I am what you would call a “feminist light” or “diet feminist”, or at least that is how I categorize myself. I can shamefully recall that I was such a smug preteen and teenager who would tell my mother, on many occasions, that I did not need to learn how to cook. I told her I would not be spending my days cooking for my family because someone else would, probably a personal chef. Oh how naïve I proved to be. I saw cooking as a sexist task at the time and not as what it ultimately can represent to a family. I would willingly eat and enjoy my mother’s food; shrimp creole, greens, pork chops, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, chicken and dumplings…. These were all things she made that were delicious and representative of my childhood. I stopped allowing myself to see what my mom was doing in its entirety. I see more clearly now at the age of 47.
Fast forward to my thirty’s when I became a mother. I had still not embraced cooking as more than a necessity for nourishment. I even recall making my husband a pork-chop sandwich with cheese for his lunch-using whatever was available to get the job done. He was not impressed, but he also started making his own lunches 😊. In full disclosure I should admit that he generally put a lot more thought and care into his meal creations then myself due to his passion for cooking and food……but I digress. My eyes began to open with the initial struggles of breast-feeding, the improper way that a mother or parent is initially subjected to being deemed successful or unsuccessful as a provider to your child. The importance of feeding is wrapped tightly in societal judgement and the difficulties of navigating how to fulfill this task without guilt, exhaustion or stress. I struggled with production of milk and had difficulty not comparing myself to my fellow mothers who were able to provide milk easily. I remember my husband telling me one night, as I pumped for about an hour and produced only half a bottle of milk. “Is this really worth it? Isn’t your sleep more important?” I could not see that logic in the moment. I couldn’t see his attempt to stabilize this familial situation in efforts to care for me and his child. As a result, I started associating stress, sleep-deprivation, guilt and inadequacy with feeding my child. And sometimes anger, especially if even 2 ounces was accidently kicked over or left out by someone who will remain nameless. Sometimes that nameless person was me, but not often 😊. It took time for me to understand that I received just as much pleasure, if not more, from feeding my baby a bottle, even if it was not milk that I produced, and my child only needed to feel nurtured and loved. It was the interaction, and the resultant shared feelings from the encounter that was important.
As the situations evolved my eyes would open more. I quickly realized that I helped to create picky eaters, people who refused to eat the things my husband and I enjoyed. Why wouldn’t this picky one year old eat this freshly blended organic green beans and avocado? Meals with my second son were continuously met with crying throughout the entire meal. I mean uninterrupted crying, the loud wailing crying, that we all tried to sit and talk and eat through. That crying made it impossible for me to not feel guilty and stressed. I remember vividly one day, while I was in the midst of a normal dinner cryfest including continuous crying and spoon swatting, all of a sudden, the crying stopped! I turned to see my baby holding a full chicken leg and smiling! His older brother had given it to him. He was happy and I swear I feel like the crying stopped. I just had to be creative with what I gave him because a happy, choking baby would not be a good look. But seriously, he just wanted what we were eating. His happiness was evident, and my pleasure was as well.
Food is love and there is nothing better than your child waiting eagerly to eat the food you created and to express so much satisfaction and love from your creation. I did not view food preparation as an art and often thought that all the precision and time allotted to cooking by their dad was a waste. However, I did notice his pleasure in making his children happy with assisting in the process and enjoying the outcome. It is so easy to categorize meal preparation as another chore that we must complete with the 10,000 others each day. And in all honesty, I will admit that I am guilty of having those feelings on many occasions. I become a grumbling robot going through the motions required of creating the meal of food for 3 different palates and opinions….’don’t let my food touch’, ‘I don’t like tomatoes’, ‘I only like my bread toasted’, ‘I hate fruit’, ‘I love fruit’. I could go on and on and on. Then, I get that unexpected reaction from a child who returns in minutes asking for seconds! I will wholeheartedly admit that I get so much pleasure from seeing a completely empty plate.
I often reflect on my childhood and realize how comforting it is to smell and eat my mother’s food. The comfort begins once I walk into my parent’s home. It starts with the smells and emotional connection and then always circles around to lots of discussion surrounding our meals and food. That is where the bond is sealed. “What are we having for dinner? What do the grandkids want? I like to be around my mom now when she is cooking, just like I did when I was younger. I remember standing and waiting for her to finish when I just could not stand it anymore, like my boys do now. I love to wake up to the smell of her food. It is the memory of my childhood experiences that creates a feeling of safety, satisfaction and love. I am hoping to create that same legacy with my children. I will not claim that I always smile and sing while making yet another lasagna, Taco Tuesday (messiest meal ever), spaghetti or turkey chili (a true favorite). However, my love tank is full when I hear their delight. The delight of my entire family with a successful meal.