Allison, your local eighteen year old.
My parents and I sat around a sticky table, a thin film of syrup glossing the old wood. The sun had barely reached a decent place in the sky and my mom was already on her second cup of coffee. The small IHOP was situated between a highway and major service road in such a way that made the cramped building feel even more claustrophobic. Directly outside of the building, the edge of Baylor University’s campus began, buildings lining the view from the window behind me.
I sat with my hands tucked under my legs, trying to stop myself from constantly tapping my foot down on the floor. It was the end of a long weekend spent touring the campus and trying to dredge up any and all information about the university. I was nervous about being so close to the college I was probably going to attend in August. Drastically reducing the distance between my usual location in New York and the school in Texas seemed to reduce how long I had before I began college.
A heavy waitress sauntered over to us, a notepad and pen tucked into the apron tied around her waist.
“What can I get y’all this morning? More coffee?” She filled my mom’s cup before anyone had time to react. “I can take y’alls orders now.”
“I’ll have five pancakes.”
The waitress began to write down my order when my mom interjected. “She’ll have three.”
“What’s wrong with five?”
“Allison, you can’t eat five pancakes.”
By now, the waitresses’ pen was hovering over her small notepad, her eyes darting between my mother and I, waiting for an eighteen year old girl and her mom to determine the proper number of pancakes one could consume in a sitting.
My mom looked assured. “I’ve never once witnessed you eat that many pancakes.”
“Of course I can eat five pancakes, that’s not even that many,” I shot back, surprised my mom was questioning my ability to order breakfast for myself.
The waitress coughed, shuffling her feet.
My mom stared me down, her lips forming the word three.
I fidgeted for a moment.
Turning to the waitress, I nodded and consented to being brought three pancakes instead of my initially requested five. I supposed I could always order more if I felt the quantity of breakfast food on my plate was severely lacking.
When the waitress returned with our meals, she placed the three pancakes in front of me. I gulped. They were bigger than I anticipated. I glance over to my mom and she looked at me smugly.
I dug into the pancakes, cutting into the stack of them with my fork. My mom offered me syrup, but I knew it would impede my progress. I got through one pancake. The second disappeared easily enough. But by the time I embarked on the third disk of carbohydrate deliciousness, I was already feeling full. I took a bite. Another. I put down my fork and reached for my water, trying to take a surreptitious break. My mom caught my eye and I laughed.
“It’s a lot of pancakes.”
She smiled at me. “I know.”
I suffered through a few more bites of the final pancake, but that’s all it was, suffering, to prove a point. I put down my fork in defeat and sighed. “Do either of you want the rest of my pancake?”
My mom let out a noise, an odd mixture of a giggle and triumphant sigh. Again, she laughed at my desire to order such an ghastly number of pancakes, five whole pancakes, when I clearly couldn’t get through three.
“What if you’re sitting in this same IHOP ten months from now,” she postulated, “and you think you’re capable of eating five pancakes? Who’s going to stop you?”
And she was right. In less than a year, I could be sitting at this very table, filled with the absurd desire to eat five pancakes and I wouldn’t have a mother around to stop me. Worse, I could be studying for finals and have no one to tell me to get some sleep instead of studying all night. No one to remind to please, just once, change the sheets on my bed. Not a single soul to tell me when my laundry should get done or when I needed to get the gym.
Not to say my mother runs my life, she doesn’t. But she does keep me sane, she keeps me thinking ordered, normal thoughts like “three pancakes is a serving, not five.”
I’m probably much less ready for college, for living on my own, that I would like to think myself; every confused eighteen year old headed off to live by themselves with thousands of other eighteen year olds is underprepared. But maybe that’s the joy of it, figuring things out and learning how to be an adult, even in the smallest of ways, like ordering three pancakes for breakfast instead of an outrageous five.