When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of jumbled up thoughts. It’s okay though. I’m pretty sure that’s normal. Having a life of one’s own provokes a lot of emotion, so it makes sense that having a second life forming in one’s belly would provoke a lot more thought and emotion, right?
I’m the baby of my family, six and a half years behind my closest sibling, and until my cousin started having babies when I was 12, I was the youngest of my entire, extended family. I was never around babies. Not ever. Most of my friends loved babies. They babysat, they volunteered to work in the nursery at their churches, they even took the “early childhood education” class at our high school (a class which might have been created out of a need to provide childcare for all of the teen moms that we had as classmates). But babies really kind of scared me.
I thought little kids were pretty cute, but to be left alone with one? Terror. My husband and I never really decided to have kids. We just decided to stop preventing it. We had a mutual dislike for all forms of birth control and a recognition that children enrich lives. I still believe they do, but in a way that I never would have imagined. It’s in a repetitive, yet somehow surprising, never-stopping, never sitting down, always go-go-go, kind of way that makes you peer inside your own heart and figure out why the constant jumping around and throwing of tantrums bothers you so much. (The answer, I think has something to do with the fact that I have a bunch of emotions and desires that I have not yet laid aside for the greater good of my children’s lives.)
In our case, removing birth control meant that I was pregnant within just a few months. I was somewhat thrust into motherhood, with few ideas of what it would really be like. I found that, when you’re pregnant, most people will tell you about their pregnancies, yet no one knows what it’s like to be you or to have your children or your spouse.
There is a piece of motherhood that is solitary. I wrote a lot about my thoughts on child-rearing, including a list called “Advice to Future Me” where I said, “My belly is like bread and now it is rising.”
It’s true. Bread-making and pregnancy are similar. In both, there is a growing specimen that forms itself and produces unseen things to make its boundaries expand, to make itself rise. When I was pregnant with my first son, I hadn’t made much bread. I think basic white and multi grain are all that I had tackled. Now, after three children and nine years of marriage, I have made bread with carrots cooked inside, with marjoram and chives. I’ve made baguettes, brioche, hamburger buns, hearty oatmeal bread, bagels, soft pretzels, focaccia, ciabatta, pita, and all kinds of pizza dough. Now I mostly make sourdough bread, from a starter that I created with only flour and water.
Two ingredients. Like my children were created from only my husband and me. But it’s not just ingredients that make. There are directions to follow. There is stirring and kneading to do. There is a feeling to knowing when the bread is right. There is waiting to be done, waiting until just the right moment when the oven is hot and the bread has been shaped, and it has risen again. There is an art to making bread, but there is also a chemistry. In my opinion, you have to have the desire for artistry first.
Today I am making brioche for our Saturday night hamburger dinner. This is actually the first time I’ve made brioche (though I did add it to my repertoire above), and it hit me, the line that almost every bread recipe gives: on a lightly floured surface….
On a surface that has been sprinkled with a little extra of that one main ingredient. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour ensures that the bread does not stick to the surface as you form it. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour eases the transition from rising to proofing, from bowl to pan.
Aren’t you thankful that, even though parenting is hard work, we can lay down our parenting fears and trials, all our insecurities and hardships, on a surface lightly floured with wisdom from ages of mothers and fathers who have gone before us, a surface lightly floured with the knowledge that motherhood has been around for centuries, that babies have lived in dirt piles and grassy fields, without television and the internet, without air conditioning, without frozen meals, without Tulas and Ergos.
As we lay our parenting down on a surface lightly floured, our transitions become easier. While we are discovering our true form, we will remain intact.