It's not like I didn't watch my mom (hundreds of times?) making pie dough, literally like a machine, cutting and rolling and crimping edges, squeezing three crusts out of two crust's worth of dough like it was no big deal.
It's not like I haven't made pies myself over the last few years, first for friends at college, then for myself and my new husband, and finally, venturing to bring it to potlucks and get-togethers.
It's not like I haven't read a lot about pies, checked out books from the library, researched, tried new recipes and techniques.
It's not even like I haven't gotten a little better at it over the years.
But last week, after spending WAY too much time and sweat over the crust for our second Thanksgiving's cherry pie, I declared that enough was enough. I decided that I need to actually learn how to make the things almost effortlessly, or quit trying at all. The fact is that, after all this time, making pies (and the crusts in particular) still stresses me out. I cannot make them in the automatic, clock-work way that my mom does, and the results are no where near as predictably perfect. I have been known to declare, after worrying over the patched together state of a pair of apple pies that were on their way to a public function that I was "never going to volunteer to bring pie anywhere, ever again!" It almost doesn't matter that the end results are often edible. Good, even. It just takes too much work and mental anguish to get there. And the thing is, it's pie crust. It's not like I'm making souffles or brioche or something that's actually hard. I feel like I should be capable of doing this.
And thus, Pie Friday was born: one woman's quest to acquire the habit of pie-making. Because actually, what I've realized is, it's the habit I'm after. What I want is the process of pie-making to become as mindless and thoughtless as the process of setting a table or slicing an onion. I want a procedure that clicks along, not effortlessly, but with an efficiency of effort that makes it seem effortless. I feel like I keep running against this idea of the importance of the healthy habit in the things that I'm reading these days. Charlotte Mason, 19th century teacher and godmother of an entire homeschooling movement, says that education is as much about the formation of habits as about anything else: "The formation of habits is education, and education is the formation of habits." She also stresses that it is the parent's job to "lay down the rails" that the child will then follow and gives exhaustive instructions on how to make sure that the habits a child forms are healthy, helpful ones, rather than destructive ones and that the formation of such habits is actually an exercise in freedom giving, rather than restricting: "For a habit is a delight in itself; poor human nature is conscious of the ease that it is to repeat the doing of anything without effort; and therefore, the formation of habit, the gradually lessening sense of effort in a given act, is pleasurable."
There's a reason that we talk about the "force of habit" -- these little tics and quirks of personality can become so strong in our lives that they take over before we even realize it. A habit not only changes our behavior, but our very brains, the very make-up of our cells and nerves and pathways. This is why we are having such a hard time convincing our youngest to stop sucking his thumb, our daughter to stop being "so loud all the time!" and our oldest to stop crying whenever the math flash cards make an appearance. As a colleague of ours used to say: "practice doesn't make perfect; practice makes permanent." The trick is making sure that what is permanent is worth holding on to.
Jamie Smith, in his new book Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (to which, I have to admit, I've only read the introduction so far, but I'm already convinced that it is going to be brilliant), talks about the value of unconscious action focused in the right direction and argues that "Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices"
The goal is not to be mindless drones, but rather people of healthy habits, formed first out of conscious intent, but so internalized that they become second nature, a second nature that could be explained or analyzed, if need be, but more importantly a second nature that goes beyond mere intellectual assent or logical agreement. The end result isn't meant to be armies of robots who can simply produce perfect pie crust (or obedience or whatever) but rather a body of people for whom "doing the right thing" seems as natural as brushing their teeth or washing the dishes. It's part of my job as a parent to make sure that the habits my kids pick up are ones that will stand them in good stead for the long term. So we're going to be eating a lot of pie over the next few weeks.