I struggled writing this post. I had an idea, I had a few sentences, but I had no sense of where to go next. Hopefully by the time I am finished, you will have no inkling of this. But you would have known if you walked by my house as I sat at my desk, fingers poised over the keyboard, because of the aroma drifting out of the windows.
You see I have a problem. It started a few years ago; I had two young children, a job, and a husband who worked a lot. I had too much to do, too little time, and too little energy. The pressure was escalating and I needed something to take the edge off. It started slowly and innocently; with a deadline looming I would bake a loaf of banana bread, or a batch of chocolate chip cookies, or maybe even some brownies.
Yes, it’s true…I started to procrastibake.
It began simply enough; I rationalized that baking when I was laboring to complete a project would give me something sweet to enjoy while I worked. Instead of waiting for a reward to unwind with once I was done, it guaranteed a treat to enjoy while toiling away at my computer late into the night. Baking filled me a sense of accomplishment before I even began the real work; I did something, I made something, I ate something.
And the house smelled good too.
There are countless ways to procrastinate and I’ve tried many. Mindless web surfing, walking the dog, cleaning my office, organizing my closet, actually doing those loads of laundry, rearranging the pantry, checking the status of my ex-boyfriends (as well as my husband’s ex-girlfriends) on Facebook. All are effective outlets to pass the time and postpone the inevitable, although some have more secondary benefits than others. Walking the dog gets both of us some air and exercise. Doing the laundry and organizing my closet ensures that I have clean and accessible clothes for when my work is done and I finally take off my pajama pants and leave the house. Cleaning my office and rearranging the pantry help me find those essential items I misplaced like the consent form for my daughter’s school field trip, notes for that article due tomorrow, and the bag of caramel popcorn I thought I finished a month ago. Web surfing keeps me up to date on politics, weather, and the romantic liaisons of people I don’t know or really care about. Facebook, well, I’m still not sure there’s anything good to come of that.
But baking was different. It seemed more legitimate; I was able to produce something tangible - and edible - my family and I could enjoy. It provided a comforting life vest (albeit one that fit a little more snugly around the middle) when I was finally able to take the plunge and delve into my work.
I started baking out of fear; my older daughter experienced anaphylaxis after eating a chocolate chip cookie from a local bakery. A rogue peanut was deemed the culprit and she was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy and given an Epipen, Benadryl, and a warning not to consume products from any facility where nuts were present. Bakeries were regarded as one of the most dangerous due to the potential of cross contamination. Cookies, cakes, doughnuts, breads; it seemed that anything sweet had nuts or had come into contact with nuts. If she wanted dessert, I was going to have to make it.
I had always enjoyed cooking, but never forayed into baking. I viewed recipes like directions that accompanied my children’s toys; worth a quick review for suggested guidelines, but not deserving of an exhaustive analysis (which may be why I have a drawer full of extra Lego and Playmobil pieces). Recipes gave me ideas, not orders. I could be imprecise, I could be impractical, I could be impatient. I could leave something out, I could add something in, I could wait a few extra minutes or a few less.
However, I quickly learned that baking was different. You really had to follow the recipes. EXACTLY. Measurement had to be precise. Timing had to be meticulous. Substitutions were disastrous. I couldn’t tweak, I couldn’t alter, I couldn’t edit. I had to obey. I had to adhere. I had to surrender.
I bought butter in bulk and got into the habit of leaving a stick or two out on the counter just in case I needed some at room temperature. Bags of every variety of chocolate – unsweetened, semi-sweetened, white, dark, milk - took over a full shelf in the pantry. Residue from sugars of every color and form regularly covered my kitchen counters. I developed an intense admiration for my stand mixer.
I spent weeks exploring and experimenting with chocolate chip cookie recipes – chips versus chunks, brown sugar, then white, then a little of both, thin and crispy edges, then thick and gooey centers. I gained comfort and confidence as I went along; after mastering chocolate chip cookies I moved on to homemade Oreos, then whoopee pies. My husband would arrive home from work, enter the warm messy kitchen, and ask what was in the oven and what was due in the same breath. He didn’t understand why I chose to bake with an impending deadline, but always enjoyed the treat that prededed the project.
I came to find safety and solace in the process of baking. I enjoyed peering through the oven door to see something changing size, shape, color, and form. I reveled in the warmth, the ooze, the gooeyness, the sweetness. I loved the way the aroma seemed to draw my children and their friends from any room in the house, or even from across the street. And I relished watching my daughter eat something extravagant with absolutely no hesitation or fear.
There didn’t seem to be a correlation between what I made and what I had to do; more complex projects did not necessitate more intricate recipes. I baked blueberry muffins with a crumb topping while struggling to complete a curriculum to enhance young children’s social-emotional skills. I made pumpkin spice cake with caramel cream cheese frosting in the midst of finishing a book chapter on school-family partnerships. Beignets preceded a federal grant submission and meringues accompanied the evaluation of an intervention to enhance preschoolers’ language development and literacy. (And I've got buttercream icing all over my fingers as I type this post....)
I found baking to be particularly soothing when the task at hand was especially creative or complex. Being forced to follow specifics set by someone else when what I really needed to do was imagine and invent was oddly liberating. It seemed like justifiable plagiarism while searching for words and ideas of my own. And the temporary focus – in conjunction with the carb and sugar infusion – invigorated me. When I finally sat down at my desk late at night, my clothes speckled with sugar, accompanied by a confection and a glass of cold milk, I found the energy and emphasis that I had been searching for. What was usually saved (and savored) for the end gave me a beginning. I had discovered the perfect recipe for procrastination.
Michelle Albright has two kids, two dogs, a PhD in Psychology, and occasionally a bear in her backyard. She is a Weston resident and currently directs Albright Educational Consulting which provides a range of services for children, families, and schools. Michelle will be speaking about procrastination’s virtues and vices in a workshop on study skills and homework habits presented at the Weston Intermediate School’s PTO meeting on Thursday November 8th at 10 am. Come to listen or visit www.albrighteducationalconsulting.com to learn more.