I’ve been planning tonights dinner for weeks. Besides Thanksgiving dinner, this may be the most anticipated meal in the Burnt Toast household all year. On the menu–burgers, fries and strawberry shortcake. Nothing fancy. Nothing out of the ordinary. But then again, the menu was chosen by an 8-year old so what can you expect?
No, it’s not his birthday. But it is a celebration nonetheless. A celebration of recovery, overcoming adversity, and getting through the hard stuff. Hard stuff that no 8-year old should have to go through.
But let me back up.
Nine years ago this month, I was happily pregnant with my second child. Blissfully dreaming about a healthy baby, my biggest fear was how I was going to manage two babies under 2 years old. I was completely ignorant of all that could go wrong. After all, I was healthy. I ate well. I took my vitamins. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I did everything that is required of a pregnant woman. Damnit. I was owed a healthy perfect baby. Issues happened to other people. Not us.
But, as often happens in life God had other plans. And those plans came in the form of a child born less than perfect. Issues came in the form of a child who would face challenges that I never imagined, with something that never crossed my mind was even a possibility.
Because other people have babies with cleft lip and palates. Not us.
But, because God had other plans I was blessed with the most beautiful child my eyes have ever laid eyes on. Not perfect, mind you. But beautiful.
And through this child I have learned more lessons. I have learned what true beauty is. I have learned what a fighting spirit looks like. (hint, it has nothing to do with size and might, money or power). And I have learned that whenever you think that bad things, hard things, imperfect things happen to other people you are so very wrong. And just when you get bold enough to think it, God is probably going to put something in your life to prove you wrong. To humble you. To make you better.
Because before Connor, I was not better. I felt confident and in control in my arrogance. We had a great life, a beautiful family. We were, by all accounts, living the American dream. We were so attractive in our own eyes that we could have been a Normal Rockwell painting. I was vain. I had a vague understanding of what a cleft lip was, but thought it only happened to people who did something wrong. Or poor people in another country. I pictured Operation Smile ads in the back of Cooking Light and was even so obnoxious as to think (albeit not consciously) that with all of the problems in the world, why would it be we send our hard earned money to that charity? Isn’t it just cosmetic?
I’m very embarrassed to admit this. But it’s my ugly truth and I own it fully.
And then God reminded us that he is in control, that there is no such thing as perfect. And he gave us the blessing of being humbled and changed. By a child.
In Connor’s short life he’s had 5 major surgeries and multiple other minor ones. He’s endured pain I can’t imagine. He struggled to simply take a bottle for the first 12 months of his life. He looked different. People either stared or acted as if he was invisible. People judged. People asked me what I did wrong to make this happen. He had speech issues. What was easy for most babies, was hard for him.
But what wasn’t hard for him was strength. And will. And perseverance. That little child fought hard and defied odds. He never cried. He would just work and work and work to master things that others can do without thinking. He was and is the definition of grit, that business world buzz word, and he doesn’t even know it.
Now we’ve watched him grow into this amazing young boy. He’s ridiculously smart and strikingly handsome. He’s kind. He has empathy and shows it. He’s resilient and he has a depth that comes only from someone who has been through some stuff–someone who’s got some dirt under their fingernails and callouses on their soul. And he’s 8, people.
I wish you could know him. He’s really quite awesome.
And for me, well, this definitely changed me. I have learned so much by being his parent that I can’t even put it into words. People often say that God gave him to me because he knew that I was what Connor needed in a mom. I see it entirely the other way. God gave Connor to me because he knew what I needed. I needed to learn empathy. I needed to be humbled. I needed my heart to grow. And to open. And the only way that could happen was for the image of perfection I had carefully crafted to shatter in full.
So, we’re celebrating because Connor had his latest major surgery last month and has been eating only soft foods since. We’re talking a steady diet of mac and cheese, pudding and jello. A child’s dream menu on a regular day, but not for one solid month. Today he was cleared for take off. He can finally eat regular food again, play baseball with his friends, and have recess. He can finally be the normal 8 year old boy he is.
And he wants a burger. So damnit. This kid gets a burger. Now in full disclosure, because I’m a mediocre parent who didn’t cultivate great taste buds in my children, he takes his burger classically with ketchup and a pickle. But for mom and dad, we like it a bit fancy. This is a great twist on a favorite. I love how the cabbage adds crunch and vibrancy while the mayo adds some spice and drama. I am forever grateful to Blue Apron for teaching me how to pickle vegetables quickly. I now pickle pretty much everything I can get my hands on.
Burgers with Quick Red Cabbage Slaw and Sirracha Lime Mayo
For the Slaw
- 1/2 head of red cabbage, finely shredded
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 TBSP Rice Vinegar
- 2 TBSP sugar
For the Burgers
- 4 oz Baby Bella Mushrooms, finely diced
- 1 lb ground chuck (80/20)
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 1 TSP salt
- 1/2 TSP fresh ground pepper
For the Mayo
- 1/3 cup Mayo (I use Canola Mayo but any will do)
- 1 tsp Sriracha (or more to taste)
- juice of 1/2 a small lime
4 Good quality hamburger buns (I try to shy away from the whole 'oh get a good quality' nonsense so as not to be too fancy, but these really do need a good solid bun to hold up to the mess.
For the Slaw
Shred the cabbage and place in a medium bowl
In a small saucepan, combine the water, vinegar and sugar and bring just to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Pour the liquid over the cabbage and let rest for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
For the Burgers
Combine mushrooms, ground chuck, shallots, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix well. Use your hands. Don't be afraid to get dirty. Cooking is the most fun when it's messy.
Form 4 equal patties, pressing your thumb into the center of each, making a small indentation. This helps to keep the meat from puffing up while cooking.
Cook using preferred method (grill or skillet) to desired degree of doneness.
For the Mayo
In a small bowl, mix the mayo, Sriracha, and lime juice, adding more Sriracha to taste.
Lightly toast the buns
Divide the slaw and place on the bottom of each bun, topping with a patty and as much of the mayo as desired.
This is a messy, get your fingers dirty and lick off the mess burger. Be sure to have plenty of napkins handy.