I love flipping pancakes. From a very young age I was fascinated with trying to find the recipe that would allow me to flip the pancakes without having to nudge the dough in any way. That means that the consistency of the grease and thickness of the pancake together with the heat of the stove should form a perfect combination to be able to have one turn in the air to land on the other side and then nicely on the plate. I love when people eat my pancakes. In fact, I love it too much. I would taste it to know that it turned out well, but wouldn’t eat another piece, unless by accident I ruined one in the process.
For many years I have been telling people that the only good thing about pancakes is making them. Eating is not the fun part, flipping is the real deal. Friends would line up to get my pancakes and that would make me happy. I was a deep believer of my own theory, until one day I decided to sit down with my husband, after the request of making the pancake the Normandy way: with the perfect 500-200-50-2 ratio. If you ever made pancakes, you probably guess the ingredients. 500ml milk, 200g flour, 50g butter and two eggs. I add a pinch of salt as well. Oh, well, yes, hello butter! I was convinced this was the golden ratio, and never went back to using oil, sparkling water and any of the other tricks my fellow countrywomen swear by.
Part of making them was also sitting down and actually eating them with him. Then I realised I do love pancakes, they do taste good, they are simple and delicious. This is almost like stating the obvious, sounds plain stupid written down. Yet, I used to be convinced that they weren’t for me. I made myself believe that I could only assist in other people’s happiness and well-being, and basically not have it myself. I have to say as mundane as it sounds this is a huge revelation for me. I have been doing so many things for others, to help their lives, to make them happy. It also turned into thinking they wouldn’t love me or even like me unless I went out of my way to please them.
I guess it is true, or used to be true in the past. I have seen that: you think people will like you if you make nice things, such as pancakes and then all will be well. It is very interesting that both my mother and my mother-in-law are pleasers. They do many – no, way too many – things for others to get at least a tiny bit of appreciation from their surroundings. The more they are rejected, the harder they try. This is present tense, I still witness it every time I meet them. As they are both close to or in their 60s, they were still hit by the sexist upbringing of families very hard. No matter how smart, bright and hard-working they were, it was just never good enough for their fathers, and – as an extension – neither to their mothers. So they tried as hard as they could to get at least a few nice words, a smile, one nod or tiny encouragement for their achievements from their parents, their surrounding, and worked very hard for getting minimal results in return. Who talks about unconditional love here? There were conditions, and the way they were set up made them impossible to achieve. And that… that is the revelation for me.
I have been punishing my mother as well, and subsequently myself as well. I have done things over and over again, and when there was no appreciation I could use it in order to justify being angry with myself. Or with my mum. I don’t deserve love, of course they don’t like me. I am not appreciated, I should try harder the next time. Maybe it will work then. This whole situation also doesn’t mean that I can actually accept love and appreciation very well. It also happens that I don’t notice the honesty in other’s words. Because why are they saying those things? Did I really do something well? Is it because I said something nice? I was told so many times when I was a kid that I was unlikable, that my actions were really bad or annoying that I started to believe those words. Now, I know I internalized them. I tried to do things that were expected of me, but they were not coming from an honest place.
It is a hard lesson to stop giving and caring unless you mean it. There is a difference between being generally a helpful person and noticing if someone needs a seat on the tram, bending down to pick something up that someone else has dropped in the shop, or holding the door for someone. These are small things, and you either notice that you can be of help or not. I can honestly say I have learnt to help only if I mean it, only if I do not want anything in return. In one word: if it is unconditional.
Contemplating these revelations one stark memory popped into my head that could be the textbook example for the moral of what I am explaining here. I was organizing a surprise party for a couple, who explicitly said they didn’t want wedding presents, they didn’t need anything. I thought that was probably not true, they were just being polite and we should celebrate just a small circle of people anyway. I told them we would celebrate one of our friend’s birthday that day. It literally was his birthday, so all was good, they believed it. However when they arrived they saw the huge sign. I was in the kitchen preparing a delicious amount food, marinated chicken, cheese salad, fresh vegetables and all. We gave them the fancy set of wine bottle opener and generally had a good time. I could tell they were shocked, and quite frankly not very happy. They didn’t really understand that the party was for them, and they should enjoy it. What did I do? I got upset after all the efforts put into keeping it a secret, making food, cake, signs, balloons and before I would have burst into tears for feeling massively underappreciated I left. There was no praise, no joy, nothing. I was upset.
Even then, and this was more than 10 years ago I knew that I was in the wrong. I was pushing an idea for the wrong reason. I made it about me, I was so desperate to hear from someone: you are a nice person, we love you. So, I was punishing myself, and many times I still fall into the act of punishing myself. I am not 100% cured. However, I also know that I need to stop punishing my mother. She has never been good enough for me either. I know I was merely mirroring her behaviour, not knowing that she was also punished by not being loved unconditionally. Society and its expectations of what a mother is supposed to be like also didn’t help. But now I am 30, and I have to know better. I have the space and time to think for myself to decide that I know better, I can do better. And that starts by eating the pancake and enjoying it by myself. Just in case take another one to try with blackberry jam and also a third one with nutella. Because they are delicious.