THE SPECIAL SPOON
By Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni
It happened by accident. Like Penicillin.
I brought a tomato-and-mozzarella salad to a holiday party for my writers’ group, and the hostess gave me back the wrong spoon. The thing must have been circa 1972, with a tiny snowflake engraved on the handle. It was smudged nearly dull from use.
My four year-old son had a habit of clearing silverware into the trash after meals, so my home was quite lacking in teaspoons. Yet as a freelance writer, I was lacking funds for new flatware.
My two kids had a penchant for arguing over everything and anything. If I handed them two absolutely identical objects, one child would still covet the other child’s item. I wasn’t happy about the prospect of convincing them to use one semi-antique, oddball spoon.
The moment it hit the placemat, it got a sideways look from my daughter Veronica, then six. “This isn’t ours,” she said.
I held it up like a courtroom exhibit. “Listen,” I said. “This is a special spoon. See the little magic snowflake? Isn’t it cute?”
I placed it down in front of her. “I want you to use it.”
Next thing you know, four year-old Louis asked why he didn’t get the Special Spoon.
After that, the kids had to take turns eating with the Special Spoon. Years into negotiations over who got to use the Special Spoon, I wanted to gag myself with it. Finally, I confessed to the kids: Enough already. It’s not actually special. I only said that so you wouldn’t reject it in favor of our other teaspoons. All five of them.
But it was too late. By then, the snowflake spoon had solidified its status in the drawer.
When finances improved, I brought home a pristine, new set of silverware. The kids oohed and aaahed over the glossy utensils beaming up at us from the kitchen drawer.
“What are you doing with the old ones?” asked Veronica, by then 11. She snatched up the lackluster, 1972 snowflake spoon and clutched it to her chest.
“You’re not throwing away The Special Spoon,” she said.
I sighed. “Honey, I told you, I only said it was special so you two wouldn’t argue over it.”
“No,” she said. “It is special, and we’re keeping it.”
For an instant, my heart squeezed tighter in my chest, as I imagined the life she would have if the millions of times I’ve tried to make things “special” stuck half as well as this one.
How many other objects were there, cluttering the bottom of her dresser drawers maybe, unknowingly imbued with supernatural powers? How many precious pieces of our lives had she squirreled away that carried an enchantment which no amount of handling could smudge away? For my daughter, who saved everything from gum wrappers to pebbles to failed science experiments, there could be a mountain of things. Things I’d been nagging her to throw away for years.
It reminded me of when Louis’ second-grade teacher showed me one of his essays. The students were asked to describe the Best Thing About Themselves.
“The best thing about Louis,” he scrawled in shaky handwriting, “is that he has extra-strong everything.”
My son, in addition to discarding flatware with abandon, had an overdeveloped sense of danger. A typical Louis-question would be, “Mom, what would happen if the whole world went on fire at the same time?”
Louis was named after a grandfather who died in his thirties of an aortic aneurysm. At four years old, my son was afraid he might die the same way. My husband sat him down and said, “Don’t worry, Lou. Before you were born, Mommy and I asked God to give you an extra-strong everything. And He did.”
Louis seemed satisfied. We never heard about it again.
Until there it was, years later, hanging on the classroom wall: Louis has extra-strong everything.
Who am I to argue?
So this is to remind us of how absolutely empowered we are as parents, even in our smallest conventions. May we never forget that we, in our yoga pants and slippers, or running for the subway in uncomfortable suits and impractical dresses and un-sensible shoes—we are alter children’s lives on a daily basis. We lie down exhausted at night wondering why we only got to chore number three on our lists, yet we shape the world.
Our words will ring back at us through countless incidental conversations, through marriage vows barely dreamed of yet, through bedtime stories our grandchildren will hear.
The Special Spoon continued to hold sway over my children more raptly than I ever intended. Veronica believed in it longer than she believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, longer than she built elaborate traps to capture Saint Patrick’s Day leprechauns. She believed in it even after I told her it was a ruse. Which means that it wasn’t. And I wonder how many other things we parents make magical and true without so much as trying.
I think about that, and I can abide by the fact that I work from a desk in my home, that I have not pursued the path of a Manhattan power broker, or that I haven’t yet gotten around to publishing this year’s hot YA series. Already, I am something stronger.
I invented The Special Spoon.
© Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni