03/19/2013 06:42 pm ET Updated May 19, 2013

The Magic of a Napkin Dispenser

The morning it happened I had a cold and was getting over pinkeye. I also had a headache that inexplicably worsened every time I heard the word, "Mommy." I had a 2-month-old, 3-year-old and 5-year-old at the time, so I heard the word "Mommy" a lot.

After I picked up my preschooler, we went out to lunch at the local bagel place. (The decision was made a lot easier by the fact that I was out of groceries.) I ordered a couple of bagels with cream cheese, and we sat.

As babies like to do when their mothers are seconds away from taking the first bite of a meal, my infant son started to cry. He was crying because he was hungry. I was never great at deciphering baby-cries the way a guest on "Oprah" once taught the audience to do, but I knew my son was hungry. I knew this because I had forgotten to feed him before preschool pickup.

He cried and cried. And I wanted to cry too.

I was tired. And worn out. And overwhelmed. And very easily annoyed. Earlier that morning, when I ran into a friend's husband, he congratulated me on the baby and then asked, "What else is going on?"

It was polite, normal conversation. But I was not feeling polite or normal. I remember, when he asked what else was "going on," that I wanted to punch him in the face. A string of expletives so raw that they would have made a frat boy blush swirled around in my head.

But all I said was, "Not much."

And so, there I was in the bagel place, half sitting and half dancing around with my wailing infant trying to decide if I should feed him or just eat a few bites of bagel myself. Feed him or eat? Feed him or eat. Feed him or eat. Feed him or eat?

My 3-year-old interrupted my thoughts.

"Look, it's magical!" he shouted to me as he often did at that age because voice modulation is for suckers.

At first, I didn't know what he was talking about. I was still trying to decide if I should feed the baby or eat a little bit of bagel. I also was trying to remember when I had last brushed my teeth.

He pulled a napkin out of its silver dispenser and was amazed that more napkins waited behind it. "It's magical!" He pulled out another napkin. And another napkin after that. As far as he knew, the napkin line went on forever. (My apologies to trees and the environment in general, by the way.)

I was his companion on the occasion of his important discovery. His excitement energized me. And, for a moment, all was good. Until he knocked over his glass of water. But, luckily, we had exactly what we needed to clean it up.

(A portion of this essay previously appeared on the blog, Mammalingo.)