Every Christmas, I set aside a day to bake the holiday bread my grandmother used to bake. The recipe I use is written in her hand. There are smudges and splatters in places making it hard to read. I don’t need the recipe anymore, I’ve done this work so often I know it by heart. But seeing her handwriting and her notes brings my grandmother back to me in a way that memories alone do not. On those December days, I hear her voice and her laughter. I remember long forgotten stories and I remember especially what she said to me the last Christmas she was alive, when she sat, uncharacteristically still, at our kitchen table. It was the Christmas she taught me to make the bread that brings the memories.
When the ingredients were mixed, in order and for just the right amount of time, and when the bread had been kneaded to just the right consistency, and put in the greased bowl, and turned once and covered with a damp (not wet) towel and put in a warm, dark place, I told her I was worried. Yeast is a fickle thing – what if I had done something wrong. And she said back, “Have faith. You did it right. The bread will rise.”
I’ll never know whether she was just talking about the bread. I didn’t ask her then and she died a short time later. But I think of her words often as I raise my children in this world that sometimes seems full of cynicism and casual cruelty. And again I am worried. I wonder, have I done all I could for my children? Are they confident enough to be resilient? Have I nurtured their souls? Do they know right from wrong? Will they make good decisions? And most importantly, do they know how colossally I love them?
My children are still young, but more and more they are leaving my side to make their own way in the world. I have stood by and watched as my son confronted a bully on the school playground, wanting to intervene, knowing that this was his battle to fight. I have heard my daughter beg to hear the secret that her friend would only tell to the other girl in the carpool. But I have also cried as my son’s teacher shared his words of wisdom after a classmate’s mother died, and beamed with pride as my daughter comforted a fellow ballerina who was having a bad day.
And so, this I have to believe, that I have done it right. That I have given them the tools and the lessons they need to navigate in this capricious world that will constantly surprise and hopefully delight them. And if I ever lose that faith, if I ever need to hear my grandmother’s voice telling me that everything is okay, I have only to pull out my mixing bowl, and my yeast and my flour and go to work.
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