I watched her attempt to flip the pancakes. The griddle steaming hot and sizzling, she was a mix of nerves and excitement. This was big. Her six year old hand held the spatula awkwardly. Concentrating hard, her entire body was willing those hot cakes to perform a decent 180.
I couldn’t help but stare. I forget this is even a task. I flip and turn, barely even noticing. Hot cakes pile high and kids inhale them as quick as I can flip ‘em. It’s a thoughtless chore to me. I’m neat and tidy and accurate without even thinking. Like I’m putting on socks, sweeping up crumbs, this is my business.
But here stands my girl. Gloppy batter drips off the edges of her griddle and her face is a mix of joy and focus, of hope and possibility and fear. Dusty piles of dry mix litter the countertops and floor and she mirrors all of it. Mess and growth and learning.
I still remember the first time I took the stage to speak to a group of women. I looked nervous; I’m sure of it. And that was only a fraction of the nerves I was feeling. My words came out fast and a little shaky. I was over-excited. I wasn’t speaking loud enough and I needed to slow my pace. Like a 6 year old making pancakes I was a bit awkward, equal parts scared and brave.
But someone saw potential in me and they weren’t afraid to let me do it messy. Someone encouraged me to share my story, asked me to speak and was patient enough to let me try. They could have told parts of my story for me. They could have let the qualified, the polished speakers of the world say the words. But someone had the courage and the restraint to let me grow.
Can I admit that I don’t always see the beauty in a tiny pancake flipper? Sometimes I see a kid begging to make pancakes as one big mess and a whole lot of extra work.
This isn’t a guilt trip for the mom who likes a tidy home. I get you. This isn’t a reprimand for the mom who has banned glitter, despises Play Doh or hides all manner of other messy adventures. I’ve had my moments there too. But making messes and learning is as critical at 6 years old as it is at 60.
And at every age, in order to grow, we need someone to be brave enough to embrace our messy learning.
The freedom to try, and maybe even fail, in a safe setting might just be the greatest freedom we could ever give our children. It might also be the greatest freedom we can give ourselves.
It’s been about a decade since I took to the stage to speak for the first time. It’s gotten easier, the nerves are more manageable, experience and practice have tempered my pace. And I’m sure in a few years my 6 year old will be flipping hot cakes with an easy turn of her wrist.
I imagine (hope? pray?) that she’ll make pancakes that don’t require us to clean every surface in the entire kitchen when she is finished, but what I can teach her in the meantime matters.