I created this heart beet pizza recipe almost two months ago and have been struggling ever since to find the words to go with it. Then suddenly, when I opened the kitchen window this morning to a shiver of cool, fall air, I realized two things: 1) Now’s the perfect time for an earthy-sweet, roasted vegetable pizza like this one, and 2) If I keep trying to write the perfect post, it’ll never get out there.
So here it goes. My infant son, Jack, had open-heart surgery almost exactly three months ago—to repair a defect that would have taken him from us before his first birthday—and it changed the way I look at everything, including this blog. [Don’t worry: This post is long, but there’s a happy ending and a delicious heart beet pizza recipe waiting for you at the end.]
Our Bumpy Ride into New Parenthood
We’d known about Jack's heart defect since I was 20 weeks pregnant, which might make us luckier than parents who learn about these things in the delivery or recovery room (like Jimmy Kimmel). But it meant that our first few months of parenthood was a blur of medical appointments, feeding struggles, and constant monitoring of weight and breathing and complexion—all on top of the cliché sleepless nights and endless loads of laundry. Among the snuggly baby photos on our phones were videos of our son’s bare chest while he slept, which we’d use to chronicle his rapid breathing for the doctors. We threw around words like “a/v canal defect” and “chest retraction” and “echo-cardiogram” like they were nothing.
At just over three months old, Jack was admitted to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) because of weight issues associated with heart failure, and after two-ish weeks of monitoring and tinkering with different meds, a world-class surgeon named Dr. Spray operated on him to close up two holes and repair a central valve in his heart. A nutshell synopsis of the most excruciating hours, days, and weeks my husband and I (and our families) have ever experienced, as we knew there was about a one-in-thirty chance he wouldn't make it through surgery. We took Jack home on the 4th of July, the day after his 4-month birthday. A few scrappy months later, just two weeks ago, our pediatrician declared triumphantly that we now have only “normal baby things” to discuss, like starting solid foods and baby-proofing the house for our soon-to-be crawler. And on life goes.
When he’s old enough to ask me about his scar, I’ve decided I’ll tell him it’s his exclamation mark—proof that he’s extra special or something cheesy like that. I like to envision this conversation happening around the table on Thursday night, as the three of us sink into melty slices of fresh-made pizza. In reality, I know it’ll take place in a bathroom stall in Target with a line of crossed-armed women as witnesses, while I try to simultaneously pee and dissuade him from poking his head under the divider wall. Either way, it’s a conversation I know is coming, and when it does, I want to be prepared. I want Jack to know that there will always be a time to ask questions, share stories, air his grievances, tell us his hopes and dreams. In my house, growing up, that was at the table. And the best conversations always sprung up around a meal we created together.
What this all means for Thursday Night Pizza
This week, for the first time since Jack was born, Thursday Night Pizza was fun again. I made two different pies on the grill, a plain one and a pear-pecorino beauty that I'll post next week, and the three of us sat around the table, Jack babbling and John and I chatting about whatever came to mind. We eat dinner together at the table every day, but there's something different about pizza night. Is it the variation? The fact that explaining the toppings becomes a conversation on its own? Or is it that it feels like an occasion—something to look forward to amid hectic weeks of work and baby wrangling and other obligations?
When I started this blog three-ish years ago, it was a testing ground for seasonal flavor pairings and pizzafied classics like borscht, mac and cheese, and tacos. The weekly ritual part—the togetherness shtick—was just a welcome residual. But now that the dust has settled and Jack is big enough to sit at the table and join in, I feel a shift coming. I want Thursday Night Pizza to be more than just an index of recipes; I want it to be an inspiration. Couldn't we all use an anchor like pizza night to slow things down and come together?
Life is precious. It's a lesson that slapped me hard in the face this year. And I want Jack to know that, in the most unpredictable times, there will always be Thursday night pizza (even if it isn’t always on Thursday).
Oh, and here's a link to that heart beet pizza recipe I promised!