The Midnight Panini King

Laura Todd Carns
4 min readAug 24, 2021
Photo by Asnim Ansari on Unsplash

Just as I’m falling asleep, book slipping from my slackening grip, I hear the sounds from the kitchen downstairs. A clatter, a slam. I raise my head, disoriented. But then I hear his voice. It is just my son, cooking at midnight again.

This strange pandemic summer, my children have turned feral. They have become nocturnal creatures, appearing groggy at the kitchen table in their pajamas at noon, eating eggs and cereal at lunchtime. I’ve given up on bedtimes; they’re 13 and 16 after all. Nearly every night, they outlast me, and I say goodnight and crawl into bed with the downstairs still ablaze with their light and activity.

And in the middle of the night, my 13-year-old son is learning to cook without me.

For years, cooking has been a passion of his. He would bring me a recipe, we’d gather the ingredients, and we’d work through the steps together. Every time, I tried to let him do it himself. I hovered, wincing, watching him struggle with the knife or the whisk. “Do you want some help?” I would hear myself saying, hand already reaching to take over.

“You have to let the pan get hot first,” I would tell my son, adjusting the heat on the stove. “Before you add the oil. That’ll keep it from sticking.” He would nod, distracted. I don’t think he was even listening.

Lately I have found myself keenly aware of the dwindling amount of time I have left with these children. They will soon not be children, after all. I find myself frantic with the number of things I have left to teach them, fluttering around them with advice and warnings like a noisy hen, wings flapping uselessly. I am preparing them with skills, yes, but I am also fattening them up for the harsh winter of the real world, feeding them my love and admiration and specific praise. I am desperately trying to bolster them, knowing what’s to come.

What would happen if I let my son put the oil into a cold pan? If his panini stuck, or his quesadilla was ruined? I can’t bear the thought of his disappointment, his frustration. I just want to set him up for success, that’s all.

I want to give my children everything. But I’m beginning to realize the one thing I haven’t been able to give them in the forced proximity of this pandemic year is the thing they need most: space.

Laura Todd Carns

Freelancer & fictioneer. Contributor to Medium pubs Human Parts, GEN, Curious; bylines elsewhere in WaPo, Quartz, EL, The Lily & more.