciate that. In all those years and through all the struggles, you never missed one single lunch together. I knew I could count on you being there and I always knew, as I know now, that you love me.

I wish I could have done more to support you and hope that coming home for lunch helped you feel less alone. But most of all, I hope that when you think back on those lunches of ham sandwiches and pudding, you remember the sweet parts.

—With Love Always, Rachel