My mum used to roll her eyes whenever one of her seven children professed a desire to bake. She was able to whip up several slices and batches of biscuits in what seemed like moments, so one of her progeny overtaking her culinary domain for 5 hours, only to produce a dessert of questionable structural integrity, while leaving behind a sticky, oily mass of pans and utensils was… well… probably not her idea of a relaxed Saturday.
I remember my older brother, when he was in his early teens, deciding to bake a cake. He spent hours labouring over it. Creaming the butter. Sifting the flours (through a tea strainer, we didn’t have a sifter). Mixing and folding. Greasing and lining. The day progressed, all offers of help were politely but firmly declined. Nobody was allowed into the kitchen to make lunch. Finally, the masterpiece was placed in the oven. My brother, exhausted, closed the oven door and turned to the kitchen bench. There, behind a mixing bowl and a half-empty bottle of vanilla essence, were the eggs. Smooth and whole. Unbroken. Not lightly beaten. Not in the cake.
That moment has gone down in family lore. Not because of my brother’s reaction, nor because of my poor mum’s desperate attempts to console him. But because that cake was the best bloody cake any of us had ever eaten.
I’ve been stressed out a lot this year. I know that this is in part due to my work environment, my personal circumstances, factors beyond my control. And I know that it is also partly due to the expectations I have of myself. I’m sure I’ve written about this before – it’s an ongoing learning curve. I expect an awful lot of myself. I do a lot of things, I love all the things I do, and I want to do my best at all of them. But it’s pretty impossible to be at my best for all things, all people, all the time.
I was chatting to a colleague the other day about my daughter, who lately has been struggling with some big feelings related to her dad and I splitting up. I was telling some amusing anecdote about my little one acting out, when my colleague glanced sideways at me and muttered ‘maybe she just needs some attention from mum’. That stung. I am painfully aware of the times when I am not at my parenting best. I hate the fact that work and study this semester have meant I can only collect my darling from her classroom once a week (she loves after school care, by the way – but that doesn’t make me feel any less rubbish). I hate getting home late and rushing through dinner and getting unfairly grumpy because I’m tired and have other things on my mind. I hate the way I compare myself to other parents and find myself lacking. But I do my best. I refuse to get to work before 10am on weeks I have my daughter, so I can take her to school in the mornings and catch up with her teacher. I usually lock in a full day of our weekend where we can stay at home and make pancakes and snuggle. I don’t allow screens at meal time, so we can laugh and rant together as we eat. I am by no means perfect, but don’t think my girl is lacking attention.
So, actually, maybe my ‘best’ needs re-defining. Sometimes it isn’t that super-incredible-peak-of-achievement-I-know-I-can-reach-given-the-ideal-circumstances. Sometimes my best is kind of average. Sometimes it’s actually pretty shit. But if it’s all I can do at that moment, it’s still my best. And I’m constantly trying to do better. I figure, when you’re genuinely trying, it’s ok to leave out the eggs. Sometimes, it’s for the best. I lost a highly important document at work the other week; I’ve skipped my readings for class and lied about it; I’m not 100% attentive to my child whenever she is in my presence. And yet, so far, the cake of my life is rising nicely.