41: Flake and Bake

41: Flake and Bake

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Flake and Bake

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.

~William James

I walked briskly around the track at the YMCA. My pace was firm, my teeth were clenched, and my eyes were fixed on nothing in particular. That meant it would be a productive walk, because I was managing my stress. That morning, as I balanced my checkbook, there was little doubt that my expenses were higher and my income was lower. I had taxes to pay, past-due medical bills, and repairs needed on the house. My stress level warranted a bucket full of tears, but Mom had taught me well.

“Don’t work yourself into a tizzy during a crisis. Provide yourself with a distraction—something you like to do that doesn’t take much thought. While your mind becomes distanced from frustration, let your head work on the problem.” Then she would dive into baking something wonderful, and the aroma from her kitchen soothed any frazzled nerves. She had a gift of baking, sure, but baking was also her way of dealing with a tragic or difficult situation.

I learned many things from my mother for which I’m grateful, but overcoming stress by distraction is the one I use most. My older brother inherited Mom’s calm spirit, but my emotional state was quite the opposite. Given any crisis or challenge, I let my blood pressure rise and my face get red.

During my adolescent years, I watched Mom’s reactions when she wrecked the car, caught the stove on fire, stalled the car in four feet of water, and burned a hole in her silk dress with a hot iron. There were never angry outbursts, screaming or tears. Instead, she would heave a big sigh and say, “No problem, I’ll think of something,” or “How did that happen?” Then, she’d march off to the kitchen and bake something delicious.

Years later, I would realize that an enormous number of problems were solved as Mom kneaded, mixed, and measured, all the time working out her frustrations and finding solutions.

Childrearing is full of problems. Take the time when I wrecked my first car, or the numerous fights I had with my brother, some of which even drew blood. And then there was the time I decided to be a dressmaker and cut off my new dress because I thought it was too long. Another time, my brother took his brand-new Ford apart in an effort to customize it by modifying the suspension and adding dual pipes.

Mom’s reaction was always the same. In a firm but low voice, she dished out punishment, something like grounding us for weeks, and then left the room to tackle sugar, flour and butter. She did the same thing when she lost her purse with all her credit cards and cash in it, and when the basement flooded, ruining everything in it.

As I grew older and realized Mom handled stress and crises differently from my friends’ mothers, I asked her a question. “Why don’t you yell, scream, and get angry like other people?”

She gave me an answer that has guided me ever since: “Nothing productive comes from anger. In a crisis, what’s done is done, and I can’t change that. If you can’t laugh or make light of a situation, I’ve found it is better to hesitate and distance yourself from the problem a while before acting on it. It works well for me. My advice to you is when you experience anger or fear at something or someone, indulge in a distraction of some sort to get your mind off the emotional side and focus on a solution. For me, that distraction is baking. You’ll find whatever works best for you.”

Later, when I was an adult and raising my own family, I met with several challenges, and my first distress call was always to Mom. I’d stand in the middle of the room, hands on hips, and murmur, “Distraction, my eye. I need to vent and maybe even scream a bit.” Then I’d pace and grab the phone. “Mom? I’ve got a problem. Can I come over for a chat?”

An intoxicating smell would greet me. Yeast combined with flour, cinnamon and sugar wafted through the air. Now, I know she used baking not only for her own problems, but mine as well. We talked through a lot of problems during these sessions.

I’m happy to report I’ve finally learned how to use Mom’s lesson. I don’t bake, but I found my own distractions: yoga and walking. So today, I’m walking around the track with head held high, sorting out possible solutions to my current economic problem. Occasionally, I’ll look upward and say, “Thanks, Mom, for your lesson in distraction. You’re right. It is much better than anger.” Sometimes, I fail, and I get frustrated and angry, but then I remember, and grab my jacket, cell phone, and house key for a trip to the track. There, I’ll talk myself through the current crisis one step at a time.

~Arlene Rains Graber

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