There are plenty of things I am not any good at. Volleyball. Singing. Financial planning. One thing I am excellent at, though, is finding silly things to worry about.
And so it was that I woke up at about 3 a.m. the other night to feed the baby and suddenly I got all worried that I wasn’t creating enough food memories for my daughters.
People have all of these cherished notions, it seemed to me, of Mom’s Beef Stew or Granny’s Pot Pie – and I hardly cook anything anymore, so what will my girls remember? Mom’s Famous Pizza Lunchable? Mom’s Campbell’s Soup? Mom’s Five Happiness Delivery? The home-cooked meals they remember will all be cooked by my husband, as he is the one who makes 95 percent of our food. I know it sounds crazy to complain that my husband cooks too much – I know this because every time I complain to other women, they all immediately offer to trade places with me. But I used to love cooking, and now I hardly ever do it.
When my husband and I first started dating, I was too nervous to cook for him. “You’re a food writer,” I said. “You find things to criticize at John Besh restaurants. There is no way I am making dinner for you. I am too out of practice.”
There was a time, once, pre-kids and pre-job, when I actually was a really talented and enthusiastic cook. I made things that took days to prep and used every pot, pan and utensil in the kitchen. I gave multi-course dinner parties, owned a kitchen torch to make crème brulee and baked a loaf of fresh bread almost every day.
And then I got a 9-to-5 job, and then I had a kid, and my standards dropped along with my energy level. I went from scouring the Internet for recipes that called for homemade hazelnut pesto to dumping a jar of store-bought salsa over some raw chicken breasts and shoving the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes while I frantically picked up toys and washed bottles. I started relying on make-ahead casseroles and rejecting out-of-hand anything that wasn’t a one-pot meal. Every so often, I would miss my old self, but then I would usually just fall asleep.
By the time Ruby was 3, I had pretty much forgotten that non-convenience food existed. I was a sad, tired single working mom living in a third-floor apartment with a tiny kitchen, and we lived on fruit, English muffins, milk, cold sandwiches, Kid Cuisines and whatever impulse buys Ruby managed to talk me into at the store. Because I lived on the third floor, I never bought more than a few bags of groceries at a time, and although I had my own car and didn’t live in a “food desert,” I still found the entire process of shopping, unloading and preparing food just utterly overwhelming. The fact that I had once been the kind of person with homemade chicken stock in the freezer and an herb garden right outside my back door just served to further depress me. (Oh, ice cream! Mentioning depression made me remember that in addition to aforementioned foods, we always had ice cream on hand. We still do, actually.)
I did finally give in and make dinner for Robert in my tiny kitchen, something I had made so many times I could do it without thinking: baked chicken in a lemon-and-rosemary sauce with egg noodles. I overcooked the chicken, as I always do because of a compulsive and slightly irrational fear of salmonella, but otherwise, it was pretty good, especially after we had split a bottle of wine.
When we moved in together, we had a plan to split the cooking, but then I went and got pregnant, and morning sickness knocked me on my ass to the point that I couldn’t even look at food without puking, let alone cook it. By the time I felt better, it was just established as household law that Robert did the cooking and the dishes, and I did the laundry.
It’s fine. It works for us. Yes, every so often I will make a meatloaf or a pot of gumbo, and every so often he will do a load of shirts, but in general, he handles the kitchen, and I handle the laundry, and that works out just fine.
And yet here I was, up at 3 a.m., worrying that Ruby and Georgia would go off to college and tell their friends that their mother didn’t cook; that they would try to re-create Robert’s spaghetti and meatballs, not mine. Gender roles are so insidious – I generally feel very much like a strong, modern, feminist woman, but even though I want my daughters to be proud that I work hard at my profession, I also can’t stand the notion that I am falling down on the “traditional mom” part of the job. It’s even harder because cooking used to be such a crucial part of my identity, and now it just isn’t that important to me. I’d rather be playing with my kids.
Around 3:45, I finally decided to cut myself some slack. The kids are happy, healthy and well-nourished, no matter who is cooking the dinner (and Georgia is still nursing, so I am still cooking HER dinner, in effect). I hope that when they go off to college, they will have better things to brag about than my potato salad or my beef stroganoff. I hope they remember eating dinner together and not who cooked it. I hope that they call me for comfort and advice, not recipes. And I hope they always remember the value of keeping the freezer stocked with ice cream.