Before I became a parent, I loved to bake. The kitchen was a little sanctuary for me. Cooking and baking were like meditation. They were like magic. I could put in some earbuds and listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks and fold egg whites, sift flour, roll pie dough.
Since becoming a parent, I have not had the time. That sounds cliche but, if it is, there’s reasoning behind it. Once that positive pregnancy test came up, I have been doing for my daughter and not for myself. Doctor appointments, shifting clothes for my shifting body, moving house to make space, buying and repurposing and selling to accommodate the needs of another person. Giving birth, recovering, celebrating, grieving, lots of dishes, lots of diapers, not much sleep, and no childcare to ease the burden. The person I was before just disappeared. It’s matrescence and it is as confusing and transformative as adolescence.
But then the heavens parted and Baking by Feel by Becca Rea-Tucker alit upon my doorstep. It felt like the perfect opportunity to return to something that had always brought me happiness and peace. I need a little happiness and peace right now. I need a moment to return to myself.
I Am Overwhelmed
As I write this, I have lost my voice. I mean, I have lost my voice, but I also have conjunctivitis, terrible chest congestion, and awful cramps. Oh, and a sick toddler whose eyes were glued shut so tightly from her conjunctivitis this morning that I had to apply a compress. Toddlers love compresses.
This is our fifth (sixth?) cold since she was finally able to start daycare eight weeks ago. That count doesn’t include her ear infection or her stomach flu, either. And sick kid season is only just getting underway. Daycare giveth and daycare taketh away.
We have some great friends out here in Oregon, but we are nearly 2,000 miles from our closest family and, as Angela Garbes points out in her fantastic book Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Justice, we are not meant to parent in a vacuum, unsupported by social structures that can help nurture and nourish a family. So, I am trying to set up playdates with other families. I am trying to cultivate community. But I keep having to cancel these playdates and meet-ups because, well, we keep getting sick. I want to share experiences, not viruses.
The laundry keeps piling up, the house is untidy, the chores are undone. The child, at least, is joyful. I am doing something right, but at what cost? I am exhausted. Do other mothers struggle so much with the constant illnesses, the lack of time, the lack of societal supports, the loss of autonomy? Or am I just not good at it? Am I falling behind on something that other people find much easier, even if they know the work is hard?
It was no challenge to choose a recipe. Rea-Tucker has the table of contents laid out in sections: happy, sad, mad, anxious, hopeful. Is there a recipe for “Lost my mind and can’t cope”? Or “Listening to podcasts with noise-canceling earbuds while playing with my toddler because the emotional labor is too much to bear”? Maybe a “The daycare just called with confirmed cases of hand, foot, and mouth”? There is, friends. It is “overwhelmed.” And the recipe you’ll find on that page is “Coconut No-Bakes.” Perfect. No preheating oven. No candy thermometers.
While my daughter had a video playdate with her grandmother in the other room, I paged to the recipe. “You might be feeling: drained, weary, out of fucks to give.” As if plucked from my very (desiccated) brain. I put together my mise en place. I popped in the earbuds. Started my audiobook. The recipe was meant to take about 20 minutes, from gathering ingredients to the final product. 25 minutes at the most. No chopping. One pot. A perfect recipe for the overwhelmed.
It took me eight hours.
My Coconut No-Bakes Journey
OK, the candy-making process took about 10 minutes, but then the mixture cools and that was just the opportunity chaos needed to throw me off track. My daughter needed a diaper change, then lunch. She needed to be put down for a nap. Once she was down, I had to prioritize. Finish the recipe? Move the laundry over? Clean up the toys? Should I start on this blog post? I need a shower. I need to eat lunch. How long will she nap? The answer to that, at least, was concrete. Forty-five minutes and it was time to get back to parenting. My daughter is old enough to be a bit independent, but young enough to need that independence supervised. So the recipe took eight hours, from pulling the first ingredients from the pantry to plating.
The thing is, this is a good recipe for that, too. Rea-Tucker has it figured out. Coconut No-Bakes really are the recipe for someone out of fucks to give. You can do it all in one go and have a lovely and comforting treat, or you can sneak in the steps between your competing responsibilities and be greeted at the end of your day by a delicious and decadent little candy. It doesn’t matter which route you end up taking, what life throws at you.
Maybe it didn’t solve the never-ending cascade of daycare plagues, but it gave me back a tiny piece of myself and that, truly, is invaluable.