Like everyone I know, I’ve done some things that make me feel ashamed. I’ve said hurtful things to people I love. I’ve been lazy about things that needed my attention. I failed my children in ways that none of us probably even know yet. I’m not always the best partner to my husband that I can be. All of these things keep me up at night, sometimes, but all I can do is move forward: try to do better, mind my words, do the things that must be done, and be mindful in my relationships.
That all feels infinitely more possible than coping with the problematic image at the top of this post.
The full image, un-cropped, is one of the most precious recipes in my homemade cookbook. A plastic binder full of plastic sheets that contain mostly handwritten recipes I’ve saved over the years, I originally put it together both for my convenience and also for my daughters’ future needs. “How did Momma make that vegetarian pot pie?” I pictured them asking, in their 30s. If for some reason, I couldn’t be there to tell them, my little black cookbook could be.
The cookbook contains many recipes — from the two chicken recipes this vegetarian can make in a pinch, to a whole section for the leavened-bread-free holiday of Passover, to my friend Amy’s pizza dough recipe and my friend Andrea’s zucchini cake recipe. The recipe above is one of the most important ones in the book by far. It’s important because it’s the recipe that makes me smile the most when I make it. It’s the recipe for my husband’s very favorite thing I make: chocolate chip banana bread.
When I make this banana bread, I have to make several adjustments in my head that, really, I should write on the page so that someday, my daughters can make it. First of all, the recipe is labeled “Best Ever Banana Muffins!” That title is a lie. As muffins, this recipe is just ok. As a bread (ok, a cake), it’s spectacular, a moist and gooey concoction that stops my husband in his tracks for a bite whenever he happens to be passing the kitchen (again).
The second issue with the recipe is that it does not mention anywhere that I also add what my husband’s grandmother would have called a gezundteh handful (a healthy handful, in Yiddish/English) of chocolate chips. So far, I have not encountered a quantity of chocolate chips that is too many chocolate chips for this recipe.
The third, and most arduous adjustment I need to make has nothing to do with cooking. It has nothing to do with technique or tools or baking time. It’s an adjustment to my sense of self.
Have you spotted it yet?
I spelled flour wrong.
I can’t believe I spelled flour wrong!
Most of my friends, and all of my family, will tell you that I am insufferable on the topic of spelling and grammar. I’m compulsive about it. I judge people when they use the wrong version of they’re/there/their, when they say things like “irregardless” or “for all intensive purposes” or “beck and call (*see below for more on THIS).” My daughter even bought me a mug that says “I’M SILENTLY CORRECTING YOUR GRAMMAR.”
But I spelled FLOUR wrong.
Every time I make this recipe and see that I inadvertently instructed myself and my future banana-bread-making descendants to put — what? — roses? geraniums? daisies? in the banana bread, I cringe. I’ve thought about pulling out the sheet of handwritten paper from the plastic sleeve and re-writing the recipe so that it doesn’t say that. I’d have to re-write the recipe below it, too, since it’s on the same page, but maybe if I did, my daughters would never know that I am occasionally a big old fraud.
However, every time I find myself poised to destroy the evidence of my transgression against homonyms, I stop. Shredding and burning the page that contained my mistake doesn’t change the fact that this mistake came from my brain onto my paper of my own free will. Instead, I picture the scene, thirty or forty or fifty years from now, as one of my daughters or grandchildren wipes the dust from my book and seeks out the recipe.
“I found it!,” they’ll call.
“YES!,” someone else will answer. “What do we need?”
“Bananas, sugar, egg, margarine, baking soda and powder, salt, and…what?”
There will be a pause. “I can’t believe it,” they’ll say. “Mom spelled flour wrong.”
“There’s no way,” the other will answer. “She would never have done that.”
And they’ll look, and be stunned for a moment. And then, in whatever ways they might have been comparing themselves to me — maybe not even as writers or grammar dictators — there will be a softening. I will be human: messy, sometimes wrong, sometimes repeatedly so. They will wonder: did I never realize? did I think this was right?
I’m leaving my embarrassing mistake as a gift to my daughters. I’m sending my power to make them see me as fallible just like them, right into the future. Sure, I loved them and I cared for them when they were sick and I cooked and I listened, but I made a totally embarrassing mistake. I look at it and know how incongruous it will seem, their writerly, intellectual Momma, messing this up, and I feel like a superhero: teaching a lesson that will endure.
Anyway, good or bad spelling, it’s still pretty incredible banana bread. Just don’t forget the chocolate chips.
*A post-script note on “beck and call:” I’m wrong again! When I was a child, a family member corrected my mother when she described needing to be at the “beck and call” of someone else. That family member raved about how this was a very ignorant mis-stating of the phrase. “What’s a ‘beck?'” he challenged her. I’ve grown up my whole life believing the correct phrase to be “beckon call,” which has some logic to it. Beckon to me and call me and I’ll be there, right? Well, after posting this today, a dear friend wrote to gently inform me that, actually, my mom had it right all along. Of course, I googled it and found this fascinating article from Quick & Dirty Tips. Once again, I was wrong. Once again, I didn’t just go back and delete the mistake, but left it here with this postscript of deepening humility. Gratefully, I am still not perfect, folks! I do want to give credit to my high-integrity, high-grammar friend Andrea. If you’re looking to get in touch with your own deepening soul, you may even want to hire her as a coach!
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post with the prompt “I’m most empowered by…” hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com