For the past five to six years, my mother has kept a tradition of baking banana nut bread which she includes in a gift bag for each of her children’s families for Christmas. We rant and rave over it, and fight over who gets to cut the first slice and eat it on Christmas day when we all gather at Mom’s.
My son, Hayden, loves it so much that he volunteered to bring some to his class Christmas party. Of course, he made this promise without asking me. Hence, I phoned Mom because I dislike baking.
“Mom, Hayden wants banana nut bread for his Christmas party.”
‘Well, honey, I gave you the recipe.”
“But Mom, it won’t be the same.”
I had just started reading the book, Tuesdays with Morrie. It touched my heart in a profound way, and it was a wonderful compliment to the work I was doing with Benita Esposito in our women’s emotional healing group. The big take-away for me was to seriously contemplate my choice to live each moment to the fullest. Today could be the last day of my life. From that attitude, I asked Mom, “What if I come over and we make banana nut bread together?” She acted giddy like a happy kid.
The morning I was to visit Mom, I woke up and asked myself, “What if today were the last time I would ever see Mom? How would I want to feel?” I wanted to enjoy being with her, without judging her or wanting her to change the way I normally do. She can be pretty anal about things, and I would typically dread having to bake anything. This time, with my heart open, I arrived at Mom’s, ready to enjoy the day with her.
She opened the door with a big hug. Everything was laid out. All of the ingredients were ready as if we were performing a cooking show. The pecans and bananas were pre-measured. The salt filled a little bitty dish. Everything was neatly arranged on a big tray.
“Now,” she said, “lay out some wax paper to catch any spills.” I saw this in a different way than ever before. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is really efficient. What a production this tradition is; what a labor of love! It was like going back stage so I could see what it meant to Mom to bake banana nut bread for each of us every Christmas.
Then we hit one of those tense moments. We were talking about my ex-husband, Joe. “Mom, would you mind if he comes over on Christmas day? He loves all of us, and we are the only family he’s really ever known.”
Joe was trying to hurt me as we were divorcing, and in the process he hurt my family. I was not sure if Mom would want to invite him. She said, “Of course. I still love him. I’m going to make his favorite cookies.”
I saw yet another glimpse into Mom’s heart. Baking was one of the ways she demonstrates her love for us. She shared how she felt about what Joe had done, and that she had found the gift in it. The gift for her was detachment. She realized that even though she did not agree with all of my choices in life, she could not live my life. They were my lessons, and she could still love me through it all.
I started crying over the dry ingredients. Mom asked if I was okay.
The question swirled through my mind, “What do I choose in this moment, fear or love?” I said to myself, “This is one of those moments that could be lost forever if I do not dive deeper into my tender feelings.”
I put down what I was doing. I walked over to Mom with tears rolling down my cheeks. “Mom, will you hug me?” She was sitting on a barstool. I leaned over, almost lying in her lap, and held her close, as if it might be my only chance, and told her, “I love you so much, Mama.”
She said, “No matter what you ever do, I will always love you, Kelly.”
I soaked up her love. I heard it, I felt it, and I believed it for the first time in my life.
I sat down beside Mom and shared what I had learned about myself over the past year. I told her how the book Tuesdays with Morrie was touching me. She was reading the book, too. I told her how much I wanted to be close to her, to spend time with her, and to really connect with her. I knew there was a lot of healing to do between us, but the most important thing was that we had the chance to do it. Not everyone gets that chance. We hugged again for long time. I think I even let go first this time.
Then Mom asked a great question. She asked, “How do you see us spending time together? Doing what?” I think she was afraid that our precious connection might not endure the busyness of our lives. I usually would have thought she was trying to be controlling, but now I could see Mom’s desire to strengthen our relationship. She was asking for a commitment from me. Instead of feeling pressured by her question, I saw this as a real opportunity. Thank God!
She said, “I’ve got an idea. What if we took a cooking class together?” At first, I kind of laughed. “Me? Cook?” And then I realized what an opportunity this was. My kids might really benefit, and I would get to experience time with Mom in an activity that she uses to give love to others. My heart was open.
I asked her, “Why do you need to take a cooking class? You’re already a wonderful cook.” Her answer was deeper than I think she knew. “I want to learn how to cook for a lot of people in a way that does not get me so stressed. I want to enjoy more of the time we have together instead of being all flipped out.”
It was easy for me to recognize Mom’s desire to connect, as well as her fears about it, because I recognized my own similar feelings. So I said, “Yeah, let’s take a cooking class, Mom. I’d like that!”
The rest of the day we enjoyed playing together. Christmas music played in the background and we sang. She acknowledged me for wanting to make banana nut bread with her, and she thanked me for wanting to spend time with her.
I shared this story at a Christmas gathering with my women’s healing group. I gave each member the gift of banana nut bread, made in my own kitchen, by me, everything pre-measured, just like Mom. I was finally able to understand how Mom felt when she performed these labors of love. This truly was my labor of love for each of my friends.
I send a special thanks to my son, Hayden, for wanting to take banana nut bread to his class party. Thank you, Mom, for being everything that you are in my life, and for loving me no matter what. I love you.
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Benita A. Esposito, M.A. is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Spiritual Life Coach who works with S.M.A.R.T.* Women and the Men Who Love Them. Specialties include (1) Couples Counseling, (2) Holistic mind-body-emotional-spiritual Healing, and (3) Success Skills.
One of my favorites, this story is shared with permission from the author, Kelly Markham.
The Esposito Institute, Inc.
*S.M.A.R.T. = Spiritual. Mature. Authentic. Realistic. Trustworthy.