Let Us Make Bread Together

24 09 2009

Wednesday afternoon, picking up Liza from afterschool, my mind already racing on what lies ahead the quick-get-in-the-car-or-we

‘ll-be-late-for-your-ballet-class-have-you-finished-your-homework-wait-I have-to-call-the-office” cycle that all working moms will be familiar with. All sorts of perky essays on motherhood call this “the balancing act” or”the juggling act”. I call it life. I don’t have time for self examination or for cheery magazine article titles On this particular Wednesday, Liza emerges from the school carrying not just her backpack and lunchbox but a large heavy plastic bag. “Momma! We had a demonstration on making bread today and they gave us enough flour to make two loaves of bread and we’re supposed to keep one and bring one in for the food pantry on Monday! When do you want to make our bread?”

What? Bread? What? It’s as if she’s speaking Farsi so far removed from my reality is this request. Most working moms I know live in dread of those school projects that consume our precious nights and weekends — the giant posters about Ireland , the Tri Folds that have to be informative AND “colorful!” the dioramas on the habitat of the snowy owl — these are not our friends, but they are at least manageable. But bread? BREAD? You see from the time Liza was a toddler I have impressed up on her that there were three “C”s that momma should not be expected to do: “cooking, crafting, and camping”. Don’t ask kid…ain’t gonna happen. So far we’ve been able to navigate class parties by always being the reliable mom who brings the paper plates. We’ve avoided having to go to Michael’s crafts for anything other than stick on letters for the aforementioned tri-fold. And fortunately the child shares my innate dislike of sleeping anywhere we can’t handily plug in a blow dryer. But now as I look at that exuberant face as she eagerly clutches her bag of flour all I can think is…

“How. Can. I. Get. Out. Of. This?”

You see Liza’s stepmother is a championship cook, an amazing baker and crafter before whom I regularly bow down in humble admiration. All I can think is “is there a way she can do this with Jess? Jess knows how to bake bread.” I don’t want Liza to be that kid who brings in the lumpen blackened mishapen rock of dough that I am sure will surely arise from our efforts. And I want to spare us the anxiety I’m sure will arise should we try to navigate this flour laden mine field together. But the girl will not be dissuaded. “NO. Momma. I want to do it with YOU!” Sigh. OK. We decide that Mother’s Day is a good day to try this since we have no plans and can be home for the necessary three hours this project will take. I call Kelly and ask her if she can help us before she goes to work that day — figuring that if we’re going to fail at least we’ll have some laughs while we do it.

A few days later while volunteering at the pizza table at a fundraiser for Liza’s school I hear the other moms talking about the bread project and at least am relieved I”m not alone in my worry. One mom vows to us her bread machine. Another has a secret plan of using frozen bread dough instead. Kelly and I glance at each other — this DOES sound hard — yikes. I wonder aloud if I should call in my friend Susie, who can bake anything but Kelly finally says “oh how hard can it be? Let’s do it. We’ll have fun.” and Liza insists she knows what to do from the demonstration at school so off we go.

Mothers Day rolls around. After a delightful brunch prepared by Kelly and Liza we decide it’s time to face the music and give this a shot. We read and re-read the direction, Kelly runs out to buy the plastic wrap we don’t have but need to cover the dough, Liza and I set everything else out, I can’t find a one cup measure but we do find a 1/2 cup measure and figure that will have to do (such is the state of my kitchen — we have wine stoppers a plenty but nary a measuring cup in sight!). Finally we are ready. Liza decides I will read the directions, she and Kelly will measure and pour and I will stir. Here goes nothing.

“Yeast is an organism” Liza tells us confidently as we pour the packet into the bowl. I realize I’ve gone 43 years without ever making anything that calls for yeast. Finally the dough is ready to knead — we take turns pushing it out as Liza gives instructions — “Press, push turn — just once momma! Now Kelly’s turn” Something is happening in my kitchen, we’re laughing, we’re flour covered, (so is the floor at this point) but we’re doing it. We’re making bread. Together. As a family. We set the dough to rise and I say a silent Hail Mary on this Mother’s Day morning that for once let this culinary project work. I’m the mom that burns pancakes, drops hot dogs on the floor and barely manages Shake and Bake. Please Mother Mary — for Liza — let this one work. While the dough rises we work on another of Liza’s projects — a poster “All About Me” and she points out that on the list of “my family” she has included Kelly’s name for the first time. I turn away so she doesn’t see me tear up.

By golly the bread rises. We grease grandma’s old bread pans and pop it in the oven and something magical happens. The house is filled with an unfamiliar aroma. The smell of fresh bread baking. Baking, not burning! The timer dings. Liza yells “Don’t open the oven without me!” I say another silent prayer and open the door. It’s. Perfect. Golden, crusty, warm and perfect. Liza FLIES into my arms and we jump up and down — we did it! We did it! Her laughter is infectious and consumes us both. We did it as a family. Without help! We cool the bread a bit then cut some slices off our “keeper loaf” to bring to Kelly who has by now gone to work. When we deliver the still warm bread we keep exclaiming “we made BREAD! I can’t believe it!”

To lots of moms out there. This is nothing. This is a regular occurrence in their lives. But for us this was more than baking a loaf of bread. This was overcoming our worries, trusting each other, working together and amidst all the stirring, flouring, and rolling taking a big step toward becoming a real family.

Liza with our bread...