Kathy and I were 3 and 4 years old and every Sunday morning, Mom made Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. Before we could even devour the last gooey, sticky bite, we were counting the days until the following Sunday. By the time we were 5 and 6, Mom and Dad awoke to the scent of those sugary sponges we had learned to prepare on our own.
Dad was our king. Without fail, we presented him with the coveted middle cinnamon roll. Did we learn that from Mom? It never even occurred to us to give it to our queen. And what about us? We were the princesses of the kingdom and not once did we think to treat ourselves.
The middle cinnamon roll lacked that outside hard, edge-of-the-pan crust that encased the surrounding rolls. It was velvety soft all the way around. The nucleus. Centered. Perfect. Don’t get me wrong. We loved giving it to Dad and watching his delight with each bite. But, somewhere, somehow, and very early on, we got the message that the delectable treat was not meant for us. Inherently feminine? Maternal? Or learned?
Balance is our infrastructure. As women, we look for it in everything. That fully loving sweet spot where we give without reducing, receive without pilfering. So often, we are derailed, unquestioningly assembling the middle cinnamon rolls in someone else’s corner while stashing the blemished crusty ones in our own for subsequent repair, destroying all sense of symmetry.
There are adjacent rooms in the retrospection residency of my brain. One is small and beautiful, filled with family members, friends, mentors and employers where a healthy coexistence is sustained. The other is large and messy, replete with associations and where I have laboriously gained insight. In that second room dwells a boyfriend who was verbally abusive and unfaithful. When I confronted him about his behaviors, he spit in my face and strongly suggested I was the responsible party. I bought it. I tried to fix it. He shares that room with others from my past including (but certainly not limited to) a sex addict, an alcoholic, a rageaholic, a borderline/narcissistic personality disorder, a schizophrenic, a compulsive liar and a micro-managing control freak. As the years passed, the augmenting stockpile of sociopaths in my breadcrumb path was hard to ignore and my healthy friends were starting to avoid me. Did I invite those temperaments into my life? I did. I take responsibility for that.
I became my own private investigator, attempting to solve the mysteries that were my failures. Well into adulthood, I began to realize my issues were related to childhood relationships I was perpetually attempting to repair. I am a positive, trusting and respectful person, but my “over-optimism” had hit an all-time frenzy. Grabbing the middle cinnamon roll was often an afterthought, but never seriously considered in the moment. But it was there. A seed had been planted.
I watched in wonder as the intellectual, physical and creative processes emerged from each of my three children. I was a consistent bystander taking copious mental notes, while striking a balance of guidance and boundaries without controlling their individual development or creative endeavors. I am astounded by parents exhibiting compulsions to instruct their children on the painting of a picture, the telling of a story or the utterance of their first musical sounds. I surrounded my children with artistic materials and stepped out of their way. During my observations, a recurring thought occurred: ”Wow…I never saw it that way, heard it that way, felt it that way…”
While pregnant with my older daughter, Morgan, I satisfied my hunger for parental knowledge by voraciously inhaling literature on child development and high self-esteem. While penetrating my own obstacles, I knew it to be essential to raise children who are encouraged in their creativity and individuality. Children who would grow up to begin their young adult lives with an understanding of their core emotional selves and take with them the necessary tools for long, happy lives flooded with emotional and creative growth. That meant lots of freedom, consistent mutual trust, respect and open communication stripped of judgment. My hope in providing them with that freedom was that they would learn to make coherent choices and they have thrived. They have not, so much, been “taught.” They have grown through curiosity and discovery.
This is not to suggest they have had a perfect childhood, or that I am a perfect mother. The four of us have had our share of challenges and obstacles, including a difficult divorce, and their own hurdles navigating their individual relationships with their father. It is how we chose to handle those challenges that made us a stronger and healthier family.
Our moms are our heroes. As a mom, myself, I am the role model for the wives, mothers, friends and career women my daughters may be, and the role model for the type of woman my son may spend his life with. As important as my personal passions were and are to me, I knew that raising children would be the most important thing I would ever do. Pulling that off meant becoming a stronger woman. It meant reaching for that middle roll.
As an adult, I continued the cinnamon roll tradition with my own children with one variation. I always gave the middle roll to Wendy…the child I believed least likely to take it. As for me, there was a time I thought it necessary to snag the roll for myself. That it would somehow be symbolic of self-love. But I have grown fond of my crusty edges and I am satiated leaving that treat for someone else. I don’t need to take it as some kind of presentation of personal development. I am the middle cinnamon roll.