I’m pretty sure Satan (yes, Satan…not Santa) invented the macaron…They’re cute. They’re tiny. They look simple. But they’re deceptive. I’ve discovered they’re impossible to make, and as a rookie, I didn’t realize it until I’d already invested half of my life into making them.
Last week I learned that “macaron” in English translates to “soul-sucking waste of three hours of my life that I will never get back.”
I’m really not sure why I thought making three dozen macarons at 9 p.m. the night before I hosted a Christmas Cookie Exchange was a good idea…particularly since I’ve never made them before. Turns out, it wasn’t.
And instead of buying pre-made anything, I opted to grind my own almond flour, make two different flavors of macaron with two different flavors of icing. Never mind that I’ve never whipped meringue before, or that our local grocery store didn’t carry mascarpone cheese –I decided I’d make my own!
15 minutes into whipping a meringue that managed to remain completely peakless, my husband offered to help so I could start making the second batch of batter, followed by the homemade mascarpone (just writing this is making me realize how completely ridiculous this whole fracas was). Long story short, 2.5 long hours (as well as another batch of meringue) later, I was finally ready to bake. I had a feeling while I was piping this thick, sticky mess onto a cookie sheet that something wasn’t quite right, but I remained hopeful.
Well I shouldn’t have, because both batches ended up looking as if they were made by my two year old. As I scraped (I literally had to scrape the hardened disaster off of the baking sheet) my failure into the garbage, I reflected on what had just happened in my kitchen over the last several hours.
Why did I feel the need to make something so ridiculously difficult so late at night, so soon before I was to have guests over?
I think part of it is my need to feel like I’m doing something special or important. I’m not the stereotypical Pinterest mom or Type-A perfectionist who feels the need to outdo or impress other people based on how crafty I am or how chic I dress or how clean my house is–I’ve never gotten caught up in that rat-race. But I have always had a desire to do things “above-average.”
I was recently inducted into my high school athletic hall of fame, and earlier that day I’d spent part of the morning drafting a list of my former high school/college athletic accomplishments. Reminiscing over my past successes made me long for a time in my life when I felt like I was good at something. As an athlete, a student, and even as a career-woman, I always felt that if I worked hard, I could achieve anything I wanted.
Now, as a stay-home mom, opportunities to feel successful are rare. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe there is nothing more important I could be doing than nurturing, loving, teaching, and raising the human being that I created. Unlike any other job I’ve ever had, however, the fruits of my labor aren’t readily apparent, and much of what I do is unquantifiable and immeasurable. Small victories, like successfully teaching my two year old son his colors, how to count to three, and how to be a polite human being who says “please” and “thank you”, make me feel like a champion mom. Sadly, they’re usually immediately followed up by epic tantrums in the check-out line, shin kicks, and newly learned phrases such as “Go away mom.”
Not only that, but the degree of my effort won’t necessarily correlate to a “successful” outcome–after all, my medium isn’t a tangible product but human capital. There are plenty of kids who have great parents that still turn out cray cray. It’s completely possible (and in some ways virtually guaranteed) that despite my best efforts, my children will make choices completely contrary to what I spent years teaching–I know I’ve made my parents feel like failures (at least) once or twice.
In my current sphere of influence, I don’t have opportunities for advancement. I don’t get awards. My daily tasks are often mundane, unnoticed, and thankless. My toilets are exceptionally clean today, however, and I vacuumed like a champ…but there’s no need to brag.
I’d like to say “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining,” but clearly I am. As much as I love and appreciate the opportunity I have to be home to raise my kids, those are the things I often want to complain about. And aren’t we all entitled to a little dissatisfaction every once in awhile?!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe the macarons were my way of feeling like I can still go above and beyond. I can still impress. I can still do something well.
What my burnt macarons taught me, however, is that success and failure aren’t so black and white, and that there’s more to validation than external recognition and praise. Making perfect macarons doesn’t make me any more of a success than winning a few track meets did ten years ago, or getting a promotion would ten years from now.
Would any of those girls have really cared that I made flawless macarons? They all have far more important things to worry about than something so petty and pointless.
As good as I felt at my job when I was working, did anyone really lose any sleep over the fact that I quit? Highly unlikely, because there’s always someone out there ready to replace you.
But I matter to my son. To him, I can’t be replaced. I matter to my husband, my parents, my family, my friends. While I may not receive accolades or praise on a frequent basis, I know that the contribution that I’m making is important, and it’s worth something. I know that I can still find opportunities to change people’s lives in meaningful ways.
My burnt macarons reminded me that I need to stop searching for value in how other people view me–instead, I need to KNOW that I have value, and that what I’m doing at this stage of my life, is valuable. The only validation that’s really worth anything is the validation we give ourselves, and as long as I’m doing the things that I believe to be truly important–to the best of my ability–that’s really all that matters.