“You kids should know, your mom did not learn to cook from me!” said my mother, sitting at my kitchen table.
My parents were visiting from out of town, and while they often enjoy treating us to restaurants while they are here, the pandemic situation had us all trying to stay home as much as possible. I had made several of our typical weeknight dinners for them, but on one of their last nights I made something extra special, complete with multiple courses and even my dad’s famous cheesecake. I wanted to do it up right, and according to my mom, she could taste the love that went into it.
“I know,” my son replied to mom’s comment, “Mom learned to cook from Pinterest!”
We all laughed. This is true, I did learn most of what I know in the kitchen from the internet. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy cooking, but I very much enjoy eating, so I have developed an eye for good recipes to keep things interesting. Of course, none of this is to say my mom cannot cook — she has been feeding my dad, brothers and me for more than 40 years — she just didn’t make a point to teach me.
Still, I think I learned a lot of more important lessons from this particular omission:
- A woman’s worth is not determined by her skill or lack thereof in the kitchen. Some women love to cook and have more talent or knowledge than others, and that’s cool. But what matters is who you are, not what you can do. When I was growing up, my parents generally fell into many traditional gender roles: my dad works while my mom stayed home; my dad fixed things and my mom decorated the house; my dad did yard work while my mom did laundry. But they made sure to teach my brothers and me that those roles are not determined by sex. It just so happens that my dad loves his job, enjoys taking things apart and putting them back together, and working with his hands. My mom enjoys being available for us kids and taking care of the home. Those distinctions relate to their individual personalities, not gender requirements. Women do not earn their value according to their adherence to antiquated gender roles, but rather by being good humans like everyone else.
- A good meal is less about the food and more about who you eat it with. Anyone who has ever met my mom knows hospitality is one of her strongest gifts. She was and is always welcoming people to her home, family, friends, and strangers alike! She looks for people who are lonely or disconnected and gives them a safe place to belong. She doesn’t try to impress anyone: many of our “fancy” meals for company consisted of spaghetti and bagged salad served on paper plates. But no one would ever leave with an empty belly or empty heart, because in her home, any meal with people you love can feel like the best meal of your life.
- Cooking guru Ina Garten earned meme status with her ubiquitous phrase, “store bought is fine,” but I must confess I learned this lesson from my mother. Truth be told, she buys cookie dough in a tube, all her sauces come in a jar, and her “famous brownies” are actually a box mix. I will never forget the first time I made cookies from scratch and posted about it on Facebook, and a (hopefully joking?) friend commented, “You’ve seriously NEVER made cookies from scratch?! What kind of childhood did you have?” At first I was offended, but the truth is my childhood was pretty freaking fantastic. My mom taught me that there’s nothing wrong with using the resources available to you, and accepting help — whether in the kitchen or at school or in relationships or in therapy or anywhere else — does not make you inferior to others. Pre-made food is still food, canned soup is still comforting, and honestly, no one can tell that my mom’s brownies come from a box. Having my children via c-section is still childbirth; the serotonin I make with the help of medicine still gets me through the day; and the sheet cake I buy at Wal-Mart celebrates my kid’s birthday as well as homemade. You don’t have to tough it out or make things harder on yourself in order to be worthy.
So maybe I never learned to cook from my mom, but by leaving this particular life skill out of the canon of wisdom she did impart, she actually taught me that there are other things a lot more important, like knowing my worth, loving my neighbor, and focusing on the things that matter. I think in the long run I came out on top.