I Have Teenagers, Therefore I Cook
“Ugh, I have nothing to write about,” I whined to my husband this morning. “Damn kids, having their own lives and privacy and stuff.”
This is an ongoing joke between us. Just a little blogger humor! “Hey, remember when the most awful thing the kids did was sneak candy? And I could write about it and no one would think we were terrible parents? Remember that??” (Hooboy, we’re a laugh-riot ’round here.)
In my writing about my children, I find myself writing less and less about my actual children. There’s lots of reasons for that, but central among them the fact that their childhood is—whether I like it or not—nearly over. Being a teenager is hard enough without Mom blabbing. And my particular teenagers have their own set of challenges making their lives even harder. I never want to be the reason things are more difficult for them.
“You should write about your terrible husband and how he never cooks,” joked my husband. It’s worth noting that this conversation was happening at 6:30 this morning, pre-coffee, as I was sautéing onions. (No, I don’t always get up and cook a bunch of onions. Tonight’s a crock pot night and I was assembling ingredients for the crock so that we can have dinner later, even if the day rises up and attacks me, which—more and more often—seems to be the norm.)
I laughed. “I don’t mind cooking,” I said. “And you’re not terrible,” I added, lest there was any doubt. Honestly, I think my husband is a saint. And if I ask him to cook, he does (and well). But I work from home, I do the grocery shopping, I’m the one who produced two somewhat finicky eaters… it makes more sense for me to be the “main” cook in the household.
Cooking has always been something I’ve enjoyed, but more and more I’m realizing it’s become something of a daily meditation for me. Let’s be clear: I’m not a stupendous cook. I’m a decent cook. Some of my creations are amazing and some are duds. Most are good but unremarkable. I harbor no illusions about my culinary expertise. What I do have is a decent set of skills and understanding about what flavors work together. What is becoming clear to me is that I find the process of meal preparation deeply satisfying in a way that almost nothing else in my current life can rival.
Think about it: I start with… nothing, usually. Sometimes we have a weekly meal plan, but most days (like today) the weekend chewed me up and spit me out and I never even went for groceries (unless we’re counting the frenzied 5-minute dash through the grocery store at 7:00 last night for milk, bread, and bananas). So there was no plan. I was up before everyone else, putting away clean dishes, thinking about what I could put in the crock pot. A bit of poking in the fridge and pantry, a quick run out to the garage freezer… then I headed to Google to find a recipe. By the time the rest of the family was stirring, I was caramelizing onions and I had A Plan. I chopped, I stirred, I seasoned. By the time everyone headed out to school and work, dinner was just about made; I’ll pull it out of the crock tonight when everyone gets home. It’s nothing I’ve made before, but I think it’ll be good. We’ll see.
And don’t get me wrong, either—when I packed up leftovers for the kids’ lunches today, my daughter got a 100% homemade meal: a thermos full of black rice and red lentil coconut curry, plus garlicky naan; but my son got… the last few slices of a (delivery) pizza. I’m not some 100% organic “feeding my children is like watering the earth with fuel for a better world” food snob. Sometimes food is just food.
But when I spend time in the kitchen making a meal, I feel productive. I feel calm. I feel sure of myself and my abilities and I look forward to the end result. I can be a little creative, but I can also rely on certain rules. I can stop and taste and adjust. And on the rare occasions when it really all goes sideways—the overcooked entree or the bomb of a recipe—well, the world doesn’t end. We throw it away and eat something else. Sometimes we even get a good family joke out of it. (The day my now-husband proposed to me, as I was having a harried meltdown in my kitchen, I burned dinner to a crisp. I feel like that was reasonable under the circumstances.)
The older my children get, the less predictable I find them to be. The older they are, the less sure I feel that I am doing right by them, or having the effect I hope I’m having, or that I am able to shield them from the world’s harsh realities or prepare them to face them on their own. My career is one I feel very lucky to have, but there’s no “oops, dinner’s burned, oh well!” equivalent—either I get things done, and done well, or I may no longer have a job. And my saint of a husband, well, romance ’round here often looks like, “Shall we watch something stupid on television before we fall into bed exhausted or should we just go to sleep right now?”
I’m not complaining, not really. My life is both terrible and wonderful, and more of the latter than the former. I wish for more control over… everything, really, and that’s just not how it works.
In my kitchen, I have that control I crave. I start with simple ingredients, I decide on a course of action, and I make it happen. I am rewarded at the end with a yummy meal (usually). Sometimes I even get compliments from my family. I create something predictable and good. It doesn’t take a huge amount of brain power or concentration, and I can do it even if my mood isn’t stellar (in fact, it almost always improves my mood). I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m done.
If only I could figure out how to put my teenagers into my crock pot.