Have you ever noticed that mothers always take the broken cookie on the plate? They choose the biscuit that got a little overbrowned? They select the teeniest piece of cake when there isn’t quite enough to go around? It seems to be part of our maternal DNA, that instinct we have that leads us to sacrifice our own desires for the benefit of the people we love.
Unfortunately, all of my maternal munificence recently came to an inglorious end. The nurturing, motherly part of my soul shriveled and sniveled its way into a corner after almost eighteen wonderful years of operating in Full Unselfish Mothering Mode.
And what was the cause of this catastrophic event? One little old’ scoop of KFC mashed potatoes, that’s what! Here’s the whole (ugly) story.
Our family was sitting around the table one Sunday afternoon, eating a takeout meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Most of the food had been passed and it was finally time for the little container of potatoes to make its way around. It started with my son, went to my husband, passed by my parents-in-law and finally came to me.
I was so incredibly happy to see the Potato Container wending its way in my direction because I love potatoes and gravy. I live for potatoes and gravy!
But alas! When I finally got my greedy paws on the Styrofoam bowl and peered into its depths, I saw to my everlasting horror that there was just one small scoop of delectable, white stuff remaining.
I looked to my left and noticed that my daughter, Sarah, had not yet gotten any potatoes. I looked at the potatoes again. I looked at Sarah’s plate.
I wrestled with my conscience. I wrestled with my soul. I wrestled with the Unselfish Mother DNA that was rising up in full force. I wrestled with the Selfish Becky Smith DNA that was rising up in even fuller force.
I pondered. I ruminated. I looked at the potatoes one more time. And then, as hard as this is to admit, I helped my selfish self to the last serving of potatoes.
And then I had the nerve to pass Sarah the empty container and say, “Sorry, sweetie. The potatoes are all gone.”
Sarah looked at me. She looked at my plate. She looked at HER plate. Her face filled with the pitiful pathos of a potato-deprived princess. She looked back at me once more and said, “You took ALL the potatoes?”
My first instinct was to be proud of myself, to be proud that I had stood up for myself and had not cowed to what I should have done. I was a strong, independent woman who could have the last serving of potatoes if I jolly well wanted to. I was not enslaved by the expectations of my children, I was not constrained by the compulsion to please everyone all the time, and I was not obligated to fulfill the needs and whims of those around me. I could partake of the last bit of potatoes if I wanted to, thank you very much!
I spent a few glorious minutes reveling in my rare foray into the realm of selfishness. I rejoiced that one of my all-time favorite foods in the world was nestled on my plate, waiting to be doused in my gravy, waiting to be forked into my lips, waiting to attach itself to my hips. (Oh wait. Forget that last line.)
Sarah didn’t do anything to make me feel guilty but I did notice a look of slight confusion cross her face that said, “Who is this woman and what has she done with my mother?”
I sat for a few moments pondering The Look. I also pondered The Potatoes.
And then suddenly, right smack dab in the midst of all my pondering and reveling, my brief flirtation with my giddy selfishness started to lose its appeal. I stared at the potatoes and they stared back at me with one white, accusing eye asking me, “WHY have you stolen food from your poor child?” I stared back with some small attempt at bravado but it was useless.
What’s a mother to do when she’s being rebuked by potatoes? She caves in. She gives up. She capitulates.
I picked up my spoon and scooped up the pile of potatoes. I held them aloft for a few shining moments of fond farewell and then reached over and plopped them on Sarah’s plate.
I said, “Here, Sarah. I don’t really need these.” (And if you were to take one glance at the expanse of my “back forty” you would doubtless agree.)
And then, with a light heart and a potato-chewing princess at my side, I made the wonderful discovery that if you split open a biscuit and put gravy on it, it’s even better than potatoes!
Although the selfless uniform of motherhood seems to fit me just right most of the time, I was still glad for the opportunity to briefly dip my toes into the shallow pool of selfishness. It made me realize that being self-centered isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and it reminded me that giving gifts to people I love brings me far more joy than hoarding things for myself.
But when it comes to sharing chocolate? All bets are off.