The Power of Words

This blog is dedicated to my wonderful son, who, at fifteen, has already suffered wounds inflicted by sharp-tongued and petty-minded faux amis.  I hope my words and love encourage you to develop armor that allows you to ignore the thoughtless minions.  For you, my son, are a prince.

Whatever you say to me, comes out of you and has very little to do with me.      Virginia Satir

I've been wanting to write a blog about the impact words can have on a person for months now but couldn't find the right...well...words to convey my thoughts. 

Until this morning.

I was making pâte à choux for tonight's meal (It has become a tradition in our family to eat fondue for dinner and eclairs for dessert on New Year's Eve).  I was incorporating the eggs into the flour/butter/water/sugar mixture when an unpleasant memory crept into kitchen and attempted to foul the otherwise savory moment. 

It was June, 1996 - the summer after Kevin and I had eloped- and we were in South Weymouth, Massachusetts (his hometown).  Since we had met in a foreign country and courted in a state on the opposite side of the country, it was the first time I had visited his home and met his siblings.  I was in my early twenties and suffering from a sad lack of confidence.  Having come from a broken home, I was completely intimidated by his seemingly Leave It To Beaver family.  I was in awe of the easy way they all seemed to get along, their boisterous and intimate conversations, and the conventional composition of their family.

I feared I - the round peg - would not fit in their square environment. 

As history would prove, it was not an irrational fear (but that's a topic for another blog posting).
It was during one of the boisterous family discussions that I felt the full painful impact of another's unkind words.

Somehow the flow of conversation drifted to the topic of baking.  I volunteered that I enjoyed baking, especially French pastries.

A male in-law who had attended a culinary institute narrowed his eyes and asked, "Which pastries do you bake?"  (I might have imagined he emphasis, but I think not)

I said I liked to make pain au chocolat, beignets, and eclairs.
"Eclairs?  You make eclairs?"

I nodded.

"I assume you use a cookbook."  (It was a statement, not really a question)

I explained I actually used a family recipe. 

Putting me on the spot, he asked me to recall the recipe step-by-step.

Intimidated but eager to impress, I tried to recall my grandmother's recipe.  I faltered.  I floundered.  I flubbed.  Rather than be gracious or sympathetic, this man humiliated me.  He ridiculed me.

With an eclair recipe tested and honed by my French-born Grandmother, I had the serious street cred to eviscerate my officious and pretentious culinary-inclined foe amis.  But there was one thing missing from my arsenal to allow me to come out of the verbal skirmish unscathed: the armor of confidence. 

All of those clever quips that my fertile mind has since given birth to, failed to materialize on my tongue.  I reddened and remained silent.  The conversation flowed on, leaving me sputtering with shame and struggling to keep my head above water.

Occasionally, I would remember the insult and consider concocting a sweet recipe for revenge.  This morning, as I made the pâte à choux for the family I adore, I realized I have served my dish of revenge.  By exorcising the demon that has plagued me every time I have made eclairs for the last twenty years, I am vanquishing my enemy.  By not letting his snarky words stop me from making and sharing a recipe I love, I have had my revenge. 

From now on, when I make my grandmother's eclairs, I will not conjure up the ghost of that haunting memory but will recall the dozens of happier memories connected with the pastry.  Memories of the way my friends Lori Bacon, Kathy Galloway and Stephanie Gaveau Mounts (yes, she's French born) squealed when I would present them with a plate of my eclairs.  Memories of teaching my daughter to make the vanilla bean flecked pastry cream.  Memories of my son's beaming smile as he licked the chocolate glaze from his fingers.  And memories of all of the fabulous eclairs of have eaten at patisseries around the world (including Stohrer, a shop that once made eclairs for Marie Antoinette).

And I will remind myself that my arrogant, unkind in-law used his words to make me feel small and humiliated instead of welcomed and cherished.  As a result, he's missed out on me (and my eclairs). 

Clearly, I won that match.

It was as I was piping the cream into the baked pastries that I realized there was a bigger lesson to be learned here.  For nearly twenty years, I carried around the pain caused by my thoughtless in-law's words.  What a ridiculously unnecessary burden!  It was the same as if I had gone on a trip, exited the plane, walked to the baggage carousel, and instead of claiming my bags, attempting to take possession of my bags and a stranger's bags! 

We can't control what offal spews from the mouths of others, but we can control how much (if any) of it we scoop up and cart around. 

From now on, when some thoughtless minion attempts to poke me with his barbed words, I will remember I am wearing an armor forged of hard-earned, well-honed confidence.  Confidence as tough as Tugsten.  Confidence that is impervious to such trifling jabs.

I will remember that I do not need to carry their baggage.  After all, my bags may be an entire suite of fabulous pink leather Louis Vuitton, but they are the only ones I am required to carry.  I am leaving those other battered trunks on the carousel!

We must not allow other people's limited perceptions to define us.

Virginia Satir


Anonymous said...

Awesome lesson learned Leah. I am glad you still enjoy baking for your family, it's the love you put into it that matters anyway! Love, Colleen P.S. What became of that insensitive Inlaw anyway?

Anonymous said...

Leah, your eclairs are out of this world. I wish that I had taken the time to learn to bake from you. What fabulous things you could teach. Hopefully your next assignment will be here and you can teach us all of your wonderful techniques and skills.

Wine and Cork said...

Well, all I can say is this: your eclairs are FANTASTIC, indeed, and I wish we still lived just feet apart like we did in Korea, I miss that (and that is the only thing I miss about living in Korea, having you so close to me), AND I am, in a way, glad that event with your "male-in-law" happened, because it is such events that have helped you become the incredibly strong person you have become today. I didn't know the Leah you were before we met, but I sure love the Leah I know today! I would loooove for you to teach me, a FRENCH person, how to make your delicious eclairs ~unless you want to keep your grand-mere's recipe a secret ;)

Dear Fireflies said...

Leah, this is a perfect read for my new year's so-called "pause and reflect". I think I've seen this kind of situation too many times in my life that sometimes I wonder why people bother talking at all? One of the wisest things I've heard is "when you can't say nothing nice, don't say nothing at all"...and that came from Thumper in Bambi, off all things! I mean, if a long eared fluffy bunny can be wise, then that says a lot about humans...sad, but true.

So good for you for writing this! Another lesson learned. oxx

Dear Fireflies said...

PS: I'm insanely crazy about chocolate eclairs!!!! Heaven!

Unknown said...

Reading this post made me sad. It was well written, like your other posts, but about something so sad. How could anyone speak to you unkindly?