When I was a girl, my mother made all our bread. It took forever to rise and even longer to bake, and while we waited, the scent of it crusting up and browning inside the oven filled the house and tormented me.
I pressed my hands against the oven glass and looked in at the two loaves inside. One was the sacrificial loaf. As soon as the timer went off, we’d cut into that loaf, risking the release of steam that might burn our fingers. Each butter-saturated slice was devoured with absolutely no concern for whether or not it would ruin dinner.
The second loaf was never as good as the first because we were not allowed to touch it until it cooled entirely. That loaf was reserved for sack lunches and breakfast toast, even though the butter didn’t taste as good on breakfast toast as it did on bread fresh from the oven. But it nourished us, body and soul, and that was the most important thing. With three growing children and a husband to feed, my mom felt that day-old bread was a blessing. Two-day-old bread was a miracle.
These memories came back to me today as I mixed up a big batch of dough in my stand mixer. I don’t need to do much more than dump ingredients in and let the mixer run. But sometimes, I like to connect to the process a little more, to remind myself of the earthly necessity of providing for my children and the joy that comes from being able to do it well. So today, I decided to knead the dough myself.
I took off my rings and put them on the windowsill, just like my mother used to, and the way I imagine her mother did before her. When I was a little girl, I used to wear Mom’s wedding ring while I watched her work. I liked how it carried the warmth of her finger in the heaviness of the gold.
I turned the dough out onto a floury counter the way I had seen her do so many times before. In my mind, I saw her hands covered in dough. But I felt the work of the kneading in my own arms. Sweetly scented yeast and the fragrance of freshly-ground flour connected me to the generations and generations of women who have come before me, an entire lineage of mothers who have served their families in the making of their daily bread.
Sometimes I feel alone in this parenting thing. But not today. Today I felt a part of something bigger.
The children crowded around, observing my work and begging for scraps. I remembered pestering my mother the same way, and how she would give us little bits of dough to work until they were grey, sticky, and completely inedible to anyone but a child.
“If I give each of you a piece, there won’t be anything left to bake!” I said.
My children considered this. I knew what I would have said.
“We don’t care!” they shouted, as if on cue. I gave them each a little piece of dough and noted how quickly the loaves diminished when five children had gotten their share. But some things are worth the memories.
It is a different world now than it was when I was a child, I thought as I waited for the bread to bake. Motherhood is all at once more complicated and less valued than ever before. Sometimes, I don’t think my great-grandmother would understand my struggles very well, and I wouldn’t be able to relate to hers.
But then, I wonder. Perhaps it is more the same than I know. I thought of my mother’s hands, shaping the loaves, and my grandmother’s, and mine. We are, all of us, mothers. We understand what it is to do our best to provide for our children. We are mothers who have lived in different times and under different circumstances but yet we have felt the same heartaches and triumphs that come with trying to raise children to the praise and glory of God.
It is a common loaf we share.
Whether we feed our children with rice or with wheat, we understand. We are mothers.
On this beautiful day, I am thankful that I am not alone, that I share the common experience of uncommon motherhood with women of every space and time. I am glad to know that I am putting my hands to the work that has been done so well by so many others before me, and that, by the grace of God, will continue to be done by so many after me.
Today, I knead and bake and taste the bread of a thousand dailies, the bread of a thousand generation of mothers who are just like me.