As if thinking of a stranger, I remember the days of lovingly peeling potatoes, listening to world music and preparing dinner for my family of 3. Day after day, I created delicious entrees out of simple ingredients. I loved borrowing cookbooks from the library, trying out recipes or bringing back old favorites along with the nostalgia that only food can evoke. I felt a certain humility, as if my role was to be the bringer of health – the one who thinks “what’s for dinner?” early on in the day. Maintaining the sacred, traditional custom of the family dinner, I felt confident that this act would keep our 13 year old off of drugs and out of some girl’s pants.
I prepared breakfast and lunch with the same reverence, standing on a support pad that chefs use, buying myself new dish towels and other sparky tools to keep my kitchen fresh and exciting. I would listen to NPR each morning, and my (unpaid) daily shift from 6-7am went something like this:
boil up water for rice and coffee/ make coffee to keep myself going while I do the other tasks/wash the dishes from the night before/wipe off the counters,so I can make room for breakfast/feel grateful that I’m doing this in a developed country, with electricity and running water/stare at the fridge/figure out what I can make them for lunch that will be
“Mom, I need you to sign this paper that was due 3 days ago, and pay for something” my son would say, handing me a totally wrinkled field trip permission slip, a yearbook order form or some other paperwork that would demand mental focus and the writing of a check.
“Just leave it on the counter, I’ll get to it later. Out of the kitchen.” I’d grunt, in the nicest voice I could muster.
Scramble the eggs for breakfast/put toast in the toaster/check the rice/saute up some veg/sip the coffee/think about the world/prep the breakfast plates/throw out the half-eaten lunches from yesterday. (Wasted food and energy – try not to think about it, it’s already 6:45… and they have to leave soon.)
A quote I’d heard on NPR, “Women’s work contributes to an unacknowledged, un-paid labor force, supporting the nation but somehow not integrated into the Gross National Product.” lodged itself in my mind.
“Breakfast is ready” I’d pronounce, placing the steaming plates on our 50’s style metal table with the mis-matched chairs.
“Thanks” one of them would mutter, as they walked past me with thoughts of their day ahead, in that absent-minded way one would acknowledge to a waitress or a teen at the drive-through, who I now had a new appreciation for.
Passing a mirror, I would see my frizzy hair sticking out, the mascara from yesterday smudged below my eyes, and my paisley mumu hanging off of me in what used to be a funky way. Now I just looked dowdy. I’d think about my schedule and what I needed to prepare for that day’s clients, but there was no time for that now.
Next I’d whip through preparing their lunches, all the while trying to remember to sip my (now cold) coffee and prepare my 10 daily supplements. I did this same routine every day for years.
Then I turned 49 and
I began to ride the emotional and physical waves of shifting hormones. As if in a constant state of PMS, the filter which edited my thoughts and words felt like a thing of the past. Blown about by these peri-menopausal winds of change, my brassy and intrepid alter-ego made regular appearances. Acting like a sacrificial matriarch annoyed me. My new self was protective of her energy, free of guilt and communicating with intense clarity.
A war had begun in my body, my mind and my apartment.
I fantasized about installing a time-clock on my kitchen wall, and punching in every time I was of service.
“Hey, guys, what if I started charging you for all of the tasks that I do each day?” I quipped one day at breakfast.
“Pretty funny baby.” my husband said. “You know we appreciate your cooking, your cleaning, and all the ways you show your love for us.”
We had been down this road many times before and his praise usually kept my restless spirit at bay for a while. Only now I realized that thousands of “thank you’s” could not make up for my daily sacrifices. Before my massive shift, watching my child at a soccer game or noticing his clean outfits from afar could give me a feeling of satisfaction. Now I was tired of being a bystander.
The passage of time had become very top of mind. The drive to express my ideas and cultivate my vision became louder and louder. It wasn’t about the cooking. The act of crafting meals that my family quickly consumed in front of the TV symbolized an endless waste of time that was preventing me from unearthing my gifts.
I equated each meal with a potential:
thought provoking article
transformative book on experiments in living
I had this sudden drive to invest my energy into experiences and projects that had an actual outcome. Thinking like men had thought for centuries, I craved a sense of success and acknowledgment from the outside world. My inner child was tugging at my shirt tails, begging for attention and a voice.
My un-edited anger seeped into other parts of our lives too. I began questioning the division of labor in our living space.
“Mom, where is my black Nike t-shirt?” my teen son demanded one busy morning at 6am, “I asked you to wash it last night!”
The indignant tone in his voice surprised me.
“Why is it MY responsibility to wash, dry and keep track of your clothes?” I said, thinking this was yet another watershed moment in our mother-son journey.
Empowered to flip the script, I went and bought 3 small matching hampers. From that day forward, each family member had to wash and dry their own laundry.
Revitalized after delegating the laundry responsibilities, I began dividing up other domestic chores I had unconsciously taken care of, as the woman of the house.
Realizing that the endless nature of housework had been consuming my spirit, I craved space to reflect on, quantify and clarify my own thoughts. To put it simply, I wanted to write. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to give my thoughts free reign and see where they would take me.
By giving myself permission to redefine my role as a wife and mother, I stepped into my power, unearthing unlimited reserves of energy and possibility. Allocating time and attention on my process has enabled me to cultivate my emerging self while reinventing what it means to love others.