I’m charging ahead with my shopping cart, hungry and hurried. The girls are hungry, too. They want candy, or the three raspberries priced at $7; I bag up mushrooms instead. Naturally, the store is packed at this time of day but Belén and Susanna cling to either side of the cart, making our aisle impassable. They stop and stare at oncoming shoppers, winter parkas trailing off their shoulders, until I snap at them to move aside. At one point I shove Belén out of the way and she stumbles into Susanna, her clumsy winter boots scuffing the floor. She looks at me accusingly and I can tell her feelings are hurt but I don’t have time to coddle anyone. Instead, I wheel past the cereal boxes and on to the milk and eggs, shouting at them to hurry up.
We make it to the checkout and schlep groceries between cart and counter. I’ve forgotten my re-usable bin so I make due with an inadequate number of bags and Susanna drops the grapes on the floor. While I’m still prickling with frustration, I feel a tap on my arm. It’s the lady who was behind us in line. She interrupts me, mid-sigh, and says, “I can tell you’re doing a good job with your children.”
I feel myself getting hot with embarrassment. Didn’t she see me shouting? Clearly her eyesight is failing her and she’s mistaken me for someone else. Regardless, I feel like I should respond somehow.
She continues, “You are such an affirming mother. I’ve seen you complimenting your daughters the whole way through the store.”
She’s probably senile, but on the drive home I think about what she said anyway, and repeat her observations to myself. I’m an affirming mother. I’m an affirming mother. I’m an affirming mother.
We open the back door and are greeted with disaster. I’d spent the morning writing, before going to work, instead of cleaning last night’s dishes. I thought we’d warm up a can of beans for supper and get the mess under control instead of fussing with food, but Susanna has different plans.
“Tonight is my cooking class and I’m making mini-quiches with fruit salad for dessert, remember?”
I had, in fact, promised them each cooking lessons–including the preparation of mini-quiches–but that was earlier in the week. Before I was tired, hungry and the kitchen was messy. Then I remember what the lady said, and soon we’re cracking eggs and getting fallen bits of grated cheese stuck to our socks.
When Stan comes home he checks my face immediately, like he always does. It’s a sensitive, sweet habit that drives me crazy. Most of the time, when he gauges the atmosphere by my countenance, he responds with worry and exhaustion. “That bad, huh?” is his usual line, but today I must not look as haggard as normal. (I’m an affirming mother after all!) Instead of shuddering, he bounds up the stairs and into a storm of shredded potatoes and melon rinds, with Susanna at its center.
We finally sit down to eat at 7:00, an hour and a half later than we might have eaten the beans. I’m hungry… but oh, so affirming. The quiches are burnt and I can barely get them out of the pan; Susanna serves them with aplomb anyway.
I’m a teacher, and I hear about the importance of motivation, thoughtful observation, and positivity all the time. What I don’t normally notice is how it affects my performance. And even though the stranger’s compliment hasn’t changed my life, or had lasting effects (I’m reliably irritable and still impatient after school), I know for certain I would’ve never considered the cooking class if her words hadn’t been rumbling around in my mind. Mini-quiches are insignificant; specific and thoughtful encouragement is not. Now, if I can just remember that when we make feijoada tonight…
This cooking-lesson-thing has only just begun–we’re on our fourth meal (they get one meal, each, per week)–so it’s too early to tell how it’s going. Most initiatives, like chore charts, allowances, etc., are very short-lived around here; we tend to do things in fits and starts. I’d envisioned talking the girls through my own version of the Joy of Cooking, while sharing secrets of olive oil and buttermilk, like the Mexican cook in Like Water for Chocolate (a love story with foody bits). In reality, I’m mostly wiping up spills and yelling things like, No, not yet! or Be careful when you stir! but by the time we get to the table there’s always one proud chef.
“What flavours do you like the best?” she’ll often ask, prompting us for compliments.
When no one answers right away it’s a good sign. Silence means mouths full of food, and that’s just about as affirming as my kind stranger in the grocery store.
PS. This post didn’t start out to be about shopping and cooking, but something much closer to my heart. I soon deleted what I had because I didn’t know how, or what exactly, I wanted to say. The subject I’d begun with was Lucy, of course. When I published my last post, I hadn’t heard yet that her situation had changed. If you are interested you can go to We Love Lucy to read about specifics and pray with us. Here’s what Anne (Lucy’s mom; my sister-in-law) wrote on Facebook yesterday. I’m taking the liberty of copying it here because it’s more poignant than anything I could come up with, and it’s worth reading again.
I posted this two years ago, today:
“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”