The four of us sit as close to the woodstove as we can comfortably maneuver, the morning’s popovers long since eaten and second mugs of coffee steaming cooler each moment, brewed just as much to stave off those exhausted morning aches as to warm the cold hands wrapped around them. The air hovers around 50 degrees before we get the stove going and the heat creeps slowly through our small cabin. The baby wears a wool bonnet all the time; sometimes I’m surprised when I take it off and am gently confronted with the soft, silvery brown fluff he has for hair.
There’s a relief and ease in the air we haven’t felt in days, the sort of quiet morning that can only feel remarkable after two whole weeks’ worth of a mighty winter cold shared amongst us. It marks my first time caring for two sick children, and while I can’t say I found it easy, I did feel a specific and real presence of joy in that difficult work of mothering through fevers, first coughs, and long sleepless nights. It was a sort of intensified version of what it’s been like to mother two children so far: incredibly demanding of me, and as a result, encouraging of unexpected and remarkable growth.
I have found some of the things I feared before having River to be true– the dishes aren’t always done before I go to bed but they usually are, our day to day rhythms as a family of three were lost to the push and pull of a baby’s frequent naps and nursings. The laundry isn’t always done on Tuesdays, Wednesday’s meandering walks go often unwalked in favor of a short jaunt around the pond and back, and handwork together on Thursday has been frequently replaced with cooing back and forth to the baby on the bed. There’s one day in our week that hasn’t lost its designation; Mondays, unflinchingly, remain baking day. And now some Tuesdays are Mondays and Wednesdays are too; Fridays have turned Monday and not looked back.
There are two reasons as far as I can tell why Monday and her flour, sugar, and eggs have taken over. The first is practical – my first child loves to bake, and my second child can sleep right through it in a cozy wrap on my chest. Every last one of us wins. River has napped through dozens and dozens of muffins, weekly scones and dutch babies, squash-filled dinner pies and cream biscuits, afternoon cakes, half gallon jars of granola, batch after batch of December’s holiday cookies, and every new recipe inspired by my recent sourdough habit.
The second reason has some to do with struggle, and more to do with love.
I’ve found on bleary-eyed mornings when my feet feel especially heavy on the floor, putting a warm plate of muffins on the table and watching Henry rush for the butter brings clear and needed relief. When my world feels like it is contained within four close walls and I haven’t spoken out loud to another grown up all day, the familiarity of our favorite apple cake recipe reminds me that it’s not in the special days that our memories are made but in the slow afternoons sharing food we made together.
Even more than making hard days a little sweeter, I’ve come to know baking as a way to put on to the table this great love for my children. A way to make something physical that is comforting or nourishing or joyful. It’s an affirmation that I’m doing it – I’m providing my children with a childhood that is secure and healthy. This is my truest work. And in doing that work, I can slowly make amends with the childhood I did not have, I can mother myself, I can believe my best is enough.
And so when the nights are long and the days are sometimes tough and short, I keep on doing my best and I keep the cookies coming. I think of the generations of women before me making bread with their hands and their love and putting it on the table to nourish their families, and I think with thankfulness how different my children’s young lives will be from my own. In all of that the way through this season becomes clear: gracefully hopefully, gratefully without a doubt.
Find More of Jessica’s Writings over on her personal journal Sugar House Workshop