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The idea of the mother-as-martyr is one of those especially
pernicious stereotypes—one whose standards are impossible to meet, yet also
impossible to shake off.
On the one hand, mothers often get blamed for falling prey
to maternal martyrdom. (Oh, Mom's playing the martyr again! Oh, look, she's
given up her whole life for her children! Oh, there she goes, complaining about
how much she's sacrificed!)
On the other hand, mothers are also expected to
exhibit the qualities of a martyr. (If she really loved her kids, she wouldn't
be so selfish.) Sometimes we're even celebrated for it. (She's such a good mom!
Just look at all that she's sacrificed for her children!)
If there's one space where martyr-like expectations
run high, it's the kitchen table. More specifically, it's the plate of food
that sits before us on the kitchen table. (Or, let's be honest, it's the plate
of food we're hovering over while we stand at the counter and shovel handfuls
of our "meals" into our face holes.)
But I refuse to be a martyr when it comes to the food
on my plate.
My plate is my domain. It is, in fact, one of my last
personal domains. My children have colonized my body, my home, my time, my
money, my mind, my very heart and soul. My love for them is immense, and I would
gladly give them all of my food if our luck and privilege changed and we were
no longer food-secure. I even gladly share my food with them now—but only when
I don't want it all for myself.
I share out of generosity, but not out of obligation.
It's a question of self-care, a "put your oxygen mask
on first before assisting your children" matter, if you will. I eat for my
health. I eat for enjoyment. I eat for sustenance. I eat to live.
And if Mama's going hungry, ain't nobody happy.
But I didn't always respect this rule when I was a
child. In fact, my sisters and I routinely violated our mother's claim to her
we'd beg, our grubby hands reaching toward her plastic tray of 300-calorie Lean
Cuisine pizza. "Can't we just have one bite?"
And then she'd give each of us a hearty bite of her
meal. That poor woman was subsisting on little more than sawdust and fat-free
cheese and, there we were, making her go hungry. It's a wonder that she didn't
take all of her meals behind a locked door, far beyond the reaches of her food-depriving
I vowed not to let my children do the same to me once
I became a mother. (I made that vow right after apologizing to my own mother,
I refuse to martyr myself—or my appetite—in the name
of my kids' desire to eat that one, last delicious morsel. I've
stuck to that goal, too.
Just a few years ago, for instance, my young son asked
to eat the last crispy fried potato off my plate.
This wasn't just any fried potato. It was a fried
potato that my grandmother had just retrieved from her cast iron skillet. It was
cooked to perfection—greasy with oil, yet still crunchy with a salty paprika
It was one of the best potatoes in the entire batch.
And it was my
I looked at my son and said, "I'd give my life for you,
but I won't ever give up one of my crispy potatoes for you."
Lest one think that I am a greedy, selfish mother (as
if this non-martyr would care), please note that there is at least one other
person on this planet who has a legitimate claim to my favorite potatoes—or to
any of the food off my plate.