I sifted through the drawer to find them. Everything was crowded and shoved in the small space that seemed to have turned into a catch-all for all things random and unusual. Rubber bands, chip clips, a small book of matches with only one match left, cookie cutters, a pen — and there along the right side toward the back were the measuring spoons.
Old and treasured describes them best in my mind. They are four pieces of goodness held together with a simple, small ring. In fact, they have held me together for years now in more ways than one. Baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cumin, salt, and even cream of tartar have been measured and stirred into my life over and over again. These four spoons have seen the depths and have measured out just the right amounts of almost everything in my life.
I dangled them from my fingertips, watching them sway back and forth as I closed the drawer. Lost, but now found. In the dark for what seemed to be forever, but with the reach of a hand were suddenly shimmering in the best of ways.
I’ve measured a lot of things in my life and a lot of things have measured me.
As a teacher, I have grown to measure success by test scores, by results, and by percentage correct. As a woman, I’ve measured my worth by the number on the scale, and as silly as this even sounds, by the number of likes and comments on a photo I’ve posted or a paragraph I’ve written. Here’s the thing though: Those measurements mean nothing really in defining my worth. Absolutely nothing.
Those test scores didn’t sit at my front table early before school with me and a few precious children who weren’t afraid to ask for help. Those numbers and measurements don’t know how hard I’ve worked to get one single sentence out of student #23 all year long. And that number on the scale hasn’t walked miles with me up and down our gravel road breathing in some of the most amazing views Umatilla County has to offer. Those things we feel pressured by, they tell us nothing except that perhaps we are pushing too hard for what we feel is perfection.
Perfection can’t be held in your hand. It can’t be stirred in to add the right amount of anything to what you’re mixing up in your mind. But recently, I’ve found that perfection can ruin some really good things. It can take all of your hard work and effort — the tears you’ve shed and the plans you’ve made, the hours that were spent doing what you knew was right and good in every sort of way, — and create the biggest mess of a mixture you’ve ever seen because rather than looking at the growth made along the way, you’re searching the horizon for the end.
It creates opportunities for you to take out those measuring spoons and dip into jealousy, bitterness and huge amounts of frustration. And before you know it, you’re mixing together some of the worst traits buried deep inside of you into this concoction called your life. Everything good is suddenly tainted and you find yourself surrounded by a giant bowl of something you’re not sure how to get yourself out of.
One of the most profound things I’ve learned while teaching fourth grade is how hard it is to teach when testing and scores define you whether you want them to or not, and how challenging it can be to work with people you’ve known for years, as well as people you’ve just met, when there is so much pressure to not only do things well but do it without ceasing.
Teachers compare and measure each other in the best and the worst of ways. They are each other’s biggest and best cheerleaders, but they’re also the hardest on each other too — and often unintentionally. I don’t know how to fix that. I don’t know how to stop measuring something that isn’t supposed to be measured in the first place. But I do know that I’m done using measuring spoons or sticks on the people I live and breathe this hard and ever-changing profession with.
I’m going to spend the remaining months of this school year measuring salt and vanilla, and maybe even some chili powder once in a while. And I’m going to let the people in my world grow and bloom in their own unique and amazing ways without comparing them, or myself, to anyone or anything. Perfection is overrated. And measuring up to anything — especially the standards of others — isn’t worth losing your joy over.
Teaspoon and tablespoon are two completely different words, and when you’re first learning to measure, they can easily be confused when you’re reading a recipe with abbreviations. My theory is that a little goes a long way. Let’s spend our time pouring tablespoons of kindness, mercy and grace all around. That’s the stuff that’s worth measuring.
Lindsay Murdock lives in Echo and teaches in Hermiston.