One day when I was in college I entered the kitchen to find my grandmother looking at an uncooked turkey on the counter. She looked at me and asked, with that most beautiful twinkle in her eye, “Marisa, if you were to come home to this turkey, what would you do?”
Without a trace of irony I replied, “I’d put it back in the fridge.”
Nanna’s laughter and shaking her head made it clear that this was not the sort of answer she was seeking. She wanted to share a moment with her granddaughter, passing on culinary knowledge. I was concerned that the family might get food poisoning if the bird stayed out too long. It didn’t occur to me to be interested in cooking anything. Even spending time with Nanna was not enough to convince me that preparing a meal was more worthwhile than reading a book.
I thought back to this conversation tonight while I was cooking dinner. Admittedly, I was only half present. Even as I was aware that there was sacredness in making soup for my family, I had a bunch of other tasks that I had wanted to accomplish. I was composing this post in my head, cursing my garlic covered fingers that made jotting down my fleeting ideas impossible.
As I remembered Nanna, I was also thinking about yesterday’s open letter to our mothers, the women who “forgot” to tell my generation how phenomenal motherhood could be. There was no doubt that Nanna adored being a mother – almost as much as she adored being a grandmother. By the same token, I know that my mother loved being a mom to my sister and me. And when it comes to Mom’s take on being a grandmother… well, that tremendous love is apparent to anyone who has been in the same room as her and Moira.
I’m guessing that the signs were always there. Nanna and Mom were constantly sending out signals that most casual observers could quickly decipher: motherhood was/is a huge and brilliant part of their identities and they would recommend it to anyone. Several women responded to my post, describing how much they have loved motherhood and how they have made it a point to share this with their daughters. When my own mom reads it she will probably say the same. Will my mother tell me that she tried to describe motherhood to me many times but that I just wasn’t listening?
From the outside looking in, I think mothering can look like monotony and drudgery much of the time. How do you explain to someone that changing a cloth diaper every two hours is not a relentless chore but an amazing chance to be barraged by a dozen new infant giggles and coos?
What if my generation’s perceived lack of interest in, or, perhaps more accurately, lack of knowledge of mothering springs not because our moms never mentioned it but because the whole world programmed us not to hear what they were saying?
The planet seems to be spinning faster and faster. Everything is driven by productivity and performance. From my ten weeks’ experience as a mom, I can tell you that being “productive” has never been so difficult (hi, I brushed my teeth, got out of the house in less than an hour and a half, and managed to write an Epiphany or two – give me a medal!). As for performance… many of us try to mold the experience into something readable, but, for the most part, motherhood for the sake of show is a fool’s errand.
When you’re in college and living off of beer and bagels, measuring success by how many hook ups you’ve had and how many books you’ve read, cooking can seem ridiculously dull. So much energy expended for something as un-sexy as a square meal. And motherhood… well, at nineteen that is even more un-sexy to most girls.
Mothering and cooking a decent dinner: both take more time than you have; you’re always a little afraid of screwing up; you most likely will need to improvise because you’ll never have all the ingredients; your mind is often flying in several unrelated directions at the same time.
But, oh the rewards of a meal well prepared and a baby curled up peacefully beside you at the end of a long day!