Two loaves of bread were rising—different recipes—and the oven was preheating to 425. My son Brian had brought his family for a weekend visit; he and Avery are both delightful adults. And of course, my granddaughter Lila is one of the great joys of my advancing life. Gabe (age 3) had come over to play with Lila (age 2) for a couple of hours. After playing Legos and blocks and hide-and-seek for a while, he importuned, “Can we bake?” I already had two bakes going, and did not think I could handle a third. But Gabe asked so sweetly and sincerely that I could not say no. “Okay,” I said seriously, “but we can’t make two cupcake recipes—we can’t make real cupcakes from my recipe book and your cupcakes from your imagination. If we’re going to bake cupcakes, we’re going to follow the recipe.” Sensing my resolve, he nodded his consent. He and Lila sat on bar stools at the kitchen island. They each measured out and poured into the bowl the various ingredients, with my hands guiding theirs: flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking powder, milk, melted butter, and eggs—Gabe cracked the eggs expertly, with not a speck of shell escaping. He did politely insist on one imagination ingredient, which actually mixed in perfectly: colored confectionary sprinkles. Gabe and I held the mixer together, but Lila declined, not liking loud machines like vacuum cleaners and blenders and electric beaters. But they wanted to be, and were, involved in every step, including licking the beaters and spoons. Mom and Dad looked on in amusement and adoration. After the children placed the cupcake liners into the tin cups, we carefully dolloped the batter into the liners and slipped the tray into 350 degrees. While the cupcakes baked, we mixed the icing, made from a lot of powdered sugar, a little milk, and the juice of one lemon. How proud the children were of their iced cupcakes, excitedly licking the tangy icing off the multi-color cakes before biting in. Mom and Dad and I enjoyed our cupcake, too. An hour prior, I had thought I did not have the energy or patience to bake cupcakes with two little children while simultaneously baking break. With the cupcakes done and decorated, and devoured, I realized that the increased tenderness I felt for them, and my lifted happy spirits, would have gone tragically unexperienced had I demurred. As it is, I will always remember baking lemon cupcakes with Lila and Gabe, and I hope they will remember baking lemon cupcakes with me.
Every conscientious parent knows what it is like to feel exhausted and empty from continual grinding parenting, whether you’ve one child or ten. I remember feeling mind-numbingly tired, and seeing the dinner dishes still needing to be washed, and washing them, and it is close to midnight, and the baby is sick and crying and throwing up. And I am worried to death about the baby, and about my children having friends and finding God for themselves and learning to drive, and about the $200 million lawsuit waiting for me the next morning, and every morning, for years, and though the claims are specious, I still have to fight like my life depends upon it, for years and years. And somehow we make it through, and suddenly we are attending high school graduations and weddings and birthday parties for pure little grandchildren just learning to smile and to walk and to talk, and the children are moving away. I have raised seven children—and, of course, parents are never done being parents to their children. My mother raised six children, at the time of this 2022 writing aged 57 to 41, and at age 82 she has not stopped being a mother. Observing her children struggle with the challenges of parenthood, Mom related to me one late night in New Jersey, when she was still doing her household chores. The television was on, broadcasting a PBS symphony orchestra concert, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony #1. The beauty of the music and the performance—the first movement—suddenly gripped her and washed through her, and she wept and wept as the music played beautifully on. She has forgotten the particular pains and worries of that day, but does remember that life was hard, and that she was feeling tired and overwhelmed and discouraged. But after this experience of being moved by music, she felt cleansed, renewed, strengthened, happier, and better able to carry on. The loads remained just as heavy and tiresome, but her ability to carry them had increased. Perhaps nothing is more important for a child than having parents who know how to renew their energy and strength so that they can again put on the parental yolk and redouble their efforts on behalf of those children. And in the meantime, crank up the Mahler.
(Pictured above: the Baker family, circa 1969, with yours truly at the keyboard.)
(Pictured below: a more recent gathering of the Baker clan.)
I have kept a journal since I was a teenager in the late 1970s. My journal isn’t a diary of daily occurrences, but a collection of documents containing my thoughts, insights, struggles, joys, accomplishments, activities, and feelings, and those of others with whom I am closely connected, mostly family. All these documents go into one-inch black three-ring binders, the dates printed on the spines, lined on my bookshelves. Continue reading
It was obvious to me that my daughter, Laura, was feeling emotional distress. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked. “Nothing,” she replied, in typical hold-it-in fashion. I put my arm around her and said, “Come walk with me on Rabbit Lane.” We walked, she talked and cried, and I listened and did my best to buoy her up. We have taken many walks on Rabbit Lane since. Rabbit Lane has become more to me than an unremarkable little dirt country road. It has become for me a place of contemplation, enlightenment, and healing. I wrote this poem not only to remember the occasion of that walk with Laura, and of many other special walks with my family, but also as an invitation to you, my fellow travelers, to come walk with me down Rabbit Lane, as it were, in our respective journeys to understand, to grow, and to be the best men and women we can be.
COME WALK WITH ME
Come walk with me,
Come walk with me
down Rabbit Lane.
Tell me your troubles.
Tell me your fears.
Tell me your joys and your dreams.
Tell me everything
while we walk
past racing horses and cudding cattle,
past the llama guarding thick-wooled sheep,
past deep-green alfalfa and wispy golden grain,
past the skittish muskrat diving to its ditch-bank burrow,
past Monarch caterpillars poised on pink, perfumed milkweed flowers.
Come walk with me,
just you and me.
Come walk with me
down Rabbit Lane.