If there was an award given for being the last person to put one’s house back in order post-Christmas, I would win it. I am the one who un-decks my halls, places the stockings back in their containers with care, and vacuums the remaining pine needles when most stores are gearing up for Valentine’s Day. I unapologetically continue this behavior year after year for reasons that range from the simplicity of the pine fragrance found throughout my house to the traditions that bring Christmas past to life. With “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” tucked comfortably away until next November, a constant in my household, no matter the season, comes in the form of homemade baked goods. While I tend to lay off the nutmeg and peppermint come spring and summer, I find the same happiness and joy in baking throughout the year as I do when “Deck the Halls” is literally ringing from my halls.
My latest baked creations were the ultimate labor of love and, as you can guess, included extra sets of helping hands that were ever-so curious and eager to aid this mama in all my baking endeavors. Aside from the occasional “don’t eat the batter” comments, the whole process with pint-sized assistants was somehow more fulfilling and gratifying than expected. Was it that I threw my expectations for a magazine-worthy dessert out the window? Negative, dear readers, because those edited images were never going to be my reality. Did I hire a pastry chef to assist in making sure each dollop of whipped cream was as fluffy as a mountaintop? Not a chance. Every crack in the pie crust and lick of the beater belongs to us. Those sweet benefits of baking with kids and the downtime of just being home for the holidays culminated in the perfect recipe for a season spent together.
Starting the New Year equips us with motivation, inspiration, and the belief that we possess all the tools necessary to conquer whatever goals we set when that clock strikes midnight. We are told to aim for small, daily goals in hopes that achieving small steps lights the inner spark needed to reach for larger, higher targets. For the mamas of infants and toddlers at home, perhaps leaving the house for the gym or library a few times a week is on your to-do list. Maybe the mamas of school-aged children aim to add variety to the breakfast routine, while mamas of teens hope to incorporate more one-on-one time into what is probably a full schedule. Whatever aspiration you have for yourself, the kids, your home, or your marriage, do so with a realistic and imperfect view.
A day with no sibling disagreements? It sounds lovely but not realistic. A week with no extracurriculars for any of the children? A heavenly concept, but inconceivable at the same time. The dream of a perfect day filled with simple goodness in the form of sibling togetherness and no hiccups to a schedule is much like a pie that has zero cracks or gaps in its crust. Sure, it looks good on paper, but it may not be attainable every day you and me. The reality of my pie crust and the day-to-day child rearing lead somewhat similar lives. Each day brings different challenges and changes, success stories and setbacks, even when the elements are stable. Factors such as weather and outside forces, too much or too little of the listed ingredients with not enough of another, contribute to the rise and fall of attitudes, or for the sake of this piece, pie crust.
A well-loved, handwritten recipe shows signs of wear and tear, love and loss, mistakes and growth. Each splatter tells a story while each dog-eared corner brings us back, year after year. We make revisions, note substitutions, and write in tips for future family bakers. If mothers kept a recipe book on parenting, I am pretty sure the pages would not be all that different than the recipe cards mentioned above. “Add more flour” in sticky situations can be married by picking your battles with an unruly toddler. “Knead the dough lightly until softened” could equate diving to unknown depths of a middle school situation with the practice of patience and grace. “Pinch dough together to avoid separation” draws an uncanny resemblance to family meetings that ensure all members are on the same page when it comes to the familiar unit. My favorite baking command to “let cool completely before touching” was written for those mamas who so desperately need that five-minute bathroom time-out in the middle of an unruly day. “Use own judgment for the thickness of crust” is a handy reminder when dishing out consequences to multiple kiddos who possess vastly different personalities. Lastly, “consider asking for help” could not ring truer for those of us in the parenting trenches. Calling in reinforcements is a sign of wisdom, not weakness.
Whether it is the end of a day, week, season, or year, we parents shouldn’t compare our pie crusts—ahem, children—to the perfect portrayals around us. I think the imperfect parenting movement is slowly gaining ground, and one I can happily join forces with. Some days start with cracked pie crust but gain their sweetness as the day progresses, while others start out flavorful but end with a hope to try harder the next day. I’ve found that relishing in the experience of baking those pies and rearing those children are where the lessons hide: perfectly tucked away in the imperfections that we so desperately try to hide but more times than not, need the most. Let’s embrace the ingredients necessary for a recipe that suits our parenting style and family needs, all the while remembering the most important baking rule of all: “Always serve with love.”