Serenity Sunday: Life, according to IHOP’s “happy pancake”


Things don’t always turn out the way we picture them. This is because we share the world with others who have their own sense of time and their own ideas about life. As long as we share time, space, and realities with other human beings, things (jobs, relationships, etc.) will often look like something other than what we imagine. It doesn’t mean that our situation isn’t good or even sweet. Life is just real. Like, really real.

Take this kid’s menu item for example: the “happy pancake” from IHOP. There are a few variations of this plate-sized cake, but it usually has a whipped-topping smile and chocolate chips, berries, cherries, or some other fruit that creates the facial features. On the menu, it looks perfect. My kids are instantly attracted to it; but when brought out from the kitchen, it never looks quite the way it did on the picture. I have often looked at the “happy pancake” wondering what in the world happened to it. Why does it look so bootleg? So janky. So messy…

Turns out, the “happy pancake”, like life, doesn’t always turn out how we imagine. Every IHOP prepares it differently because not all cooks have the same hand. The dish is essentially designed to be messy. My kids usually play with the pancake. They indulge in the toppings and I usually have to beg them to eat the pancake. Honestly, when it comes to embracing the chaos of the “happy pancake”, I struggle. I just want it off the table. It’s just too chaotic. (Parental OCD is real.)

And like the “happy pancake”, life is chaotic and messy. And I don’t mean that in a don’t-be-talking-behind-my-back-say-it- to-my-face-kind of messy. Messy in that things rarely work out as planned. Chaotic in that our needs change, and are often in contrast to the needs of those we care about. Messy when we don’t take responsibility for our own happiness. Chaotic when we are incapable of being the change we want to see.

On the other hand, the “happy pancake” is festive, unique, and rarely judged by the children who love it. They seem to light up when it’s presented to them. They embrace the chaos. And, ultimately, a pretty fun memory is made. Happy-faced food has one job: to spread joy. Not satisfy hunger.

Maybe I should embrace chaos more…or somethin’…


Clinnesha is a writer, wife, mom, and social entrepreneur who feels most accountable to southern, black citizen-artists, elders, children, and families. Her work is at the intersection of arts, culture, innovation, and community.

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