Hot cocoa at midnight.

My afternoon was a flurry of doctor’s appointments and labs, some routine, some in pursuit of a better solution for an ongoing problem. When I arrived back home, after stopping at the pharmacy for new medications, I was exhausted. Because it had been a stressful day, I stopped to get a chicken sandwich at KFC. It was a terrible decision. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure the chicken died of natural causes.

After the unsatisfying meal, I watched a little bit of television and had a short chat with my son. He’s been sending me pictures and video of his new adopted kitty, Ruby, off and on all day. We talked about how she’s getting along and about his current frustration with the job he’s been at for ten years. I told him I was having trouble keeping my eyes open and was going to get some rest. I crawled under the blankets at 6:00 pm. No kidding. So naturally I woke up around ten o’clock. My sister had texted me that she was worried about me. She hadn’t heard from me since Thanksgiving. I assured her I was okay in a short reply and told her I’d talk to her tomorrow.

After letting the pup outside (because I knew rain was coming and that it had been awhile since she’d been out), I drank a full glass of cold water. I was incredibly thirsty, likely because of the heavily salted, geriatric chicken I had eaten earlier. I listened to a little bit of music before turning off the light again and trying to sleep. No dice. So I turned on Audible and started listening to a book. Listening to someone reading to me is generally soothing, depending on the subject matter. It reminds me of all the nights when my mother would read my favorite bedtime stories to me.

When I still couldn’t sleep, I decided to do what Mom and I had often done together — have a cup of warm cocoa to try and soothe myself. It was a frequent thing for my mom and I when I was in high school, right after she left my father. It was just us and my little sister, who often had night terrors that would rattle us out of bed. After we got my sister back to sleep, we would sit in the tiny kitchen in the little duplex we’d rented in town and share some cocoa. The kitchen had very little cabinet space. A sink. A stove. A small linoleum and stainless steel table with three chairs shoved into a corner. But it was home and mostly, it was peaceful.

Alton Brown Hot Cocoa

I don’t make my cocoa like Mom did. She would always put a pan on the stove and fill it with milk, sugar, and Hershey’s cocoa powder. I never saw her measure anything. She just knew how much to add. She would slowly bring the mixture to a simmer, and then she would pour two steaming mugs full of it. This simple act of love was nothing new for her. She loved cooking and my childhood memories are full of her whipping up something delicious for us, usually on very little money. (When you think about it, the price per serving of cocoa the way my mom made it is far less than you’d pay for the packets like I use now. It’s better, too.)

But those nights were about more than the act of making and drinking hot cocoa. Mom and I were treading new ground. She married Dad at age 17, and they’d had a tumultuous, often violent, marriage. This was the first time she’d had to work outside the home, pay her own bills, and raise the children remaining (my sister and I) alone. We were in it together. I had been the one to urge her – to insist – that we leave. We had good times and bad together, but those quiet, wee hours of the morning after one of my sister’s night terrors, or during a shared bout of insomnia, were some of the best times. It was when we talked like two adults, not mother and child. We discussed all kinds of things, and I could have listened to her all night. Eventually, though, we would wash up the pan and the cups and would go back to our rooms, our bellies warm from the delicious hot liquid, to try to recapture some sleep before the sun came up.

By contrast, my cocoa tonight was a microwaved cup of water, plus a packet, plus a healthy pour of half-and-half. I figured the warm milk would help me to settle down and fall back to sleep. Now if only my mother were here to share her innermost thoughts with me in these wee hours, I believe I could settle down and rest.

If you’re lucky enough to still have your mother with you, find some time to just spend one on one with her. Ask her about her life before you came along. Ask her about her deepest hopes and fears. Get to know her. You will never regret it, because those moments will come back to you as you age and will warm places in you even the hot cocoa couldn’t touch.

Namaste and rest well, Jude



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