Stronger and a Little Taller

As I stood in my kitchen this morning, up to the elbows in fondant, one thought grabbed me and attempted to shake a wee bit of sense into my head. “Why the hell do I do these things to myself?” Who in their right mind always has to prove themselves worthy, over and over and over? Oh yeah, me. I know that this compulsion of mine stems from my relationship with my dad and yet its really all about me. Not him, me. You know how folks use “it’s complicated” to explain their relationships? Yeah, that’s me and my dad. I love him, really I do. Or I should say I love the bits and pieces of moments of my life that connect with him at his best. That Dad, at those moments? I love him to pieces. All those other bits and pieces though, those times when he was harsh and judgmental and never proud of me, they sometimes feel as if they just might end up killing me bit by bit.

So there I am, mixing up my first batch of fondant ever and this image of footsteps in the snow suddenly fills my mind’s eye. It is a white dough in a white bowl, sprinkled with white confectioner’s sugar. All that white, looking like snow.

Foot prints in the snow.

And as my mind’s eye pulls back I remember that moment. I was about 4 or 5 and it was a cold and snowy morning. I was trying to keep up with my dad as we trekked across the farm to feed the animals. And with each step, I tried my best to step in his footprints ahead in the snow.

My dad isn’t a terribly tall man, but he has long legs. He walks with long strides and his eyes search the world for details — his mind always at work and collecting bits and pieces. In that, I am my father’s daughter through and through. Always looking, always collecting bits and pieces upon which to ponder and tinker and think. And as you can imagine, he is stubborn as hell. Yes, I’m his daughter.

I’m the second daughter. The second of four children. The middle child. A thinker and a worrier and a fixer. And all I ever wanted to do was to keep up with my dad.

Actually, scratch that. All I wanted to do was to have my dad hear me struggling to keep up with him, to turn around, and wait for me. To pick me up in his arms like the other daddies. To tell me I had done good.

So fondant. It is this marvelously smooth and beautiful bakery product. And maybe this project of mine will turn out and be marvelously smooth and beautiful. But it is hard to make. Not too hard if you have the tools (like a KitchenAid with a dough hook) or if you are stubborn as hell and set your mind to do something. It just takes time. And effort. And time alone with your thoughts as you knead, knead, knead it into a smooth and beautiful something. And so I stood there, kneading, and I thought about a few other things.

  • Those footprints I remembered seeing in the snow? They reminded me of a wonderful soul in my life who made  a promise to herself and to her Grandpa years ago and just this past week has been taking the steps to keeping that promise. I am so overwhelming proud of her. She said this about her decision to keep her promise, “I do think I am standing a bit taller this morning.” And that’s what happens when you finally take the step you have been terrified of taking. You stand a little taller.
  • Yesterday as I drove home from a meeting, I was surfing the stations to keep myself happy in the crappy traffic that is the norm around here. And a song came on that I’d never heard before. Using the cool app SoundHound, I found out that I was listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You” there was that thought–“what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and stand a little taller

And here I am this morning, making fondant, a thing I’ve never done but want to try just because I think it could be amazing. And I’m thinking about the complicated relationship I have with my dad that has led to a lifetime of complicated relationships with every other person in my life. But mostly, it complicates the relationship I have with myself.

I’m always pushing myself to be something that perhaps I’m not meant to be. Always wanting to be better, faster, smarter, wiser, whatever-er.

Perhaps this year I can just get stronger. And stand a bit taller because I can find something to be more proud of.

Finally, the fondant is done. It is a smooth ball of sugary dough resting on my countertop. And then I remember, the look of my small boot, coming down in the snow. First fitting into the very back of Dad’s footprint. But as the walk continued, perhaps I got tired. Or maybe I just found a different pace. Because soon there were two sets of footprints. The second set very close to the first, but separate and distinct.

It appears that after awhile, it was easier to break my own snow trail, and walk my own path instead of trying to follow exactly in my father’s footsteps.

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7 thoughts on “Stronger and a Little Taller

  1. It’s good to have nice memories with your father. Some people just don’t get chances like that. And it’s good that you can go and make an identity of your own, we all should. But of course the shadow of the people who help us get to where we are will always linger with us. Awesome thoughts, bravo.

  2. Killer narrative! As the father of an independent young lady, I ate this up (forget the fondant).

    You have the heart of a great storyteller, and, I suspect, a wise old soul (Take it easy, a soul can be older than a physical body.).

    I’ll bet, were we to quiz your father, he’d have a few good things to say about you — perhaps more than you think.

  3. I get this.

    I so wish you could have been with me at the Trailing of The Sheep writing workshop. So many women from ranch families tell the exact same story about their relationships with their fathers. All these ranch women–amazingly strong on so many levels–and most carry the same pain you describe here.

    You’re not alone.

  4. 1. Major kudos at braving the fondant making front. I aim low (like Pop Tarts or microwave meals)
    2. This post is something to be proud of. Perfect visual or your past coming into play in your present. Thanks for sharing it with us 🙂

  5. This is a fine post. Yeah all those childhood head things do have a lot of influence on us don’t they?

  6. heh, I used to try to walk in his footsteps too. It was more like leaping from one space to another. At least you have some love for him, it’s a good thing.

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