Today is National Pancake Day, 24 hours to celebrate a breakfast food that is a perennial family favorite. For this frazzled mother of four, today brings back memories of a story that shall live in infamy as “Mom’s IHOP incident.”
Pancakes are more than a food, they’re a family-time staple.
National Pancake Day is the result of an IHOP (International House of Pancakes) fundraiser that began in 2006, during which the restaurant chain gives away free buttermilk pancakes with the hope that patrons will reciprocate with a donation to the charity of each local restaurant’s choice, according to the IHOP website.
In our house, making pancakes at home is an ingrained family ritual.
My husband is a crepe man, because his family is pure Hungarian all the way back to the Danube, where they specialize in Palacsinta (polin-chin-ta) crepes filled with cottage cheese and jam.
Our household went through a long crepe phase, with my son Ian (the best pourer) even insisting we buy a proper crepe pan.
Recently, we’ve created “Despicable Me” themed pancakes in freaky shapes, using a spritz cookie-making device to pour the batter.
Once, we tried doing pancakes in colors, but the red ones shaped like hearts looked too much like they were bleeding once the syrup was poured on, so that never happened again.
Two years ago, all four of my sons and I decided to do a “mom’s day out” and let Quin, then 8 years old, choose the spot.
He picked IHOP on a Sunday after church, the same week that one of the restaurant's famous specials had come out.
The place was bedlam. Quin began to melt down as service slowed to a crawl and the restaurant's sound level crescendoed into a cacophony of crying babies and clanking plates.
By the time our wonderful pancakes arrived, Quin was in no fit state to appreciate them, and I had yet to see my first cup of coffee for the morning.
Basically, it was an eating race against time to see who would completely crack first – Quin or Mom.
As soon as we were out of the restaurant and in the open air, Quin snapped out of it, but I was still a frazzled train-wreck.
We were about two blocks away when my son Ian said with great care – the way one might address a person who has pulled the pin from a grenade and is at the end of the countdown – “Uh, mom, aren’t you suppose to leave the cup in the restaurant?”
He was rewarded with me snapping, “Well of course you are. What the heck are you blabbering about?”
He prudently waited until we were at a red light to point to the IHOP mug that was still in my hand as I drove.
There was one moment when I am sure the boys feared I would explode, and I did – laughing.
I laughed all the way home, tears streaming down my face, and the boys rocking with laughter and jeers.
“Mom’s a mug thief,” howled my son Avery. “She’s going to go to mug jail.”
“The IHOP police are going to be waiting at the house,” Ian roared.
Quin, Mr. Rational at this point, simply said, “Well, I guess my meltdown wasn’t the worst thing that could happen if Mom’s going to mug jail.”
Then he began to cry because, being so literal, he actually believed there was a “mug jail,” where you clearly must get “mug shots” taken, and his mother would be gone forever, all for a pancake breakfast.
By the time I was at home sitting on the couch, my oldest son Zoltan pouring a fresh cup of coffee into the ill-gotten, insignia-bearing mug, the older kids were’ still rolling at my accidental pilfering and Quin was still snuffling.
I called IHOP and confessed to the cashier man who regularly answered.
“Please, Ma’am, don’t you worry about it,” he said with a chuckle. “You’re a mom. It happens all the time. Hang on to it and come back and see us again soon.”
The next time we all went back, I had the mug in the car and all the boys, including Quin, begged me to keep it.
“The man said to hang on to it and you can’t ever get rid of it,” said Zoltan. “Every time one of us sees that mug, it will remind us of the best pancake breakfast we ever had with our mom.”
Proving once again that breakfast with the kids is rarely about the pancakes, because what we most need to make with our kids each morning is a happy memory.