I don’t know why I enjoy cooking shows so much— those competitions when it’s a race against the clock to finish a dish fit for the judges to taste. It’s almost stressful to watch, and I’m not one of the contestants who are rushing around the kitchen, trying to get everything done before the time on the clock expires. But even though it’s stressful, there’s something about the drive for completion that keeps me watching until the end. I have seen contestants cut themselves, needing to be bandaged and losing valuable time as they face a medical delay. I have watched as recipes have flopped: the chicken breast is raw in the center, there is no filling in the center of the pastry, the soufflé doesn’t get the beautiful caramelized puffed-up top, the bread putting is soggy in the center, the fondant on the cake is cracked and that same cake is leaning precariously to the side… Trust me; I’ve seen it all: contestants swearing under their breath, sighing dejectedly, and even crying.
You may have been watching along with me recently as sisters Remy and Olivia battled it out on MasterChef Junior. For a number of weeks now, the ten and twelve-year-old sisters have competed side-by-side, cheering each other on as they made their way well into the top ten. With only a few weeks to go until the finale, the junior chefs were placed into two teams to prepare a dinner for a pop-up restaurant. Ten-year-old Olivia was appointed as team captain for one of the teams, and her older sister Remy was a part of her team. At first, Remy took charge, assigning duties and calling out orders until the judges took notice and set things to rights. They reminded Olivia that she was the captain and encouraged her to assume leadership. Improvement came along pretty quickly after that, but it wasn’t without Olivia breaking into tears at one point due to the overwhelming nature of her leadership role and the stress of the rapid pace of competition. But in the end, Olivia came storming back, and her team did well… but just not well enough to escape the dreaded pressure test.
The pressure test was no easy feat: presenting a perfect batch of macaroons, all lined up in a bakery box. The two sisters were competing against one other contestant, and the stakes were high. The judges made it clear; two chefs would be going home after this pressure test and only one of the three competing in the pressure test would continue on the show. To put things simply: either both sisters would be sent home or they would be split up for the first time all season.
Remy, the older sister, did quite well as she prepared her macaroons and piped them out on a tray to put in the oven. But Olivia struggled, piping out her macaroons only to realize she didn’t have enough batter in her piping bag. She began to cry, despairing over her unfinished tray of cookies. From a nearby station, Remy took note of her sister’s distress and began to call out encouragement, instructing her to start again and mix more batter. Time was of the essence though, and with macaroons it is crucial that the cookies rest and dry before the filling is placed inside. Olivia needed to stay on track if she was going to have a successful box of macaroons.
With the help of one of the judges to get back on track and her sister continuing to offer encouragement from across the room, Olivia dried her tears and tried again. Her batter turned out perfectly, and she managed to get her tray in the over with just enough time remaining on the clock. The judges spoke highly of her macaroons, but in the end, it wasn’t quite enough. Remy was the only one left standing at the end of the episode, and she was forced to say goodbye to her resilient sister.
I marveled at Olivia’s tenacity. At the age of ten, she showed remarkable courage and maturity. Yes, she may have had melted down into a puddle of tears, but can you blame her? I’ve been there; haven’t you at one time or another? In fact, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve crumbled under pressure, particularly over the past six months, and tears and panic have been a regular occurrence.
Some of you may be aware that I had surgery to repair my retina just over six months ago. Recovery was difficult simply because my vision was compromised in my one sighted eye. Over the first few weeks I couldn’t see much of anything, and if I dared to fix my attention on anything, the pain was intense enough to make me want to close my eyes in agony. I was at a pretty low point then, wondering if independence would even be possible with the reality of my altered vision. I recall sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, eating a rolled-up pancake one morning, silent tears streaming down my face. My mother had tried so hard that morning to make me and her daycare kids breakfast according to our needs. She rolled up my pancake because it was easier for me to use my hands instead of a knife and fork. I like my pancakes with brown sugar and butter, and because I am allergic to egg whites, my pancakes also have to be egg-free. As my mother hurried around the kitchen that morning, placing pancake batter on the griddle, cutting the toddlers’ pancakes into manageable pieces, drizzling syrup, and rolling my pancakes into neat bundles, she got frazzled; Before I knew what had happened, she placed a rolled-up pancake in front of me, but it was made from the batter that contained egg and bathed in syrup. She realized her mistake and quickly made it right, but it caused me to spiral down into frustration.
I know she tried, but I just wanted to make my own pancake— to slather on the butter and sprinkle on the sugar, to cut it with a knife and fork, and eat it without making a mess. I hoped that day would come soon, but I knew for the moment that I was limited, and the things I once thought were easy were now twice as challenging. I knew I would bounce back; I don’t give up easily. But in the moment, I broke down. I threw a fit just like Olivia on MasterChef, the ugly cry that you hope no one else witnesses. I needed a cheerleader at that moment, someone like Remy to tell me it was going to be okay and to try again. But even though I love my mother and I know she loves me, she was far too busy with her daycare charges to cheer on her thirty-four-year-old baby.
It’s strange when roles suddenly reverse. There is a dear family member who has been struggling with her health lately. This once spunky, independent, and motivated woman has always been my inspiration. She encouraged and supported me in the early days when I first moved out on my own. She lived close by, but always gave me my space to learn, grow, and make mistakes. We spent a lot of time together, and after my surgery, she was among the first to remind me that I had to take my recovery process slowly. I wasn’t going to see improvement overnight, and it was okay to ask for help. I felt reluctant, however, to reach out to an eighty-seven-year-old for help; she wasn’t as energetic or quick on her feet as she used to be, and I worried about fatigue. But she reminded me that I needed someone, and it might as well be her.
But now, six months later, I am watching this ever-helpful and independent woman struggle just to put one foot in front of the other. The mobility is impaired, confusion is quite often present, and pain is a constant. One day, when she was particularly cognizant and talkative, she told me that she just couldn’t understand why she couldn’t do the things that used to occupy her time; reading, coloring, word finds, walking without aid, etc. It hurt too much, she would feel dizzy and nauseated, and just wanted to give up.
It was then I knew that I needed to cheer on the one who had once cheered me on from the sidelines. I said things like: “You can do this. It may take you longer because of your age and the fact that you have been laying down for a long time. It might hurt at first, but you won’t see results unless you keep trying to move. I know the food doesn’t taste good, but if you don’t eat and drink, you’ll only feel weaker. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ll take this step-by-step, and we’ll be here with you.” And by “we,” I meant myself and the other family members that frequently visit her.
One would think it would be discouraging to see a loved one struggle like this, but it was the first time in weeks that I had been able to talk with her to such a degree. It was difficult to hear of her challenges, but it was also refreshing to hear her confess her struggle. It gave me the opportunity to come alongside of her and offer comfort and support. It gave us common ground, because you had better believe I reminded her of my discouragement just six months prior. We talked about persevering and trying just once more… to hold out hope for a better tomorrow. We found a little perspective that morning as we cheered each other toward the next steps on our journey.
For her, it will be rehabilitation and regaining strength. For me, it will be making some difficult choices, making headway on recording the album, striving for better communication at work with my teams, and working on bettering myself in outlook and perspective. It doesn’t mean that every day is going to be easy; it’s a journey after all. “Courage doesn’t roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”