(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?