I pause in the supermarket aisle with an oversized cardboard box in my hand. I want to buy it — and yet something inside me recoils at the thought of placing this particular item in my shopping cart.
My fingers clutch the cardboard as I study the label: 100% Real Potatoes. Mashed potatoes in minutes. To a woman standing in the aisle of the grocery store at 4:30 p.m. with no real plan for dinner and an 18-month-old Houdini who is escaping the shopping cart harness, the idea is downright delicious.
And yet I hesitate, because I used to be a cooking snob. And some small part of me still wants to claim that title. Once upon a time, everything from my kitchen was absolutely, positively made from scratch. Frozen waffles? Inferior! Bread from the store? Puh-leeze! Potatoes from a box? Unthinkable!
But I had only a few very small children back then. Since that time, God has blessed me with more babies. He gave me pregnancies where I wound up useless on the couch or kneeling in front of a toilet bowl for weeks on end. He gave me more bodies to feed, more clothing to launder, and more dishes to wash. Those first babies grew older, and we began homeschooling. I never ran out of love, but some days I surely did run out of time and energy.
Somewhere along the way, out of sheer necessity, I made some cooking concessions. With a family that could eat its way through a loaf of bread in a single lunchtime, I gave in to the convenience of the store-bought stuff. Homemade bread-baking became a once in a while treat, made only with the help of my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer. And ultimately, even a snob like me had to admit that brownies from a mix tasted lots better than the homemade ones I never baked anymore.
I made these concessions, but not without some measure of guilt. Preparing exclusively homemade food for my family had been a point of pride for me. It had been a tangible way for me to assure myself I was being a “good mom.” I was fooling myself, but it was a comfortable con.
I have a friend who likes to tell her husband in the morning before he leaves for work: “I can do two out of these three things today: homeschool, keep the house clean, or make a good dinner. Which two would you like?”
I love this approach because I find it a helpful reminder that, no matter what Cosmopolitan magazine might try to sell you, none of us can “do it all.” Besides, as every mother knows, even if we did find a way to do it all, it surely wouldn’t stay done. We must pick and choose the good things we will do. It’s a continual balance. Today, for example, I am choosing: I will serve lunch on paper plates, but read Curious George Gets a Medal. I will catch up on the laundry, but let that sticky spot on the kitchen tiles sit for just one more day. I will make muffins for an afternoon snack, but won’t answer emails. I will chat on the phone with a friend for 30 minutes, but forget to make my kids’ dental appointments.
And I will buy the boxed potatoes. One-hundred percent real potatoes for my 100 percent real life.
I will stand at the stove with a toddler on my hip and stir instant potatoes with one hand while a whirlwind of family life encircles me. I will spell “immortal” for the 9-year-old who asks me. I will interrupt one grinning child’s rendition of the “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song with his brother’s name in it before the affronted party resorts to death blows. And when my garrulous four-year-old asks, “Would you like to hear a story?” I will refrain from sighing and rolling my eyes. I will smile weakly and say, “Yes, sweetie. Talk to mama while I make dinner.”
Today I will focus on things I do right instead of the things I do wrong or that remain undone. I will find security and satisfaction in knowing that none of us can do it all, but that I am doing enough. None of us can have it all, but I have what really matters.
I am not a perfect mom, but with God’s grace I can be a good one. I can give this family, right here, right now, the very best I have. One-hundred percent.