The grain mill whirs loud, crushing a stream of kernels. I stand in the kitchen by an open sack, grinding the wheat to bake the bread, to break the fasts. Since the beginning, since the dawn, this, the work of women, the feeding of children. The sun rises.
And I have to ask it straight out….
Why do I feed my kids scraps off the floor?
I think this, line the loaf pans with sheets of parchment paper. Our youngest, still sleepy, pulls a stool up beside. Shaping the warmth of the bread dough between the palms, I murmur it, laying dough down into loaves “… then tuck the babies into their wee trundle beds…. “ I say this every time we make bread.
“Those pans aren’t really trundle beds, are they?” Littlest laughs, her nose crinkled, ringlets bouncing.
“Yes, they are!” I wink. She shakes her head happy. “And then we spread the blanket up over the cribs and let them rise in sleep.” I pull a warm damp cloth up over the bread pans. I tussle her hair. She giggles.
Bread for babies.
Littlest peeks under the corner of the damp dishtowel, check on dough rising, and Jesus peels back a bit of me again:
She turns to me, face framed in tendrils tangled and I look into that upturned face, freshness with a dash of freckle. I brush her cheek: Who gets fed first in this house?
Do the children get fed first, before phone calls and dishes, before errands, emails, ministry, to-do lists, hobbies, cyber-surfing, before all things seen? Does life stand in line behind the young and the needy, take its turn after their hungry souls? Are my children deep nourished?
Nourished with me. With laughter and hugs and shared stories, with music and dancing and poetry and literature and art and nature and wind and sky and all of the God-Glory.
Or do I feed them scraps off the floor?
Some do. The couple who spent all their waking hours in an Internet cafe, gaming in cyber-space — that digital world where they really lived, where they felt most alive — and their baby lay at home starving. And on a day last September, after 12 hours of nurturing their avatar daughter named Anima, pixels on a screen, they came home to find their very real daughter, whom they had never named, dead.
Some children don’t even get scraps.
I wipe off the kitchen counter, the flour dust from the grain mill. The Littlest lays bowls out around the table. And I’d like to keep stories like that on the other side of the planet, the far side of the world. But I catch my reflection in the kitchen window.
And every time an email’s dashed off after dinner and the web lures away from the family, every time a text interrupts a real face here and the work day ebbs away in mindless surfing, who is the one intentionally exiting this world? This place where God’s placed. I abandon people here. Toss them scraps, left overs — or nothing at all. Children can die slow, soundless deaths.
I check the loaves. Turn on the oven.
It isn’t that technology is bad or even that we’re sinful, fallen people. It’s the serpentine forces from the Garden, always seducing to other worlds, worlds that seem better than ours. It’s always the war of the worlds. Virtual reality may seemingly offer the holy grail, but it’s our physical reality that is the holy ground.
She clatters spoons into bowls and I slide loaves into the oven and I’m done with giving life’s bread — time, skills, mama moments — to the dogs: to obsessive housecleaning, to non-encouraging, escapism net-suring, to empty, temporal busy-work.
I’ve stood in line and this is my one glorious turn to be a mother and the real world is one mighty beautiful place, a place to feed the children first and go hug our men and squeeze-tickle the kids and run free down back lanes, gathering up wildflowers and sun and smiles to nourish the all starving along the way. Dogs can go find for their own bread; Life’s too exquisite to serve souls discarded left overs.
“Can I get the butter?” the Littlest asks. She’s already running.
And I lather the butter on, and hand her food from my hand.
“You’re the Little Red Hen, Mama!” She laughs. And I close my eyes in smile, me, in this moment, all here.
The work of women matters, a winning for the eternal, and the Little Red Hen Mamas gather chicks, and I stand in the kitchen sun watching butter melt into a slab of whole wheat, even the bread right satisfied.
This day before Mother’s Day, might all of (in)courage heartily salute YOU?! Every single one of you Mamas gathered here who daily pray for the grace to feed the children first — your daily work, Little Red Hen Mamas soul-nourishing children — it changes the world.
Tell us about your Little Red Hen work. How is it hard, ugly, and oh, so good!?
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