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 stood in the small kitchen and created delicious entrees out of simple ingredients, trying out recipes from books I’d borrowed from the library or bringing back old favorites along with the nostalgia that only food can evoke. I felt a certain humility, as if a cog in a machine, and that my role was to be the bringer of health – the one who thinks “what’s for dinner?” early on in the day. I was maintaining the sacred, traditional custom of the family dinner, 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/sauté 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 voice on the radio says, “Women’s work contributes to an unacknowledged, un-paid labor force, supporting the nation but somehow not integrated into the Gross National Product.”
“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 stood primping in the mirror and planning for their day ahead, like you would say 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 day and what I needed to prepare, who I was going to see later, but there was no time for that now.
Next I’d whip through the lunch project, assembling today’s entree, 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 wave of shifting hormones. The veil between what I thought and said had always come down during PMS, but now my brassy and intrepid edge was seeping out on a daily basis. Acting like a sacrificial matriarch annoyed me, as my decreasing levels of estrogen revealed a self-protective, guilt-less, woman with a clear voice.
A war had begun in my body, my mind and my apartment.
Maybe I should install a time-clock on my kitchen wall, and punch in every time I am of service.
“Hey, guys, I’m going to put a dollar amount on all of the tasks that I do each day.” I said one day at breakfast.
“Pretty funny baby.” my husband said. “You know we appreciate your cooking, your cleaning, how you show your love for us.” We had been down this road many times before.
I realized that no amount of praise or number of “thank you’s” could make up for the sacrifice of wifehood, motherhood, womanhood. Before this massive shift, watching my child at a soccer game and noticing his new haircut/clean clothes could give me a feeling of satisfaction. Now I was tired of being a bystander.
I saw time passing and with it, my spirit, my ideas, and my energy. All of that cooking represented unrealized creativity, as the food was simply prepared, ingested, and turned to waste.
I equated each meal with a potential:
I wanted to invest my energy in creative projects that had an actual outcome. Like a man. 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 delegating housework.
“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 and forced me to question the division of labor in our home.
“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.
I went to the store and bought 3 small matching hampers. From that day forward, each family member had to wash and dry and sort their own laundry.
Revitalized after letting go of that daily task, I made a list of other domestic paradigms I had unknowingly put myself into the center of, as the “woman” of the house.
Housework was taking away my time to write, think, meditate, be. Fantasizing about driving out of their lives forever on my motorcycle, I also knew that I still wanted to share my life with these male beings. Using my creativity to solve this middle passage challenge, I devoted every spare moment to writing, yoga, solitude and silence. Anger began to slowly dissipate, replaced by a new confidence and knowledge that I deserved to feel joy and a sense of fulfillment.
I began the journey of discovering, accepting and honoring my new self, and wanting to connect with other “older” moms like me. We were and are the new generation of women who are raising teens at a time when our mothers were grandmothers, watching as hormonal tidal waves uproot our homes and searching for a quiet desert island.