Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Baking Bread

I am new to the world of bread baking. Prior to my Christmas acquisition of the fanciest bread machine ever (thanks, Husband), I only attempted making bread from scratch a couple of times. The outcome was delicious, but I wasn't quite convinced that it was worth the time commitment. There was a lot of waiting. Mix...rest...knead...rest...shape...rest...bake...rest. I just wasn't willing to put in the time for something as simple as a loaf of bread.

Now armed with a machine to do all the resting for me, I was sure I could do no wrong. Follow directions, dump in ingredients, push start, and voila! I would have bread. But it's not that simple. A few nights ago, I attempted whole wheat bread. I measured, dumped, programmed the machine, and waited. About halfway through, I decided the dough looked too wet, so I opened the lid and sprinkled in a little extra flour. I was feeling quite perceptive, attuned to the bread's needs. I patted myself on the back a little, knowing that extra sprinkle had made all the difference; but, when the cycle ended, I found a loaf with a beautiful rim and a lifeless, deflated middle.

I tried again later that night. I once again measured and dumped; but this time, feeling extra savvy, I used the timer so we would wake up to the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread. Brilliant, right? The next morning, I woke to an aroma, but it wasn't necessarily pleasant. I came downstairs to find the ingredients baked into a rock hard form, but completely unmixed.

I was perplexed. I googled. I searched bread making message boards to see what could have possibly gone wrong. I contemplated calling the "Baker's Hotline" (yes, that is a real thing), but was afraid of sounding like too much of a novice to ask the right questions. As I stared at the machine, vowing to only make white bread from now on, I saw them. 

After washing out my pan from the day's first disaster, I had forgotten to put the paddles back in. I had taken away my machine's ability to mix. It tried to run its course anyway, but without paddles, it was helpless.

So, tonight, I tried again. Third time's a charm, right? I made sure all the parts were in the machine. I followed the directions exactly. I did not open the machine at all during the three and a half hour cycle. I waited patiently. And finally, I produced a loaf of bread fit to be consumed.

It's funny how the smallest things made such a big difference. I couldn't help but think that raising a child is a lot like baking bread. As the mother of an almost two year old, I find my days are rarely as expected. C is learning so much right now. She is full of energy and vocabulary and wonder; and, if I'm not patient enough to let her work out her thoughts, to let her describe a color or tell me about her princess castle or brush her own teeth, then she won't rise to her best. If I don't step back and let her grow, I'll crush her spirit, leaving her deflated and lifeless.

She is a sponge, so eager to learn; but, if I don't provide her with the right tools, no matter how hard she tries, the finished product will remain unfinished. If I tell her to paint, but provide no canvas, she learns nothing. If I expect her to learn her alphabet and colors and numbers, but never read or practice or play with her, I can expect the lesson to remain on the surface.

It is easy to become frustrated when there are tantrums over teeth brushing and refusal to eat anything green and resistance to sitting still and listening during a story. It is difficult to fight the urge to help her put on her shoes; or to convince her that when the blocks are stacked that high, they will fall down every single time; or to stop her when she is counting to ten and skipping the number seven. She is busy and loud and excited and funny and soaking in every single thing around her. It is only when I am patient, when I fight the urge to help in the middle of the process, when I provide the right resources, when I let her take it all in and rest, that she will truly rise to her potential.

Because, when you have all the right ingredients and pay attention to the details, you can't help but smile at the finished product.

I may have this baking/parenting thing down after all.

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