This week I set out to make homemade marshmallow fondant icing for our daughter’s fifth birthday party. My goal: to make little fondant pandas for her birthday cake. I began with my two pounds of powdered sugar, my melted marshmallows, and my all-natural $12 jar of black food pigment. As I kneaded and kneaded the stiff and difficult dough, my journey became more arduous. I ended up yelling at my lovely children who were leaning over my shoulders to watch the adventure unfold. I said, “just get out of the kitchen!” to the birthday girl herself and I hollered for my 12 year old to come peel the one year old away from my legs as he attempted to scale my body and reach my arms while my hands were covered with black-icing cement. I ranted and raved briefly about how this is an example of my own life-long tendency to overdo and overperform. Making these pandas wasn’t necessary. I do it to myself. Why do this to myself, I lamented over and over. What is the point? What am I teaching my kids—the cost of having fun and doing something nice and neat for each other is yelling and feel strained and tense? What didn’t I just buy lard-frosting, I lamented (meaning slimy hydrogenated oil frosting from the store). Why aren’t we eating chicken McNuggets and a cake from Wal-Mart right now? Wouldn’t that be better than yelling at my kids and forcing myself to spend hours kneading panda dough? Shouldn’t we just eat frozen taquitos and watch TV and never, ever invite anyone to come to a birthday party ever again?
Then, I fell into a rhythm with the fondant. The sugar started to incorporate. The black started to knead in. I could see it coming together. This is a Hero’s Journey, I thought, this is an Inanna’s Descent. I heard the call to adventure, or fondant, as it were, and I answered. I set forth with my tools and my optimism. I was challenged on my journey. I came face to face with my own shadows. My fingernails became stained with effort. I cast away expectations and judgments. And, then I started to emerge, coming back from my trek, bearing my prize, carrying my treasure, offering my sweet elixir to my people. When I realized it was actually going to work, I started to feel a sense of exhilaration and glee. It is empowering to make your own dang fondant. I called out to my husband with a slightly manic bark of laughter, this is one of those small adventures! Parenting involves hero’s journeys and Inanna’s Descents every day. What if I’d given up when the fondant got tough? Doesn’t that teach my kids to quit, to not bother, to not learn, experiment, do, and try? I thought about giving birth to my children—how the going gets difficult, how you feel like giving up, and then you emerge, tender and strong, a new human in your arms. I did that! I can do anything! My parenting is stronger, richer, and deeper from knowing that I can face difficult tasks and do them anyway, from knowing that I can draw upon my own strength, my own body wisdom, my own power, and succeed. I am a better person, a better mother, for having hit my own limit and then, incredibly, realized I could go beyond it, that I actually still had the will and courage left in me to do it. Those pandas, while less earth-shaking and life-changing than giving birth to children, were birthed from my own love and effort into my black-icing hands, and my willingness to do it myself, for the ones I love.
I’ve said before that I’d rather be the mom that does cool and fun stuff with her kids and sometimes yells while doing it than a mom who doesn’t yell, but who doesn’t do cool stuff because she’s afraid she might yell or worse yet, because she doesn’t have any fun ideas. (Of course, an awesomer option, would be to be the mom who does cool stuff and also doesn’t yell, but I’m not holding my breath on that one!) After I constructed the first tiny panda and seeing how cute it was and how excited she was about her cake, I felt such a sense of thrill and triumph. I thought that if I hadn’t decided to do it and make it easier on myself, sure, I wouldn’t have yelled, but I also wouldn’t have felt the empowering sense of having done exactly what I imagined doing. When you do hard things and encounter shadows and keep going and come out the other side, you are strengthened. You learn something about yourself. You realize your own capacities and power. If you are unwilling to embark, you stay safer, and maybe even a nicer person, but you do not experience the overwhelming satisfaction of accomplishment. The pairing—the difficulty with the triumph—is what makes the journey worth it. This is it, I told my husband, this is The Return. I have returned to my people and I come bearing bears. It feels good to be home.
(Here is the link to her birth story: Alaina’s Complete Birth Story | Talk Birth)