Our house smells like garlic butter and browning onions. The kids are hovering around the island, asking for the fifth time, “When is dinner?” Who can blame them? It smells like sauce from the Old Country, and we’ve all had a long day.
“Give Daddy some room so he can pull the carrots out of the oven,” I say, shooing the kids away. I try to distract them by offering to read a book or play a game. They are loathe to leave the kitchen, but I pull them away because that’s my job. Not the cooking and preparing meals for my family, but distracting the children so my husband can work his culinary magic.
“How come you never cook, Mama?” my five-year-old son asks. An old shame creeps to my cheeks, bearing the message that I should be the cook. The message is that surely by now, at the ripe age of 40+, I have a battery of recipes that my family loves. I should understand spices and know what to do with chicken. I should definitely have a minimum of five solid dishes to get us through the week nights.
The problem is that I have none of those things, and don’t know my cumin from my cardamom. Beyond boiling water for pasta and frying an egg, I don’t have any good instincts in the kitchen. I keep waiting for them to show up, and in the meantime, I burn the bread, screw up the brownies out of a box, and put too much kale in the smoothies.
It would be funny if I was a character on a sitcom or a reality TV star, but as a Midwestern working mom who's trying to do right by her family, it feels wrong to be so inept at something so fundamental to mothering.
After I left home for college, I took pride in my lack of cooking skills. I thought it made me a feminist to own one pot and know zero recipes. When my kids came along, I thought it would one day just happen, like POOF! I’d be someone who could throw together a meal with nothing more than a lemon, a few ounces of steak, and rice.
For the most part, it doesn’t matter that I suck at cooking, unless my husband goes out of town. Then, my kids are stuck having cereal and boiled eggs for dinner. If they behave and give me a few minutes, I can also steam broccoli and slice apples. We don’t go hungry or grow malnourished, but we don’t eat delicious meals by any stretch of the imagination.
I can French braid my daughter’s hair, but my French toast comes out like a sad, wet piece of American bread.
I marvel when moms describe the meals they cook for their families. It’s inspiring to hear someone cooking chicken cacciatore or dal with jasmine rice for her family. Sometimes I ask for the recipe, but who am I kidding?
My husband says I’m too hard on myself. I remind him that the carrots I grilled on Sunday night were inedible. How long will you beat yourself up about this, he wants to know. Because I’m dramatic, I tell him forever and ever until I die. Because mothers are supposed to be able to cook and have dishes that one day the children will request when they visit home during college.
But then I have to ask myself. How many more years am I going to try to transform myself into a passable cook? And how many more will I spend beating myself up for not being one?
There’s so much I can do well. I’m awesome at driving carpool and finding a requested "Moana" song without taking my eyes off the road. I can make my kids laugh in the morning while they are brushing their teeth, and I’m a whiz at ordering library books that they love. I can provide dental and health insurance for them, and I can create an Evite so their friends will come to their birthday party. I can French braid my daughter’s hair, but my French toast comes out like a sad, wet piece of American bread.
And you know what? They love me anyways.