On Hope, Learning to Let Go and Magic Noodles

Dear Joey,

August was the month of limiting hope and trying to let go.

September is the month of living with hope and actually letting go.
With August came opportunities that ended in disappointment, lots of tentative plans, and far too many decisions that had to be made quickly for my particular taste. It felt too risky to hope for something more, and so I kept hope at bay and held tight to my own agenda.

With September came having to live out some of the things August had decided for us. Keep looking for houses. Make do with frustrating circumstances. Find ways to make things work when they just feel hard and wrong. Live out the faith that is so hard to hold on to when things look dismal and different than what we think it should look like. Let hope live and let go of my expectations and fears, my anxieties and my control.

As a result, emotions have been running high around here.

One of the decisions I had to live out as soon as September rolled around was taking Addie to her first day of Preschool. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I cried when I dropped her off; in some ways, it’s a pretty monumental day, right? It’s the day that marks the end of her baby-ness and beginning of her big girl-ness? And yet, the degree of my emotional reaction to her first day surprised me.

She was nervous – I knew it because she told me so, both with a quiet nod of her head when I asked, and with her body language. She didn’t cry, but she looked like she wanted to. When I said goodbye, it took everything in me to flash her a strong, cheerful smile and assure her I would be back soon (without crying in the process), and I kissed her little cheek and left the classroom without looking back. And as soon as the front gate closed behind me, the tears came.

I wondered if she felt abandoned or confused or scared or alone. I wondered if other kids would be nice to her and if she would be nice to them, too. I wondered if she would break out of the uncharacteristic bashful demeanor she carried with her into the classroom, and I wondered if the teachers would see just how wonderfully smart and creative and compassionate and good she is, or if they would see something not-so-great about her that I don’t see. I wondered if she would be ok if we moved her to another preschool in the next few months, if she’d be able to bounce and make new friends and adjust to life in a new house, a new town, a new preschool all at the same time. I wondered if we were making a mistake, if we had jumped the gun and done something that really wasn’t best for her.

And then I wondered if I was being overly critical of us and our choices, not really hoping for the best but instead bracing for the worst.

And then I cried harder because I realized what I was experiencing: the process of letting go. In order to move forward into this new season of her life and mine, I had to let go of the mom thing that wants to see hear know everything she does, to give in to the instinct to try to control every moment of every day.

Letting go is hard. Coming to terms with the fact that I’m not in control anyway is tough – I’m her mom, after all, and giving her over to the Lord again and again and again is so much harder to actually do than it is to say I’ll do. I’m the one who has nourished and sustained her and provided nearly all of her care for nearly three years. I’ve gotten used to  being it, so to speak. How can I suddenly not have be know give everything she needs? I try to do my best, of course, but it never feels like enough – probably because it never will be. Because that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s all a little overwhelming to me.

And yes, that is the spin that happened after I said goodbye to her for just three short hours.

But as I thought about all this, I came back to the magic noodles I made earlier this week, and somehow, miraculously, they helped me sort this out.

Lately cooking has felt like a chore that sucks the life out of me and leaves me bereft of anything worth giving. I try and I fail. I plan, and the plan falls through. I offer, and my offer is rejected. I can’t read minds around here, and I can’t please everyone, and that is exhausting. Sometimes, I simply don’t know what to do, or what the answer will be to the question of what’s for dinner. It feels as though the magic of the kitchen has disappeared a little, and sometimes I just don’t even want to bother (what’s the point of trying, anyway?). But last Sunday, when I started making dinner like I always do, I went through the motions without high hopes for a good outcome (meaning, food eaten without complaint, resulting in clean plates and full tummies).

But as I boiled noodles and melted butter and slowly whisked together flour, chicken broth, and milk – the magic came back. I didn’t have a hard and fast set of rules dictating what I was doing, really, and the end result was a little bit like what I had envisioned, but much much better. I risked failure because I had a hunch that it would work, and I figured the worst that could happen is I’d pull out cheese and crackers and fruit (again) if my effort resulted in failure.

I’d never seen our girls eat so many noodles in my life. And that’s saying something, because these girls love mac & cheese. As they ate, I thought about how my hope for those noodles was far lower than the outcome, meaning I had hoped they would eat a few bites, and they actually ate half the pan. And the more I think about that, the more I realize that my expectations in this season of our lives are low, I guess. It’s hard to hope for more because things often don’t turn out the way think they should. I’ve gotten so distracted by disappointment that I’ve lost sight of all the things that are turning out better than I could have imagined on my own.

And so, I’m learning what it means to hope again, and to set my hopes higher than I have allowed myself set them and receive the miracles along with the heartaches. It’s almost as if one can’t happen without the other.

Love, Scratch

Magic Noodles 
I call these Magic Noodles because, simply put, they disappear. Incredibly creamy, but also quite light, they taste very much like boxed Pasta Roni (do they still make that?), but they are made with real ingredients, so I feel good giving them to my girls. Plus, they are incredibly quick to make. They’re good on their own, or tossed with grilled chicken and broccoli or green peas and ham; you could even use these as a base for tuna noodle casserole, or any number of other magical combinations you can come up with.

1/2 pound dry noodles of your choice (such as egg noodles, or comparable)
2 T unsalted butter
2 T flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup whole milk, warmed
1 tsp dried parsley (or a little more if you like)
Salt & pepper to taste

Boil the noodles according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat, being careful not to let it brown. Once melted, add 2 T all purpose flour. Whisk until combined, and let cook for a minute or two. Again, don’t let it scorch. Add 1 cup chicken broth, whisk until combined. Cook for another minute, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Slowly add 1/2 cup warmed milk to the sauce, whisking as you go; add parsley, and adjust seasoning as you see fit. Let simmer until thickened.

When noodles are cooked to your liking, drain them and add them directly to the finished sauce. Add any mix ins that you choose at this point.

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