Eat Dessert First

Guest Author: Susanne Skinner

“Absolutely eat dessert first. The thing that you want to do the most, do that.”

Joss Whedon

Why not?

Eat Dessert FirstWe’ve heard this phrase so many times there must be some truth to it. When we were kids we wished we could do it. Now that we’re adults we can–but we don’t. In between childhood and adulthood we learned to play by the rules and the rules say dessert comes last.

But we’re not kids anymore. We can eat dessert first if we want to. No one is telling us the big pile of broccoli has to disappear before we can have the chocolate cake. If we eat dessert first, we still get the healthy benefits of the food, but we’re eating the stuff that’s good for us after we eat the stuff that tastes good.

I grew up in a family that believed in dessert. My mom was a good cook, but she was an awesome baker. She was not given to overt physical or spoken gestures of affection. Baking was her love language. Cakes, cookies and banana bread were her way of saying I love you and thank you. She baked for the neighbors, the librarian, hospital volunteers, school functions and us. In our house dinner was at 6:00 p.m, there was always bread on the table, and we had dessert. It was a food group.

I rarely asked what was for dinner but I needed to know what awesome bites of deliciousness would be waiting for me at the end of every meal. I still feel that way. Although my cooking and baking have achieved a respectable balance, I love all things butter and sugar and I come by it honestly. My passion for creating and serving sweet things lives in my DNA.

Don’t Wait For the Good Things

Eating dessert first feels psychologically incorrect and breaks the established order of things. The gratification that comes from that little plate full of sugar is delayed until the task of cleaning your plate is accomplished. Perhaps this comes down to the belief that we have “need-to-do” things that trump our list of “want-to-do” things. Using this model, things we want to do don’t get to happen until everything else has been done. It’s our way of rewarding ourselves, but it comes at the end instead of the beginning. That can take a very long time and eventually we discover we have run out of time.

After my mother passed away, my sister and I were sorting through her things. We came across an envelope at the bottom of a drawer that had my sister’s handwriting on it. She knew instantly what it was. Inside, wrapped in delicate tissue paper, was the beautiful Hermes silk scarf she sent her when she lived and worked in Paris. My sister spoke the words we were both thinking: “it looks like she never wore it.”   And I knew why. It was dessert. It was so elegant and special that it could not be worn until the right time, place and occasion presented itself. Until that happened, it remained safely tucked away in the envelope. As painful as that moment was, I learned that sometimes you just have to create the occasion, get dressed up and order dessert.

Dessert has become a euphemism for all things good. Things we hope for, wish for, and plan for, not to be realized until a more mundane but necessary set of tasks is complete. We accept that life short, yet train ourselves to believe that dessert or some other item of great importance should be postponed–as if we had all the time in the world. We need to earn it before we can enjoy it.

The Answer is Cake

What if we decided to look at everything as if it WAS dessert? What if we embrace the things our hearts desire and see them as the possibilities they really are? This doesn’t mean we should spend every moment at the all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, but it’s a profound reminder to find joy in the present. There is wisdom in saving and planning but we must also follow through. It is too easy to tell ourselves we will [fill in your dream here] when:

  • The kids are out of school
  • The kids are grown
  • We have enough money
  • We are retired
  • Insert [your reason] here 

We are alike in that we believe we have forever to do the things we want to do. Like Scarlett O’Hara, it is easy to convince ourselves there is always tomorrow. When you are tempted to think this way, remind yourself that there are only seven days in the week, and someday isn’t one of them. The only time you can choose is right now. If we focus on what might be, we limit our capacity to be in the wonder of the present. Your dessert has arrived.

Chocolate CakeYes, life is short, and to me it makes sense to break the established order of things and live a life balanced with a little more sweetness. There is no one more qualified to live our lives than us and we know what sweetness looks like. We know what our dreams are and how best to achieve them. Let’s invite some of those dreams to move to the front of the line and become real. In the meantime, I believe that most other things can be resolved with patience, kindness, forgiveness and laughter, but some things just need cake.

Every once in a while we need to eat dessert first. Let’s have some cake.


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