A few weekends ago, I took a good look around and realized that I was terribly behind. It happens when you check out for a a couple weeks and spend all your non-work hours lying face down on the couch, contemplating an apocalyptic future, and perfecting your heavy sigh. When you finally muster the energy to get on with life, you find, not so surprisingly, that your thank you cards are not addressed, the dirty laundry pile dwarfs the washing machine, and the floors look like a New York City street on New Year’s morning. The bitter cold snap was just the inducement to forgo any errands, stay put and get my home in order.
So I lit yummy smelling candles, turned on Pandora and got to it. “Is that Donna Reed?” You would have thought to yourself if you had seen me. Well, you would have if Donna Reed gained a solid forty pounds and ran around in ratty yoga pants. Point is, I was soooo domestic. I tidied, I fluffed, I baked. The house looked perfect. My email inbox was empty. Fragrant banana bread sat cooling on the stove. “There.” I told myself, “Done.”
Roughly one nano-second later, my offspring descended on the kitchen and lit into the baked goods like locusts on a wheat field. It was like watching a time-lapse video of piranha stripping a cow. Surveying the aftermath, I couldn’t think of a more apt metaphor for parenting. You put out the effort, again and again. You sit up nights, you offer jewels of wisdom, you attend concerts and baseball games and meet with teachers. You lecture, lecture, lecture until your throat aches. You provide meals, sports fees, literally thousands of socks and mittens and sweatshirts, all procured by the sweat of your brow and -poof!- it all just evaporates into thin air and you are left, disoriented and exhausted, with nothing to show for it.
Nothing, until a teacher calls to tell you that the child who has been an inattentive student at best has turned a corner and is, now, both productive and helpful. Until you meet your child’s boss and they tell you what a joy it is to have such a responsible kid on their staff. Until you witness them bravely stepping far outside their comfort zone to be of service to someone else. And you realize that they have absorbed at least some of what you have tried to impart. That you have constructed a foundation build of time, of effort, of love…and banana bread. Hundreds and hundreds of loaves of banana bread.
It is good to remember when they screw up. Again. And they will. It is truly a wonder that any of us made it to adulthood, judging from the knuckled headed decisions my offspring make. I like to tell myself that I wasn’t like that, but I was. Of course I was. There was the time I squeezed six -six!- of my friends into my rusty old Volkswagen Bug. Don’t ask me how. I can only imagine that my teenage posterior was much less expansive than my middle aged one. Anyhoo, we had so much weight in my poor car that the brakes proved completely ineffective and we slid right through every intersection. Every one until the cop pulled us over and I had to coast to the side of the road and use the curb to stop us. Amazingly, he did NOT give us a ticket. Apparently, there were no outstanding warrants for a gaggle of teens on their way home from ballroom dance lessons and he let us go. In a car that had already demonstrated an inability to brake, so maybe I wasn’t the only one making dubious decisions that day.
Point is, I guess, that I’m here and with any luck my kids will live to have similar stories to share someday. I am going to keep baking bread and washing their clothes and offering all my hard-won wisdom because caring for them is my job–whether or not they appreciate it. Whether or not they even notice it. Whether or not I feel that they particularly deserve it. Sometimes, no, scratch that, all the time you are charged to pour good into the world and it is none of your business what happens after that. That part isn’t up to us at all, unfortunately. In the meantime, there is much to be done and luckily, there is also that second loaf of banana bread that I hide for later– Because I might be under appreciated, but I ain’t stupid.