Standing at my bookshelf, my fingers follow the worn, familiar feeling of my books, old friends that I have forgotten. There are books of poetry, art and religion; books on growing things and making things; books on building business; books of dreams once pursued. Mysteries, memoirs and fiction that used to carry me far, far away.
I have come here now for a book of recipes, yet still, I am drawn to the now-dusty books about parenting. A shelf that started with a copy of What to Expect When Your Expecting and was filled to overflowing when the unexpected happened. Books on epilepsy and illness, advice and encouragement, books I once feverishly read my way through -- looking for answers, that only life would bring.
I find the baking book I have come for, it's sunshine yellow cover calling out to me, the vintage rose color calming me. I bring it to the kitchen where my daughter Zoe is waiting. No longer does she need the step-stool, or even for me to stand behind her. She stands by herself, leaning against her walker for balance. In middle school now, she has grown out of the little girl apron she used to wear, and favors a pink t-shirt instead. She smiles at me, her confidence and excitement radiating as she finds the page and begins to read the recipe aloud. Her supplies at the ready, she starts with slow, careful movements.
And with patience I stand back, knowing that what makes this recipe work is not my help or what is written on the page.
It is the shallow pan that will catch the overflow of flour and sugar, carefully measured by a shaky hand. It is the notepad nearby that will keep count, by Zoe's written " X's, the number of cups she has poured. It is the flattened bowl that will hold a steady surface for eggs to be cracked and pieces of eggshells extracted.
This is different from when I bake with Zoe's big sister, when it is a team effort to try new techniques, perfectly fill each measured cup and and correctly approximate each teaspoon, that puts my teen girl and I in unison. When it is her idea of what to make, her confidence growing with each new creation. Our collaboration brings us closer together.
Later, when I am alone, the recipe book still lays open, the written words worn, splattered and sometimes hard to read, this recipe replaced by real life.
I know now it is the real result that is better than the expected. It is the authentic, on-hand ingredients that deliver goodness. It is the directions we ignore, the techniques we adapt and the new processes we create that make each batch wonderfully unique -- and never exactly the same.
It is the sweetness that rises above, that masks the imperfections and the missed ingredients.
This is the real recipe of mothering.