I couldn’t even boil water.
I had set the pot on the stove, turned the burner on, and walked away. It was so simple- just some spaghetti noodles and in a few minutes, some canned sauce. No risk, no possible burnt hard-to-discernables. Except the water would not come to a boil. Twenty minutes later, and I was slowly losing hope.
He came home to me in tears.
Unbeknownst to me, the oven itself hadn’t been plugged in, just a day after we moved in. My perfectly planned dinner, simple as it was? Totally bust.
It was just one of many days in a string of long days early in our marriage. I couldn’t cook very well. I felt incredibly deficient in wifely-ness because of this; it became a melt-down trigger more times than I can count. The guilt and shame at my perceived failure as a wife (and soon, a mother) would grow exponentially over the next few years.
Not only could I not cook, I was pretty hapless as a mother. I watched as my friends delved into the mothering arts with deft grace. They breathed in the possibilties of baby blankets and sweet dresses, nursery options and natural everything, attachment this, baby wearing that. I didn’t come naturally to me at all. As a matter of fact, it still doesn’t. Discussing early childhood development might make me break out in hives. It just is not the way I am wired. I know there is some irony in this, seeing that I am the mother of six; but I don’t really enjoy being around young children. It’s not something I would have ever sought out on my own.
I was pretty isolated in the early years. My only outlet and yes, saving grace, was the community I found online and the company of books. Some of those early friendships made have blossomed into real-life, true-blue-forever relationships. What I didn’t realize then was the serious dark side to this whole virtual reality: the expectations for a young Christian mother are so unrealistic played out across the pixels and bytes. And oh, how I tried.
I couldn’t even boil water.
You see, I came at this whole thing with a shaky skill set at best. I didn’t realize that mothering and homemaking were an art; an art I could make my own. An art I could make mistakes with; a joyful thing that could be full of play.
The takeaway from all of those amazing little blogs and helpful books was a tremendously long list of do’s and dont’s, do’s or die’s, your faith and salvation is in question if you can’t do this right, your kids might end up heathens because you failed, failed, failed. You didn’t make that bread from scratch; you didn’t rise before the dawn. Fear’s long tentacles. Pride’s bluster.
I think about it now and all I can think is- who am I that I should be blessed with these children? Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Anything that my children become- God’s grace and favor. Any mistakes my children make? May they know God’s mercy. I am nothing outside of Christ. There is no way we can make it as parents; nay, as human beings, without leaning into the strength of Christ. I think about it now, and I think, of course I failed! Of course I couldn’t boil the water that time. I still had things to learn. I still have things to learn. This mothering thing? That boiling-water skill? This human being living and breathing thing? It’s a journey with bends and turns, Glory Be moments and Lord have mercy moments, mountaintops and valley-darks.
It’s taken me ten long years to understand that all I have to bring to mothering and homemaking is my faith in God and my own unique skill set. I don’t have to bake that bread if it doesn’t fill my cup. I’m not a horrible mother if I buy it from the store; my children will not be nutritionally screwed for life because I made chicken nuggets last night.
I can bring me to my children. Not some unachievable super-mama thing that would probably scare ‘em with her knack with glitter. I love literature. I love history. I love art. I love beauty. I love making connections in relationships with people; I love helping people find the way to their truest selves. I can share my compassion and insight skills with my kids and help them look deeper into the world around them, see beyond the packaging through to the broken-ness and need for healing that’s all around them. I’m an INFJ; the rarest of personality types in the world. I don’t need to hide who I am under some crazy expectation of an extrovert. It needs to be treasured and fostered in a world that gets more and more chaotic and broken.
A friend of mine, unlike my own stinks-at-the-basics-stuff, absolutely lives to cook. It’s a vision to watch him in the kitchen. He brings delight in his own joy at what he’s doing. You can’t help but be swept up in it a little bit. He plays music, sings along. It’s like watching a dance. And he glows. I was watching him the other night, and all I could think of was, I want to glow like that. I remember what that felt like, when freedom informed my joy, before the dark chains of ridiculous expectations snapped in place. I’m working my way back to that center.
I’m never going to be an excellent cook like him; I’ll never be as wonderful a mama as some of the women I patently adore. But over the years, I’ve learned to make a stinkin’ good pizza. I’ve learned to lean in and listen close to the hearts around me. I may flunk on the whole early childhood development thing (please, keep the finger paints far away!) but I dearly hope that those closest to me will know in their marrow-bones how much I loved them, that I saw them, that I heard them. That I gave them the umpfh they needed to find their truest selves. That I created the space for them to soar. That’s a job description I can always sign up for.