And all of a sudden there were three of them. Here I stood in the delivery room of Springhill Medical Center on Sept. 17, 2018, at 19:39 p.m., during the first quarter of “Monday Night Football,” when a 6-pound, 11-ounce Henry James MacDonald came into my life, not with a whimper but a bang. I still don’t know how that game turned out.
I’m admittedly a sentimental guy. However, I’ve never gotten weepy in the labor and delivery ward due to the adrenaline rush and the danger of what the crew here calls the “splash zone.”
I did get nostalgic each time these three handsome devils of mine made their debut. The first thought was always, “Oh, Lord, we have another mouth to feed.” But seriously, no one goes hungry at this house. The second thought this time was how each birth was memorable.
In 2005 Lucas stole my heart in an instant. You feel a different kind of love when it’s your kid. No sooner had they cut the cord than he grabbed my finger and held it tight. They all did, but Lucas’ grip was the tightest of the three.
I took Thursdays off back then so his mom and I could keep him in day care three days per week. That’s when we developed an obsession with Cammie’s Old Dutch ice cream. Cammie didn’t know me then, but we put her kids through school.
We were inseparable, still are, and had a habit of trying new (kid-friendly) restaurants together. When his mother, Missy, was pregnant with Graham in 2009, I landed the gig at Lagniappe. Immediately Lucas became a guest star in the reviews, taking his job seriously, putting a lot of thought into his grilled cheese description, deciding who had the best lemonade, etc.
He was a picky eater. Once we were reviewing a Chinese buffet and he would only eat french fries. He might have gotten down a sugar biscuit. I was worried the son of a food critic had no sense of adventure. When the fortune cookies came at the end of our one-sided meal, our table a battlefield where the loser stood no chance, his curiosity had me explaining the concept of dry, stale confections with slips of paper doling out advice and “feel good” phrases that rarely, if ever, told fortunes.
We wrote a song together about it, referencing magic eight balls, Ouija boards and palm readers, when Lucas was 6 years old. I remember the line:
“The fortune cookie as I understand
Is the recent creation of a western man.
I break each one open and tear it apart
And search for the answers that were once in my heart.”
He was just 6. I got all that from one lunch with my son and I was proud.
Then Graham came along and set our world ablaze. He’s the mischievous one, who peed all over the nurse before he was 20 seconds old. An easier delivery than Lucas, Graham hit the ground in January 2010 with our Saints on their way to the Super Bowl.
Early on, I feared he’d be vegetarian and I’d be cooking multiple meals nightly, but despite his lack of meat cravings his palate was fairly expansive. Graham, now 8, is the one with the perfect comedic timing. He once ordered a penguin sandwich at Heroes. Owner David Rasp said, “We can make you a penguin sandwich but it’s going to taste a lot like chicken fingers.” Graham could smell a switcheroo in the works and said, “No. I want a real penguin sandwich.”
He also pitched a fit because I once cooked the cabbage he requested for dinner. The next night he wanted a simple ball of cabbage. Uncut, uncooked, his happiness apparent as he smiled with his eyes while I videoed him getting what he asked for. The line in the video that gets me is, “Mmmmmm, tastes just like regular cabbage.”
I’d guess a year or so ago I was on a jag of cooking oyster soup. I can’t get all of the oysters into the pot … ever. I have to sample a few raw for quality control. Graham walked into the kitchen and told me he was ready to try a raw oyster. It was subtle, like on a whim. It was as if he saw me in the kitchen and thought, “You know what, he’s tried to trick me into eating one so many times. Today is the day I do it because today is the day I WANT to do it.” These were his terms. There was no coercion. He walked into the kitchen a 7-year-old boy and came out a 7-year-old man.
I got out the phone. He wanted one cracker, one oyster — sizable enough to count — and zero cocktail sauce. What followed was a grueling minute-and-a-half video of him chewing his first slimy, snotty delicacy, biting it in half and gagging throughout. But he did it. He almost barfed, but he did it. I admire his courage and we all respect his commitment.
So now we have Henry James, hours-old and handsome as his brothers. Born into a world where food is celebrated more than in any other era, in a house that spits mother sauces into the face of those whose motto is “EAT TO LIVE.”
Henry cried his first cry and regained his composure. He barely made a peep after that, with furrowed brow and searching eyes that may only see a few inches but were wide and inquisitive. I’m guessing he’s my fine dining companion and I can’t wait to see what trouble we may incur.
Having a kid in my 40s is incredible. Much is learned in two days. You don’t spread out the love like cheese on another cracker. You don’t divide the plates up so that everyone gets an equal but slightly smaller share. There is no fighting at this table. You simply go to that kitchen in your heart and make more.
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