Mac ‘n’ Cheese: Everybody’s Favorite

In the awesome Barenaked Ladies tune “If I Had a Million Dollars,” the guys postulate on what luxuries they’d bring to their tree fort if they were rich, and then they have a great epiphany:

We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner

But we would eat Kraft Dinner

Of course we would. We’d just eat more.

It’s a beautiful moment. Speaking as a person without a million dollars this gray Monday morning in February, I’d like to argue for the little experiences we wouldn’t trade away for any sum. I’m not talking about the big, obvious ones, like the birth of offspring or getting married or riding Space Mountain at Disneyland. I’m talking little.

I have a theory that the more unique we think a little memory is, the more universal it’s likely to be. It’s the small details that connect us as humans, just as mac ‘n’ cheese can sometimes be precisely what I want most for dinner and I can trust that’s true for someone else, too. So, at risk of publicly proving myself wrong, here’s a handful of my small-time favorite experiences.

In the pre-seatbelt era, one hot summer afternoon, I rode in the back seat of a station wagon piled in with bare-limbed siblings, and around my neck I sported a candy necklace just bought from the Marine General Store. I stretched the thin white elastic to fit into my mouth and bit off one candy at a time, savoring each sweet colored disk. That was bliss.

I got it into my head once that it was uncool to tell people when my birthday was for fear of seeming to solicit attention and gifts, so the year I turned 21, all day long no one wished me well or sang to me. I came back to my dorm room late at night, lonely and sad, to find a pineapple propped against my door: a quirky gift from the one friend who’d remembered. That was gratitude. Thanks again, Cynthia.

A snow day is both the same as and the opposite of death. You can’t be absolutely sure when a snow day is coming (like death), but then you wake up, look out the window, get excited, check the TV for confirmation, and bam: it’s a miracle. To exchange a day of work for a day of play and hot chocolate is a glorious cheating of fate. That is joy.

When we were making a neighborhood movie of The Battle of Hastings, we decided to show the crossing of the English Channel with Lego guys in Lego boats moving across Lego water. We set up the camera and filmed it step by step, in stop-motion. That was creative power.

I love to sing, but by far my most amazing musical experience happened when I saw my 8th grade son step to the edge of the stage during last year’s choral concert and sing, as part of a duet, a verse of “Tatkovina,” in Macedonian. I’d heard him practice around the house, of course, but to hear him in concert, confident and resonant, his voice more powerful than I’d ever expected—well. That was parental awe.

I can’t tell how many times I’ve lain belly-down on the dock at Island Lake, Minnesota, peering down between the wooden slats to the water beneath, watching the sunnies glide in and out of the shafts of the particle-laden, sun-streaked water. With the frogs burping and the sun warm on my back and nowhere I have to go, it’s the best. That’s loner serenity.

Finally, let me add that when I brainstormed this piece, I was sick like half the other people in New England, and my daughter came home from college to warm up some chicken soup and grill a cheese sandwich for me. She even sliced up some apple wedges, thin. Does it get any better than that?

I think not.

Here’s hoping you’ve been there.


Caragh O’Brien’s futuristic, dystopian story, Birthmarked, is due out from Roaring Brook Press in April, 2010. It is her first young adult novel.

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