I couldn’t figure out what kind of desert I wanted to make after devouring that last delicious piece of bread pudding, so I decided to bake a cake and remembered that my mother used to bake great cakes. Too, my friend, Linda Carter (now in Gulfport, MS), still bakes an excellent pound cake every week for her husband, William, even though he’s now retired but that cake sounded like a good choice. So, I’m looking through my recipes and found the bunch of different pound cake recipes that my mother collected. It touched me that most were in her beautiful but careful handwriting and some were typed out on a typewriter that she learned to use to write letters when her handwriting became shaky.
When my mother died on December 5, 2007 I had already experienced her loss for several years prior to that as she declined into senility and memory loss (not Alzheimer’s). There have been many times even while she was alive that I’d think of phoning her about a recipe, or asking a question about the best thing to look for when picking melons, or how to get rid of those pesky gnats that seem to appear out of nowhere and resist bug spray because you cannot see them. She may not have had the answer, but the connection in just the conversation would still be there; a conversation centered around mutual interests. But in those last several years her hearing (another long topic) wasn’t good enough to handle the phone, or she would forget what she was saying and get so frustrated she gradually refused to talk on it.
Back to the cakes: Cakes can be tricky, you can mess them up by cooking them too long, not mixing them correctly (some cakes call for specificity), overbeating the batter, or something as simple as dropping that little tidbit of eggshell into the mix. Like parenting, baking cakes requires a balance of ingredients. You can butter them up, sweeten them richly, or add flavoring that makes the tasting remind eaters of just how good you are.
Most things in life are like that, including raising (rearing) children. Just like with cakes, you can mess your kids up, too, by over-parenting, or not changing your parenting skills to handle their ever-increasing ages, or not understanding which method would work best to discipline each child (they all respond to different things differently), or other things that lead this reminiscing into other directions I’ll take on later.
My mother was a mass of contradictions and imperfections (aren’t we all?), but she did the best she could with what she knew at the time (even though sometimes overriding her common sense about what would be the best for that particular child). With each generation we vow before having our children that we will be better parents than our parents were to us; we just know we will never make the same mistakes. Like our mothers before us, we tell our kids “no” when we just needed to take a minute to weigh whether “yes” would have been okay. We snap at them when we’re under stress and end up venting our frustrations on someone not the source of them. We are too lenient or too strict in administering punishments.
We may even treat all our children the same even while complaining how different they are (mass contradiction). Some of us punish the kids simply because they look like the other parent who has lost favor in our eyes. We may give them too many “things” overcompensating for the divorce, death, lost of income, whatever the primary source. Or, we may overcompensate because we wish we hadn’t had them before doing something else in life we had a passion for, or our parenting could be just the result of our misguided attempt to be loved. We give the kids too much love and smother them, or give them no love at all and rue the day they came into this world. We feed them too many of the wrong things trying to keep them happy when our focus should be trying to keep them healthy. Perhaps we love them, but don’t like them. Or, maybe the reason we don’t like them as teens and adults is because we see how flawed our parenting was and their behavior is a direct result; or we treat their behavior like we wish we had been treated and that treatment doesn’t fit the situation or the child. Maybe we love them too much, or too little, or not at all. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we just repeat our parents’ mistakes and fail miserably. But, we keep trying if we are constantly evolving.
Only time will tell if we get it right or we miss the mark entirely in helping our children grow into adulthood and they turn out to be someone hated or someone admired, the mass shooter in a mall, or a pioneer in discovering some treatment for a decades-old illness.
We have to learn that our children aren’t ourselves reincarnated, or that they’re far from perfection, or even entertain the thought that they may not like any of the things that thrill us and that’s okay. The Lakota Indians have a saying that what we call maturation is just us learning to be human. We have to learn to forgive ourselves for not doing it all the right way all the time and accept our humanness.
So in this next cake, as I fold in the eggs and flour, I will think of my children while I fold in a little of my memory of my mother and know that the cake will come out light, but with some flaw like being uneven, or cooked too long, or mixed too much, or just might have that occasional tiny eggshell piece that ends up in the final product that keeps it from being perfect.
July 9, 2010