On Thanksgiving, I love to pull out my grandmother's pretty dishes. They're fragile now, having seen countless meals and soapy sinks over the last 90 years. They were made in the 1920's and I like to wonder about all the dinnertime conversations they've heard, all of the celebrations they've shared, and all of the changes they've witnessed, in people and in our culture. Grandma's dishes are much smaller than my dishes. The dinner plate is probably 2 inches smaller in diameter. The soup bowl is bigger though. The cup and saucer are tiny. Dessert dishes are petite, but bread and butter plates are larger than the salad plates. There are plates and bowls for everything. Serving bowls and platters galore.
I have learned some lessons while washing my grandma's dishes. One is that paper plates are never right for dinner unless you're camping or Mom is in the hospital. There's something ritualistic about getting them out of the cupboard, placing them on the table, making the table look pretty, looking at the pretty little flowers during the meal, remembering all the other meals eaten on the dishes, and then carefully washing them and gingerly putting them away until next time. Another lesson is that small plates are good. Nobody needs to eat as much as they want to. Food is to keep us alive, not entertain us as a hobby. And pretty things are important in a world that's vulgar, loud, and selfish.
I used to feel badly about myself when I'd listen to friends or family talk (or complain) about all they had to do, all their projects and responsibilities. Some were so organized it made my head spin. Soon I was convinced that I was some sort of malfunctioning and defective woman because I wasn't tackling all that others seemed to be handling with ease. I wasn't the PTA president while raising 14 kids, taking 12 of them to soccer and 9 to piano lessons, making dance costumes, dishing out freezer meals on paper plates, keeping an immaculate house, planning homeroom parties for 6 kids on the same day, organizing service projects for the neighborhood, singing in the choir, teaching aerobics at 4 a.m., shopping with coupons so my groceries were free at checkout, remodeling a home by myself and installing my own counter tops, working on a cure for cancer, and keeping scrapbooks current for all said children.
I was sitting in on violin lessons for two hours every week for two children, taking them every week to the library to get their 14 books each and reading those books so many times I still have them memorized. I was studying scriptures to learn more about God so I could teach my children both formally and when gospel metaphors arose. I did a lot of things as a mother, but the one thing I am probably most happy about is that I dropped everything I was doing whenever my children wanted to talk to me or needed me. I stayed up lots of nights to catch up on work that didn't get done because our conversations were long and enjoyable or long and necessary to help answer their questions about maneuvering the outside world. I can't remember all I did because I wasn't keeping score. I was just doing what seemed needful, necessary, and nice.
Then it hit me one day. After everyone's children grew up the "proof was in the pudding." Their mothers had not really been that great at mothering. They'd been really good organizers and chauffeurs and laundresses, and super-excellent scrap-bookers, but they'd not been such good teachers, listeners or confidants. One of my children's friends told me once that they wished their parents would just listen, or just be happy to have everyone together without over-scheduling. Another confided to me that they'd never had a gospel discussion with their parents--ever. They'd never had a "birds and bees" discussion or been taught about handling money. I realized that a large plate heaped with a load of food is not all it's cracked up to be---being that super-mom character is not realistic. You cannot have it all. You absolutely can't. You cannot be all things to everyone and still be everything to all. I realize that my plate is smaller than others. But it's just as full with the few things that are important to me as the other woman's large and carefully piled plate. My pediatrician always told me not to force my children to eat. "They'll eat when they're hungry," he said. It's true. When a child is hungry, they will eat. Because food is not entertainment. Food is life.
If my plate is smaller than yours, if I have two children and you have 24, if I can barely keep up with my household responsibilities because of chronic illness, if I'd rather read or paint than be the mom that takes the neighborhood to see Britney Spears, if my idea of Christmas vacation with my grown children is to simply sit together in the same room only looking into their faces and listening to their stories, if I'd rather cook a simple meal and think about the blessing of it than pick up takeout for the 14th time the same week, and if I'd rather have one very expensive pair of boots than 140 pairs of cheap, nondescript shoes, please don't judge me. You might just need me to save you from your over-eating, over-indulged, over-scheduled and over-affected life when you have a nervous breakdown.
We need to stop identifying ourselves and others based on our plates and what's on them. My plate is small. I have physical limitations that keep me from taking a large plate and heaping it full. Bless your soul if you have a large, piled-high plate and you can manage it well. Please stop asking why I only have two children because I once frequently asked that same question. It's none of your business, and you are not a better mother or woman than me just because your reproductive system is prolific. Please don't judge my uterus or my home or what you think my bank account contains based on the overstretched limits of yours. Please stop wondering or gossiping about how you think I look totally healthy, but I'm not. It's not for you to worry about. You worry about your plate and I'll worry about mine.
I love my pretty flowered plate that's fragile and only holds necessary nourishment. It's lasted and it's worked because it's been treated with respect and love and care. It feeds my body which is a gift from God, and it feeds my soul. With thanksgiving in my heart I express my gratitude for my beautiful, fragile, small, but infinitely important plate and all the beautiful blessings on it and that flow from it. My plate may be small, but it is wonderful and the miracles that continue to come from it are bounteous. Indeed, God is truly generous. Like my grandpa used to sing: "tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free."