I scrolled down the recipe, my all-purpose-flour-smudged finger clouding the laptop screen. On wax paper, roll dough into a 1/2-inch thick square. Yes, that was what I had forgotten during our grocery-store run an hour ago: wax paper.
“What do we do next, Mom?” Grace smiled at me expectantly.
“Hmm…we’re going to improvise.” I pulled out aluminum foil.
“Does the recipe say to improvise?”
I looked at my older, by-the-book daughter. She looked back. “Work with me here, honey,” I said.
“Yum, yum, yum.” Anna was sitting cross-legged on the countertop, scooping up rainbow nonpareils—we had accidentally spilled half the jar a few minutes earlier—and stuffing them into her mouth. Our baking adventure could be going a bit smoother.
(P.S. A fun fact: Aluminum foil is not a good substitute for wax paper, at least in terms of a surface on which to roll dough and then freeze it.)
“Mom!” both girls yelled simultaneously.
I held up my hands. “The oven is ready,” I explained. “Everything is OK.”
I peered at the screen. Bake until cookies are light brown, 18 to 20 minutes. I got them into the oven and set the timer.
“I can’t wait to eat them,” Grace said.
Anna looked up from her fistful of a sugar rush. “Me too.”
“We’re making these for Pop, for his birthday,” I reminded my daughters. “We have to save some for him too.”
The girls looked at each other, having a silent, sister-to-sister tête-à-tête in front of me. “Pop can have two,” Grace told me.
Anna nodded her agreement. “He’ll be fine.”
Two cookies out of twenty for the birthday boy—sure, that seemed fair.
Approximately half an hour later, I let the girls sample a cookie—”Just one, ladies!”—as I’d promised. I poured milk into two glasses too, because everyone knows you can’t really enjoy a cookie without a glass of milk (or cup of coffee).
Then I knocked over one of the glasses of milk.
Milk splashed across the countertop, onto my legs, into a white pool on the floor. I closed my eyes, sighed.
“Mom.” Anna poked her head around the corner. “Do you have our milk yet?”
“Just one second, honey…”
Later that evening, I emailed a picture I took of the girls baking (snapped before things got messy) to my parents and Stanton’s. I shared with the grandparents that making the Funfetti shortbread cookies had resulted in a disaster of a kitchen.
Stanton’s mom always replies to my emails with thoughtful ones of her own. This time, she wrote back, “Just think how discouraging it would have been to have a messed-up kitchen and a not-so-yummy sweet!”
This note struck a chord with me. Because it’s true. You have to make a mess sometimes.
And sometimes, if we’re lucky, our mess yields something sweet. Funfetti shortbread cookies, for example. As I was writing this, I remembered a quote I’ve always liked: “One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” (Andy Rooney)
Cookies, Christmas morning—worthwhile messes, for sure.
…sometimes, if we’re lucky, our mess yields something sweet.
What about the messes we make that are far from sweet? The ones that are, simply, trouble?
Mistakes. Miscalculations. Faux pas and false steps.
Decisions that turned out to be bad ideas.
Around the time of my baking (mis)adventure with my daughters, I was talking with someone I care about. She expressed some doubts, some pain to me. I responded to her with my usual spiel about finding silver linings, things happening for a reason.
The more I thought about it, though…the more I thought, it’s OK to acknowledge you made a mess, plain and simple. It’s OK to look for silver linings…and not find them here. To say, “Here, we simply have a mess.
“I’m human. I made a mess. Now let’s move forward.”
We can recognize the humanity in others, but at the same time struggle to accept it in ourselves.
It can be difficult to forgive people. It can be even more difficult to forgive ourselves. But we do need to forgive ourselves…to recognize and accept our humanity…to move forward.
It’s OK to look for silver linings…and not find them here. To say, “Here, we simply have a mess.”
Even where we can’t find silver linings, we probably can uncover some learning experiences. Oh, learning experiences. Who doesn’t love those, right? 😉
Years ago, I made a mistake I still remember. I could have helped somebody more than I did. Why didn’t I? Partly, I was young and immature.
I’ve come to forgive myself for that lapse in judgment. Looking back now, I still cringe and think, Ugh, I could have been a better person. There was no silver lining there—none that I know of, at least.
There was a learning experience, though. When I have the opportunity, these days, to help people in a similar way, I do. I try to be a better person.
You have to make a mess sometimes, to become a better person.
And if you’re lucky, you make a mess, and you get two cookies on your birthday.
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.