Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm Turning Into My Mother

You know how everyone has that moment when they realize that, try as they might, they are turning into their mother? That moment when they find themselves doing the exact things they always criticized their mother for doing?
I had my "oh my God I'm turning into my mother" moment on Monday.
Sam, Lorin and I got home from Hawaii on Monday morning. Judy is staying until Friday. So we got home and I took a quick shower and went to lunch with my friends. When I get home, Lorin said, "well, what are we going to do for dinner?" The fridge was empty, the only dinner-food in the pantry was instant mashed potatoes, and the freezer was a dud. I realized that if I didn't get dinners, we would be eating grilled cheese and tomato soup for four nights. (Lorin made grilled cheese and tomato soup every Tuesday night, when Judy was at work, for over a decade). So I said I would go grocery shopping and get dinner for the four days we're on our own.
I went to not one, but two grocery stores in my search of four dinners. It took me almost two hours round trip. To get food for four dinners. And all of a sudden, the years of my mother saying "well, if you gave me ideas I'd cook different things, but I just can't think of anything else to cook" made sense.
Further, I went without a plan. I figured I'd just see things and it would be easy. Wrong again. It made sense why my mom always had her grocery list on an index card. Sure, it's partially so she won't forget, but I think the real reason is it's way easier to get in and out of the store if you actually know what you're looking for.
But the biggest reason it took me so long to shop was that I wanted dinners that took less than five minutes to make. If you've ever met me, you know that one of my favorite creeds is "I don't cook". And, as it turns out, not cooking is hard. Ready-to-make dinners that also taste good and are vegetarian-friendly are hard to make.
So here's what I came out with:
Monday: garlic and basil gnocchi, four cheese tortellini
Tuesday: parmesan chicken for the boys, salmon for me, Mediterranean-seasoned couscous
Wednesday: waffles, bacon, fruit
Thursday: vegetarian lasagna, frog-eye salad
I had all my ready-made meals in the basket when it suddenly hit me how empty a table would look with only pasta on it, how unbalanced it would be, so I bought a cucumber, sugar snap peas, green peppers and spinach: a salad. My mom makes a salad every night. It rarely gets eaten. But, in that moment, the salad suddenly made sense. Without the salad, it feels like you're providing an unbalanced meal.
I came home after my errands to find Sam and Lorin both taking a nap. No big deal. I took the red eye too, guys.
So I collapsed on the couch until about six when I realized if I didn't cook dinner, there would be no dinner. So while they watched the Rose Bowl, I cooked the pasta, tossed the salad, and set the table. I called them in when it was on the table. And we ate dinner. Then Sam ran off and Lorin and I did the dishes.
I realize cooking really isn't that big a deal and that I sound like I'm whining for doing a chore that tons of women do every day. It was just really strange to realize that I had, without missing a beat, picked up my mother's role in the home. I'm starting to understand why women become housewives. Maybe it's not so much a choice to be a housewife as seeing a need and finding value in filling it. Women are, after all, nurturers.

It all reminds me of this essay I read this summer by E.S. Maduro "Excuse Me While I Explode: My Mother, Myself, My Anger". Maduro talks about being a teenager and watching her mother work and run the household, seeming to have no time at all for herself, while her father had a career and plenty of time for hobbies. She talks about being angry at her father for not helping and angry at her mother for going along with it. She says that her mother "would always say that she was fine, that someday I would understand. But I wasn't at all sure I would, or that she was. What's more, I believed myself to be a feminist, and vowed never to fall into the same trap of domestic boredom and servitude that I saw my mother as being fully entrenched in." She goes on to talk about Paul, her open-minded boyfriend who would never turn her into a house slave. Then she tells a story.
"Paul and I agreed to house-sit and baby-sit for neighbors of ours with four children. Almost immediately, I found myself taking over everything, rather than showing Paul how to do it. Though he asked me several times to show him how to run the fancy washing machine, I never did teach him. instead, I did all the laundry myself, making the trip down the basement steps three or four times a day, furious that he was watching a movie with the kids while I was doing chores.... When Paul asked  me what was the best way to clean a cast-iron skillet, I responded harshly just to leave it and I would take care of it myself. The weekend was a seemingly endless stream of moments when I angrily "did it myself" instead of showing him how. Every dish he didn't notice I had picked up for him, every morsel of food he ate that I had cooked, every stair I descended that led to the clothes dryer, was another tick in my mental log of things to resent him for... I returned home from the weekend exhausted... but as my anger waned, I realized I was feeling something else, too: a sense of power and pride in knowing that I had been the supermom for the weekend. I was the one who had kept everything under control....  In trying to find a man as different as possible from my own father, in trying to avoid the life of an overworked housewife that I see my mother has having occupied for more than thirty years now, in choosing a boyfriend partly for his willingness and readiness to share the "woman's work", I am freely walking closer and closer to everything I had wanted to escape, enraged every step I take."

See, we all turn into our mothers in the end.

I taught Sam to cook the lasagna yesterday. Sure, it was only putting it in the oven and setting the timer for 50 minutes, but I still call that progress.

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