An amuse-bouche is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. You do not order it. Instead it is chef chosen. A single earthy escargot. Tuna tartare wrapped in a crispy beet slice. An heirloom cherry tomato filled with lemon infused goat cheese. You get the idea: a tiny surprise that packs a big punch.
Amuse-bouche: it has a nice ring to it. It’s advantageous to have a fancy pants word in your back pocket for use at corporate back-slapping parties and such. But its use is kind of limited. And it’s a shame to have a good foodie word go stale. What if we applied it in a broader sense?
A successful amuse-bouche is more than a single yummy morsel. It’s a clue to the ‘taste direction’ of the rest of the meal. It’s basically the “divining rod” of the unfolding culinary experience.
What if we asked ourselves what small moment, or amuse-bouche, has predicted our life’s path thus far? It can’t be a moment we were responsible for; like choosing the late train home and inadvertently sitting next to our future spouse. Instead the moment has to have been presented to us. A tiny morsel that, if we were paying attention, forecasted the unfolding of future events.
If you had asked me a few weeks ago what my amuse-bouche had been I could have come up with a half dozen. It might have been how my youngest daughter did not like to be held close when she was an infant. Instead she liked the isolated confines of her car seat. In response I took to putting her in a snuggly every evening and walking up and down the streets of our small town with her firmly affixed to my chest. I figured it was a way to give her the best of both worlds. This small moment now appears a microcosm of our larger struggles; hers to uncomfortably retreat and mine to forcibly show maternal love.
I might also think back to how she wanted to fill her crib with large plastic toys – rocking horses and dump trucks. I would ably assist: You want this one? You want this one? She would grunt and nod and only lay down her head when she was nearly buried alive. For the next twenty years i would become a witness to her unconventional, and frightening, methods to self soothe.
Another “amuse-bouche” could have been her night time ritual. Instead of singing ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ she would tick off a long list of potential disasters on her tiny little fingers. With her eyebrows stitched tightly together she would recite “house fire,” “tornado,” “molly-dog dying.” When I would ask her to please stop she would insist on continuing because “if she said them out loud they would not happen tomorrow.” It was like watching her conjure up the prop gun at the beginning of a movie. The prop gun that always portends disaster. As adults we know there is no wishing away the bad stuff.
But none of these were my true amuse-bouche moments.
I learned this after hearing a friend speak uncomfortably about her down syndrome sister and the family burden it had created: their father abandoned them and her mother became consumed with her care. This friend smiled recalling how she and her sister would play simple card games over and over and over. She didn’t recognize that her “amuse-bouche” had not been the birth of her sister. The card game was. The words “over and over and over” were the clue – they highlighted what was to become her signature strength: patience and empathy.
Her story was a reminder that our amuse-bouche moments are not the big things. They are not the burgeoning substance use disorders and the undeniable disabilities. They are much quieter, much more subtle. A chef would explain that it is not the oyster itself – but the taste of the brine.
I know now what my amuse-bouche has always been. It was the kindness shown to me by my eldest child when she was just a toddler. I had been lying in my bed, crying. It was nothing more than new parent exhaustion. But she got herself up from her nap and toddled her way down the hall to check on me and with her little hand on my back she gave me tiny pats. And then she offered her pacifier to me. She was comforting me the only way she knew how.
How could I have nearly forgotten that one amazing moment?