A few months ago, a colleague and I began our business day at the Renaissance Tel Aviv solidifying the details of an upcoming conference we were organizing for an important international client. To our great surprise, the hotel’s hospitality manager was courteous, efficient and agreeable (a customer service trifecta of Loch Ness proportions this side of the Atlantic), and we ran through our checklist of requests and concerns in under 20 minutes.
Though we counted our lucky hamsas for the brevity of the interaction, we were at a bit of a loss having set aside several hours (travel included) for the crucial face-to-face meeting. “Was that it?” we wondered. “Would we have to saddle up and ride the Road Rage Rodeo back to Jerusalem so soon?”
But just before we were overcome by acute traffic trauma, our hostess invited us to partake of the hotel’s beautiful breakfast buffet. A heavy sigh of relief was followed by our sincerest expressions of gratitude. Hash browns and pancakes to the rescue!
As we loaded up our plates with fresh fruit and piping hot breakfast delicacies, I spotted a tray of unnaturally yellow scrambled eggs, and I was transported back in time. More than two decades earlier, heaps of salty “industrial” scrambled eggs warmed my heart and filled my stomach as they anchored my fondest childhood memory.
When I was in elementary school, my mother took on the majority of the carpooling responsibilities. It’s not that my father didn’t want to contribute (after all, what parent wouldn’t want to spend the dawn hours chauffeuring 6 loud and opinionated Gilbert Gottfried clones?), but attending morning prayers at our synagogue, tending to newborns in the local hospitals, and keeping on top of his workload at his pediatric practice transformed his mornings into a logistic logjam.
However, the stars realigned when I began middle school. As a seventh grader, I was expected to arrive at school considerably earlier to both participate in morning prayers and eat breakfast with the rest of the middle school students. The earlier drop off time, built-in prayers services and close proximity to my father’s office created the perfect scenario, and Dr. Klein happily took on carpooling duties every Monday morning.
I really enjoyed spending some extra time with my father during the commute and was elated that I was able to pray with him one additional morning every week. The new arrangement seemed perfect, and I couldn’t imagine it getting any better.
Until it did.
One Monday morning a few weeks into the school year, my father pulled my rabbi aside towards the end of prayer services. My father’s morning schedule remained tight, and he had no choice but to duck out early from our morning prayers, always taking a moment to share a few kind words with my rabbi on his way out. However, it was clear that this morning’s conversation was different. It lasted several minutes and ended with smiles of agreement and a handshake. My father then walked back over to me, leaned in and whispered, “Come with me.”
I grabbed my school bag and followed him out of the prayer room and into the hallway. “Your rabbi gave me permission to take you out of prayers a few minutes early on the days that I drive carpool so that we can have breakfast together in the cafeteria,” my father explained. “Now let’s go get some eggs.”
So many years later, I still remember my joyous bewilderment as we walked the empty hallway to the vacant cafeteria where the breakfast staff scurried to put the finishing touches on our eggs. Though they were clearly making enough to feed a prepubescent army, at that moment it felt as though they were preparing a special breakfast for two.
We snaked through the empty lunch line barriers with our plastic trays and were greeted with two styrofoam bowls filled to the brim with steaming hot powdered scrambled eggs. At our table in the middle of the cafeteria, we devoured our eggs and discussed everything and nothing in particular.
It was the most delicious moment that I can remember.
As we took our final bites, prayer services ended, and the Hunger Games began. A stampede of middle schoolers filled the cafeteria, jabbering, joking and jostling for position in line. A straggler in the back of the line noticed us finishing our meal and shouted, “Hey! Is that Dr. Klein? Did they already get food?” I smiled at my father, contented and happy. The delicious industrial eggs were only half the story.
For one thing, it felt great to receive the VIP treatment. Though it was just a mediocre meal in a middle school cafeteria, my 12 year old brain registered it as a gourmet smorgasbord in the King David Lounge. It’s not often that a seventh grader comes out on top in middle school, so I savored the moment.
I also enjoyed seeing the looks on the other students’ faces when they registered that I was sitting with the one and only Dr. Klein. In our small suburban community, just about everyone was a patient in my father’s practice, and he was a local celebrity with the younger set (those below 15 years of age). I felt very proud knowing that so many other children also looked up to my father, and I was particularly pleased knowing that I was part of an elite group that was privileged to attend baseball games, visit museums, grill hamburgers and eat salty eggs with him.
But, most importantly, it felt wonderful knowing that in addition to making our planned family time count, my father was also willing to carve out some unplanned quality time for me, even if it was incredibly inconvenient for him.
Both of my parents had always made a concerted effort to fill our lives with positive experiences and wonderful memories, but those powdered eggs struck a special chord and became a symbol of borrowed time and boundless parental love.
I think about those salty eggs at least twice a year: once on Father’s Day, when my cranial cable station plays a “Father Knows Best” marathon, and again during the High Holidays, a period of serious introspection into our actions and a reassessment of how we spend our time. Reflecting on those magical Monday mornings with my father, I realize how that experience changed the way I thought about and valued time.
Time, I learned, was not only a tool for individual use, but a treasured commodity to share with and gift to others. The more you have, the more there is to share. The less you have, the more valuable the bequest.
Taking a page out of my parents’ book, I try my very best to fill my sons’ lives with positive experiences and wonderful memories, while at the same time making it clear to them that my best laid plans will change in an instant if and when they ever need my guidance, assistance or solace.
To be clear, I am not promoting a progeny-dominated parent-child relationship. I set very clear limits for my boys, and they understand that I need time apart from them to tackle my personal and professional responsibilities. However, there is an extra special skip in the step and luminous twinkle in the eye of a child who knows with great certainty that his parents are always willing to cook up a “Salty Egg Moment.”
So many years later, a bowl of powdered eggs provides me with emotional sustenance that I can’t find anywhere else. It stands as a testament to the power of sharing borrowed time with our children. Chock full of spontaneity and enriched with boundless love, these hearty moments are part and parcel of a well-balanced individual and the foundation for a healthy and happy outlook on life.