They told me it would be like this. Those two beautiful women who had raised their kids already reached out to some young moms like me, who were far from their own families, and took a day to encourage me in mothering and teach me some of the things they had learned. I soaked up every word.
Trying not to be overwhelming, I narrowed down my need list to this: “Can you teach me how to prepare meals for a family of six and actually enjoy it?” You see, up to this point in life, meals were pretty simplistic. Sandwiches at lunch, chicken nuggets at dinner, pancakes for breakfast, but now my kids were growing and my boredom with food was growing. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving of 2003 that I realized I needed help. That was the year that I was pregnant with my fourth and my other three kids contracted the chicken pox. Due to their illness, our family decided not to participate with the rest of the family for the holiday, so it meant it would be our very first Thanksgiving all by ourselves. Here was my moment to shine! Or so I thought.
I began to reminisce on all of the elements of Thanksgiving that I loved…the meats, salads, pies, and stuffing. I determined to make this the most delicious meal we had yet and celebrate this holiday with just our brood. I knocked myself out with a huge dinner. Turkey, stuffing, vegetables, pies, salads, and candied yams. With excitement, I presented the meal to my family only to hear the little ones ask, “Can we just have macaroni and cheese?” and “I don’t like turkey. Do you have any chicken nuggets?” That moment was very poignant for me and I thought about quitting.
Eight months later, with baby number 4, I joined two women at the home of the eldest ready to learn how to plan meals, shop for food, and cut up a chicken. What I wasn’t expecting was the wisdom and comfort I received as the teaching began.
“Cate, let’s first talk about the ‘family meal’ and what it represents. The meal time is when the family all sits down together and shares their life. There are rules at the table that help give everyone guidelines. Rule #1, there is no complaining allowed at the table. The meal time is a place where we practice Thankfulness. We acknowledge the fact that Dad worked hard at his job to earn the money to provide the food and home and we are grateful and express that gratefulness. We acknowledge the truth that God has provided for us the ability to work, to make money, to buy food and gave us the ability to enjoy it together. For this we also give thanks. So complaining, arguing, or belittling are not allowed at the meal times. Rule #2: We share life at the table. Everyone gets a chance to talk about their day, or what is on their mind. We give everyone a turn. We listen. We laugh, we encourage, and we dream there together all the while keeping rule #1 in our minds…no complaining! Rule #3: Everyone is able to eat something from the table –if even just a tablespoon’s worth of the one element of the meal that they aren’t fond of. A tablespoon of green beans will not harm a child and they are capable of eating it, and they should. It is up to you, the parent, to teach them about food and eating habits and what are good choices.”
I was taking it all in when the ladies continued: “Cate, many of your children’s memories from their childhood will revolve around food. They will remember the smells of bread baking in the oven, or the cookies cooling on the counter. They will recall the birthday cake you made them with the blue frosting and ice cream center. They will talk about their favorite dishes and even the hot dog roasts over campfires. Food is an integral part of the lives of your children as they grow.” I hadn’t considered that before, although I knew it to be true. My mind began to wander back to the memories of my mother baking fresh bread and the smell that filled the house on baking day. I loved her Navajo Tacos that consisted of taco fillings piled onto a thick fried bread. That aroma was heavenly to me. Yes, I had a lot of childhood memories that revolved around foods.
We hadn’t even built a salad yet, or cooked a chicken, but I was learning some of the best advice yet when it came to meals and my family, and all of it was wrapped up in this final encouragement: “Remember this Cate, your children will not thank you for it now. You will have many thankless meals, harried schedules, dinner blunders and days you want to give up, but your children will thank you when they are grown. When they leave home someday you will get the phone calls that ask you about recipes for their favorite things. They will have their own families with birthdays and holidays to celebrate and want to bake breads and cookies, and make special meals for their kids, and they will think about you and remember that you did this for them, and say ‘thank you’. So don’t be discouraged. You are investing now, and there will be a return.”
Yes, they told me it would be like this. Motherhood is a constant investing with returns that might not be realized right away, but if I don’t plant it, I can’t expect it to grow. Like mealtimes, parenting is intentional. What I want to grow in their physical, spiritual, and emotional lives I have to plant on purpose and trust that one day my kids will reap the rewards.
So today, as I manage the lives of four very different children of varying ages and temperaments, I am asking God to help me learn how to invest, and what to invest in their lives that will carry them into adulthood…and it will begin with a breakfast of waffles.