“Mommy, did you take a picture of your Thanksgiving pies?” Baxter asked excitedly the day after Thanksgiving.
The question took me by surprise. “No,” I sighed. “Honestly, Baxter, I was so disappointed with the way they looked that I didn’t feel very proud of them, and I didn’t take a picture.”
He looked at me in amazement. “But they were so delicious, Mommy!” he exclaimed. “I kept coming back for more! They were the best pies ever!”
“I know, Sweetie, thank you for saying that. I know everyone loved them, and they did taste good. I think I had a picture in my mind of how they were going to turn out, and when they didn’t look that way I just felt really disappointed.”
Cringing inside, I pictured once again the deep dish apple pie whose top crust had started to burn in the oven a full fifteen minutes before the time was up (time to get that oven checked), the same pie whose top crust I had taken a maple leaf cookie cutter to – which had looked just perfect before baking, but afterward caused it to look like a volcano had erupted right in the center of the pie. My mind shifted to the pumpkin pie. One side of the crust had slid downward during baking so that when I poured the molasses-pumpkin mixture into it, the liquid ran right over that side and I had to scoop out some of the filling. Furthermore, when I poured the mixture into the pie, drowning the right side of the crust, it became obvious to me that I hadn’t quite mixed it well enough and there were swirls of molasses visible in it. Oy. This is same pie on which I cleverly covered a “ding” in the smooth surface with the carefully baked maple leaf shape I had removed from the top of the apple pie – a maple leaf far too big for this smaller pie, which prompted some to ask humorously if it might be a Canadian Thanksgiving pie. Seriously, I would have made the same joke, had that not been the least of my concerns about these pies.
You do see, don’t you, that I was depressed about bringing these pies as the sole dessert for the fifteen people at my sister-in-law’s house for a reason? And wouldn’t you have picked up a couple of grocery store pies on your way to the party just in case they were inedible? You would have, I can guarantee it.
However, even I had to admit that once I sliced them and tried bites of each, they were absolutely delicious no matter how far from my vision of a lovely pie each of them was. I watched as both pies were eaten, with people coming back for more, and the store-bought pie I had put out next to them was left untouched.
It’s true: they were fine. They were homemade with real, flaky pie crust, and I’m sure it was clear that I’d tried to make them look good, too, if only by the pained expression on my face as I served them. And perhaps it was true, what Matt said, that they looked great; they simply didn’t resemble the same “great” that I had envisioned as I labored over them.
And so, what I told Baxter the next day was that it really doesn’t do us a lot of good to strive for perfection. It’s not useful to set up an expectation for yourself that you won’t necessarily be able to achieve right away. Sure, I may make a hundred great pies in the future, but I’d only ever made one before, and even though that one came out beautifully it was not realistic to expect that these would be just right. There is a good reason most people don’t try to make their pies from scratch: they’re hard! I told him that I want to practice this year and work on improving some of the things that didn’t go the way I wanted so that I will get better at making pies, but what mattered was that I tried and they were delicious, and he was right – that was something to be proud of.
I talk to Baxter a lot about the fact that we are all working on things, that every single one of us has challenges. Maybe my quest to make a nice-looking pie doesn’t appear on the surface to be as critical as the hard work he is putting into improving his writing skills at school, for example, but the essential lessons are the same.
It is so important to take the time to show our kids our own challenges. They’ll learn from us when we express our frustration in ourselves and can be open about our own limitations. It is so helpful to share with them the lessons we are rewarded with when we take risks and make mistakes, and we really need to model for them that we can all be a hell of a lot easier on ourselves.
And when we spend 6 hours in the kitchen making pies that are downright cringe-worthy, we really ought to take a picture anyway, because those were hours well spent – and, after all, isn’t the learning process actually more important than the final product?