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Spilled Cake

14 comments | July 9th, 2012

(by mir, from wouldashoulda.com)
I was a very independent child. I can't swear that "Me do it MYSELF!" was my first sentence, but it certainly ranked up there, I'm guessing. I could do it myself. If I wanted it, I could make it happen. (Conversely, if I couldn't make it happen, probably I would have a tantrum. I'm not saying I was in any way more mature than others, just that I was stubborn and convinced of my own power.)

Of course, there were plenty of things I was not allowed to do or couldn't control. For the most part those things infuriated me, and so the things I could handle myself were all the sweeter, somehow, because of them. I yearned for mastery of my domain, though from my small child's point of view I just saw it as wanting to do it all myself, all the time.

It was probably no surprise to my mother the year I announced I wanted to make my own birthday cake, even though I think I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 at the time. Not a lot of cooking or baking happened in our house, back then, but for every birthday we got to go to the store and pick out a box mix and a tub of frosting, and my mother fired up the mixer and baked a cake. This was clearly the best part of having a birthday, because you got 1) cake, 2) the exact flavor you wanted, and 3) the first and biggest piece from the completed cake.

So there I was, probably barely big enough to reach the kitchen counter, and I said I wanted to do it myself. To my surprise, my mother said yes. She would supervise, but I could do it myself. I remember puffing up with the importance of it. I wasn't just turning a year older, I was making my own cake. Clearly, I was awesome.

Awesome is exactly what it was until the time came to scrape down the bowl of batter and I ended up one hand short while trying to steady the bowl and use the spatula and wrangle the mixer. Somehow, I watched with horror as the big steel bowl—full of beautiful chocolate batter—skated off the counter and fell to the kitchen floor, seemingly in slow motion (but not, of course, slow enough for us to catch it).

SPLAT! Have I ever mentioned that the house I grew up in had wall-to-wall carpeting in every room? EVERY room—bathrooms and kitchen included. (I love my parents dearly, but I have never, nor will I ever, understand that choice.) The bowl of batter went down on the kitchen berber and I tore out of there for my bedroom, where I flung myself face-down onto my bed and sobbed. The cake was ruined, but that was the least of my problem. My mother was going to skin me alive for making that kind of mess. Instead of a birthday I was going to need a funeral. How could I have been so clumsy??

I cried until I was empty and still, my mother handed come into my room to kill me. I sniffled a bit, wiped my face, and tiptoed back into the kitchen.

My mother had cleaned up the floor. A bowl of batter sat on the counter, waiting for me. (I don't know if less spilled than I thought, or if she whipped up a second batch. I'm not sure I ever asked.) "Are you ready to finish making your cake?" she asked me, when my face poked around the doorway.

"But I… I wrecked it. I made a mess. I can't do it." I probably started crying again. I was just so ashamed of having screwed up.

"Messes can be cleaned up. Accidents happen. You still need a cake and you can finish it. Come on." I was incredulous. I wasn't an easy kid to raise, and my mother's temper tended towards fiery. Yet here she was, acting like nothing was wrong, urging me to pick up where I left off.

The cake was completed without further incident. And it was delicious. At least, I assume it was—I don't really remember that part. What I remember was that child-like conviction that the world was about to end because I'd done something wrong… and then, it didn't happen. I made a mistake and it was okay. It didn't mean I was awful or incapable or that everyone would hate me. It just meant I'd made a mistake. My mom was nice enough to clean up without making a big deal out of it, and we moved on.

Life isn't always so kind in the face of missteps, but I always look back on that cake fondly, because it was the first time I realized I could screw up and things could still be okay. I didn't need to beat myself up about it. Mistakes happen. Cleaning up happens (even on carpet!). There's always a way to make more cake. And if we're lucky, there's also someone standing there reminding us that we can try again.

Do you have a memory you go to when you need to be a little kinder to yourself and/or get back up again? Will you share?
 

14 comments

  • Diane

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    No, actually, and I still struggle with having to face mistakes or failure to this day. Any time I made a mistake, it was thrown in my face forever. It’s still true today (which may explain why I don’t spend much time hanging out with my mother).

    Somewhere, somehow, I was taught to equate failing or making mistakes with being a horrible person. Undoing that is a long, long process.

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    • Jessica

      Posted on July 10, 2012

      Diane, I have the same struggles. I beat myself up about any small failure (and see things that I have/haven’t done as failures that no one else apparently thinks of in that manner) and feel like I’ve let everyone down with any small mistake. No matter how much good feedback I receive, I fear letting others down with any mistake on my part. (Most of the time, I know they don’t see it that way, but I do. Heck, I still feel guilty sometimes about things that other people have long forgotten. One memory of a look on someone’s face can haunt me, even if the other person doesn’t even remember how I “failed” them.)

      And, like you, I know exactly where it comes from. I’ll keep working on the undoing of it, too. Thanks for a reminder that my struggle isn’t mine alone.

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    Unfortunately, I’m with Diane. I don’t have that memory from childhood, but I do from parenthood. My temper, Mir, is like that of your mom’s: fiery. Yet, the practice of having little kids around, little kids like an appendage on your hip as you fry chicken, little kids asking for the computer for 30 more minutes, little kids asking for juice, little kids being little kids (even when they’re not so little anymore) grows one’s patience. Years ago when I only had two children, ages 6 and 4, I was in the midst of an outright day from hell. Tired from work, I was rushing to get dinner started. The girls were so…talkative. Every time I turned there was one of them…speaking. If they would just stop talking, if they would just stop interrupting, if they would just — EVERYONE OUT OF THE KITCHEN; LET ME BREATHE!

    Their faces fell and they backed away from the mean, unrecognizable lady before she could do worse. I felt bad instantly, but not enough to find them and apologize. A few minutes later, the 4 yr old quietly passes by and places a sheet of paper on the counter without a word. It read: I lik you. I still have it to this day (and yes, she meant like. I have never allowed random licking). When shit gets real, I say to myself, “I like you.” It doesn’t “fix” anything, but if nothing else, it at least makes me smile.

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  • Katie in MA

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    When I was freshman in college, my high school sweetheart dumped me right before a deadline for a paper. I emailed my professor – one who was quickly becoming my favorite mentor – and explained the situation, asking for an extension. The breakup was unexpected, and while I understood my social life wasn’t the center of the universe, I was incapable of rational thought and could I please have an extension? Mind you, I wasn’t asking for a lot (I thought), just a few days. My professor picked up the phone and called me so I would understand that he wasn’t trying to be unfeeling, but that it was his job to teach me not just how to read and write critically, but how to use those skills in the real world. He explained that while the situation was horrible for me, I couldn’t just unplug from my obligations. “Favorite players play hurt,” he said at one point. He obviously unpacked his analogy for me a bit, but that is the sentence I come back to all the time. When I feel like I don’t have another bit of strength in me to deal with the children, or the Ex, or the politics at work – favorite players play hurt. I can’t always channel my feelings productively (wow, was that freshman paper scathing, if I recall), but I get it through it however I can. It was the best lesson I took out of freshman year.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    Oh dear, now I’m singing “Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don’t think that I can take it/’cause it took so long to bake it/and I’ll never have that recipe agaaaaaain, oh, noooooo!” Hey, Dumbledore could really belt that out.
    I remember when I was a wee thing, and my cousins came to visit from Back East. We were at Marineland, and my uncle bought us all ice cream cones. My first lick made the ice cream fall off the cone *splat*. In my immediate family, that would have been the end of it, but my uncle turned right around and bought me another. I was astonished at his kindness.
    I have been learning over the last several months to say “Everyone makes mistakes; I make them, you make them, and the smartest people I know also makes them. We learn from it and move forward.” I find that the more forgiving I am of others’ mistakes, the easier it is to let go of my own when I make them. It’s no big deal to screw up, it’s kind of amazing that we don’t screw up more often than we do.

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  • karen

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    During my growing up years my mother and I were at odds most of the time.. she was a working mother unhappily married, and then divorced… trying to raise two girls while holding down the fort. I don’t have any go-to memories from my childhood.. (yours is wonderful, I love this recollection and thank you for sharing)…. but my mother and I made peace as time went by and she is now one of my biggest supporters and go to people when I need a reminder. It’s never too late… it just takes work….sometimes a LOT of work.. but it’s worth the effort.

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  • Heather

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    If only all messes were as easily cleaned up as cake batter! ;) Some of my messes will take years to clean up, and it’s hard to make myself continue the process when the desirable result seems a million miles away.

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  • Stacy

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    I had the childhood where I got yelled at about everything: no such thing as an accident. I’m trying very hard to teach my daughter (3 1/2 yo) that accidents happen and life goes on. She’s a mini-me and so cries when she thinks she has failed. I feel successful because one day I spilled something, and she reassured me, “Mama, it’s okay. It was an accident.” That made me feel so good, because I knew she wouldn’t grow up constantly worrying about whether she could do stuff right. She knows that if she can’t do it now, she may be able to do it later and she feels okay about that. If nothing else goes right, at least, for right now, I have a daughter who feels confident enough to try stuff, because she knows that accidents happen (and that a responsible person helps clean up accidents).

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  • Kate in Michigan

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    My family tended to ignore — pointedly — my mistakes. Because I had to be perfect.
    Now, as a mom, I tend to do my best to say, “EAU MAH GAH!” and then to smile and say, “Well, dang. Let’s get to cleaning that up.”

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  • Mom

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    Oops! Another accident. Typing in brackets just plain doesn’t appear. Let me try asterisks. What I said was:

    *smiling happily*

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  • nope

    Posted on July 10, 2012

    I recently failed miserably at something I was volunteered for in our cub scout pack. It wasn’t technically my fault (caterers didn’t bring enough food) but the pack felt it was and still months later treat me badly. I feel terrible and the whole thing taints every scouting event for me and my family.

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  1. Working on my radical acceptance | Woulda Coulda Shoulda - [...] the meantime, my current thought processes reminded me of an incident from my youth that feels relevant, here. (Also, …
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