In 1992, I had been living in Canada for ten years, when Christopher, Emily, and Thea, who were very small children at the time, walked into my heart without knocking and took up permanent residence. I had the honor of being part of their everyday lives for ten full years before taking on a more peripheral role in their world. The direct years were by far some of the most satisfying of my life, filling album after album with snap shots of our family with it’s unusual constellation of characters.
Since returning to live in the US in 2002, our face to face visits have become at best bi-yearly and at worst yearly. We have, as modern people with busy lives do, maintained a sense of connection and contact in the cyber world, often commenting on the unbreakableness of the bond and marveling at our ability to pick up right where we left off at the last visit. At times it has been difficult though, losing a thread here, not knowing something critical there, and still we do the best we can.
This past week, I had the luxury and privilege of five full days with ‘my girls’. We spent our drive on the way to the Wayside Inn redefining a name for our relationship. No longer step-mother, other mother not quite accurate, we came up with a new term for my role. I am for them, a protective factor, offering one additional witness to each of their lives who loves them unconditionally, sometimes worries, nags when necessary, and delights in their every triumphant success. And they have become to me, much to my utter amazement, far more than the children I helped raise, protective factors in my life as well.
We spent the afternoon before Thanksgiving baking. One of the highlights for me was when Emily and I dressed in our aprons, cheeks flushed, convulsing in laughter till tears streamed down our faces, were trying to re-direct a crust misfortune before it became a pie disaster. As we attempted to regain control, Thea, in her calm and gentle way, suggested we roll out the dough, add cinnamon sugar, chocolate chips, and nuts, and bake, creating as legions of bakers before us, the ultimate buttery confection.
The afternoon grew into evening, as we contemplated the application of decorative leaves on our pumpkin pie. This decision, along with caramelizing an assortment of apples, designing a pie edge together, making cornbread, the sound of cranberries popping on the stove, swirled together as fragrant elements that invoked an un-tethering from the mundane world of food preparation. We were transported along in the process towards a moment as unique as a snowflake.
Spending an afternoon working alongside Emily, in the good company of Thea’s commentary, I realized that throughout their childhoods although we had shared countless hours baking and cooking together, there were none, more sacred than this.