That’s right. “Go to hell,” I said.
Maybe you’ve had an argument that ends with similar words. It’s the kind of argument that happens daily, but is typically only discussed with a very best friend or maybe a therapist. But it happened to me on Christmas Eve.
Let me set up the scenario for you. It was the day before we go to our family holiday gathering. Like many families we tend to spend more time on the menu than the meaning, and this year the preparations were no different. My phone dinged about every other minute, a text thread with my two sisters, describing in detail what they were making and how they were preparing for the feast of the year. You have to understand, my sisters are both foodies. We’ve been known to travel places just for their famous menu, and the more unique the plate, the better. I wouldn’t call it a competition, but let’s just say the moment we arrive we present our dishes, tell of markets far away where we’ve sought after special herbs, the price for the specialty dish, and the number of hours we’ve spent slaving to bring the dish to perfection.
Enter me. I go to Kroger, buy Philly cream cheese and fresh berries and I’m excited about the cheesecake I bring. Every.single.year. Don’t get me wrong. I love the new dishes and I also love to cook, but against my sisters and their hunt for red October, I don’t even try any more.
But there is this one tradition that I do love. It’s dark chocolate covered peanut butter balls, some call buckeyes, and I call a bite of Heaven. My grandmother and I made them year after year, and when she passed away, I retrieved the hand written, now torn paper recipe, and I swore from that year on I’d pass the tradition to my daughter… Except this year I was about ¼ cup powder sugar short. Like many moms by this point in holiday preparations, I’d been to the store twice and ordered food on line, and there was no way I was keeping ¼ cup of powder sugar from making grandma’s buckeyes. So we continued.
I had two dishes cooking on the stove and a dish in the oven, and the house smelled of delicious sides – even if the ingredients were purchased with coupons from the Kroger just a couple minutes from home. We were right on target to have an Instagram perfect holiday time… Except it didn’t end as it had started.
As it turns out, the ¼ cup of powder sugar does matter in grandma’s recipe and the buckeyes were softer than butter left on a stove overnight. Our hands started to look like we were making a bad version of brown slime, and I started to feel the pinch for time. “Let’s put them in the freezer and we’ll start again when they’re nice and frozen,” I told my daughter, and then I went to fix my face and hair, so they’d match my beautiful dishes I’d soon present to my sisters.
Fast forward to when the argument began…
I pulled the tiny bowl of heaven from the freezer, and grabbed my smallest spoon, called for my daughter, and started again. The kitchen was warm, time was short, and the crowd was getting hungry. Trouble is, the peanut butter hadn’t hardened enough to make balls so I decided to call an audible and switch it up. I couldn’t arrive without Grandma’s dish in hand, so we’d make peanut butter squares.
“Grandma wouldn’t care if she were here, and they will taste the same,” I thought.
We lined the glass pan with wax paper bought 6 years ago (because I only bake about twice a year), poured the perfectly melted dark chocolate and realized I smelled that familiar smell of something burning… It was the $12.00 pre-cut butternut squash from Kroger.
“There goes 4 Starbucks drinks I could have enjoyed and not had to clean up!” I thought. And there goes dish number one – since it was supposed to be the bottom for the first recipe.
I pulled the frozen chocolate out of the freezer, added the peanut butter and back in the frozen square peanut butter balls went. Mind you, with a hungry husband and two kids hyped up on the sugar of the holidays and the expectation of wrapped presents awaiting, there was more happening in the background, but at this point I felt irritated.
The dishes were mounting.
The kids were spinning.
My husband was walking behind me to find some way to mess up the perfectly plated dishes that were beginning to feel more like pot roast thrown on a paper covered folding table at church potluck luncheon. (Ok, maybe he wasn’t walking behind me, but it felt like it at that point.)
Can I pause just for a moment and see if any of you have ever been where I am? When all the blessings of the world are right in front of me yet I was busy with the frustration of absolutely nothing of importance? We call it first world problems in our house.
But in the moment, I wasn’t thinking my first world problem. And then when I pulled those square peanut butter balls out and tried to cut them, and they just cracked like a bag of ice on a hot summer day, I about lost it right there. “What in the world is happening?! I have made this recipe for decades and this has never happened… I suppose ¼ cup of powder sugar makes a difference.” And I literally kept cutting because I was determined to take these stupid looking things to the dinner with my other dishes, one half ruined.
My daughter watched as I got more frustrated, and I finally threw the recipe back on the bookshelf and said outloud, “Forget it. Sorry, Grandma.”
My daughter, who has clearly lived with a therapist said, “Mom, what does that mean? ‘Sorry, Grandma’?”
I explained how I made peanut butter balls with grandma every Christmas and I was sorry I had messed it up.
And then I heard about as loud as Lauren and I were talking, a thought come to mind, “Can you do anything right? You even messed up a simple recipe...”
I won’t continue with the other berating thoughts that came to mind – maybe you’ve said some of them to yourself, or maybe someone has said them to you. Either way, I heard them loud and clear. Add them to the expectations I’d put on myself, the lack of sleep because of holiday festivities mixed with other life responsibilities, the load of sugar I’ve fed myself pretty much since December 1, and I felt the tears start and maybe, just maybe, saw one drop right there into the mixture before I turned away to look out the kitchen window.
My daughter, still sitting quietly on the counter top (yes, on the counter top, much to my husband’s disliking) said what any great 11 year old therapist would say, “What would Grandma say to you right now?”
I felt the pause.
“She wouldn’t care. She’d sit with a spoon and the bowl, and tell me it’s about the time, and not the outcome. She loved being with me in the kitchen and that’s all.”
I was staring out the window at this point, and Lauren said, “There ya’ go Mom, and I like being in the kitchen with you,” and she skipped out with chocolate on her cheeks and peanut butter on her sleeves, without a second thought about the mess we’d made.
That’s when I said it.
I’d paused enough to look at the kitchen. To look at the wasted starbucks money in the form of burned butternut squash, and I looked at the old wax paper and my hands covered in a recipe gone wrong. But my daughter was happy.
“You take those thoughts of insufficiency and go to hell where you came from,” I said, to the invisible enemy that often screams the loudest in my ear. “Not today. You won’t rob me from the moment with my daughter because I can’t make a picture dish to present to my foodie sisters who love me regardless of what I bring.”
I know I’m not alone in this. I hear women every single day tell me about the little demons that whisper (or scream) in their ears.
Doubt says, “You’ll never be able to …”
Shame says, “You knew better than to…”
Loneliness says, “They’ll never understand.”
And Isolations whispers, “You’re the only one who struggles with this.”
Sound familiar? Maybe there are other things you hear? Do you know what it is? Do you catch it when you hear it? And most of all, what do you say in response?
Do you take the pause long enough to survey the mess, find someone or something that reminds you to be grateful, and then to tell those little pistols to return to where they belong? Because if you call it what it is, it won’t ruin your day. It won’t take over your emotions. And it won’t end in an argument with a real person who will bear the brunt of the lies you’re entertaining in your mind. Trust me on this. Find a moment to list the lies that speak to you. Call them out for what they are. Find the root of those if you need to. And then, remind those little suckers to go right back to hell. You’ll be glad you did and those around you will be too.
And, if you’re struggling to name what it is, call us. We’re in this together and we want you to live in freedom.
April is the director of Care to Change and has been helping women overcome life challenges for more than two decades.