A few weeks ago, as I ended a month of not cooking much for my family or with any real intention, I stood in my kitchen with a change of heart. Flipping through old recipes, I decided to reinvest myself in the act of feeding them dinner.
I made pasta sauce on Wednesday, pasta dough on Thursday, and on Friday afternoon as my children slept peacefully in their beds I turned on the television, dusted my counter with flour and began to roll out soft, delicate dough by hand. With each movement of the rolling pin upward and out, the news of the Newtown school shooting filled the corners of my home with sadness. I pressed the dough thinner and thinner, turning it on its flour bed, then pressed it thinner still.
My heart is breaking for those families.
Each rotation brought another piece of information and I released another prayer for them. I listened and pressed then finally curled the homemade pasta dough into the shape of a cigar cutting one ribbon at a time with a well-worn silver pastry blade.
I have used this blade to cut countless batches of vanilla bean marshmallows and scrape one cup of flour after the other into one form of dough or another all in the name of feeding my family. As the afternoon wore on and I stacked little nests of freshly cut pappardelle noodles on a cookie sheet, my eyes welled with tears and spilled over, my heart sank with sorrow then floated with gratitude that it was not my son’s preschool or my daughter’s daycare, that these children, my children, were still my responsibility.
When they rose from their naps, I held them tighter and longer than usual, I played with them a little more and listened better. They didn’t know about the terrible sadness, fear and horror that gripped the nation and their mother. They were still nearly 2 and nearly 4 years old waiting for me to feed them dinner, an act that as of late, I have resented deeply.
Not just dinner, any meal really.
I started to take my daughter’s rejection of almost everything personally. As is to be expected with toddlers, she is opinionated about things like broccoli and cheese and blueberries and how they are fed to her and by whom. My son doesn’t fare much better. As the preschooler in the family he has decided he has control over what goes in his mouth and he is going to stake a claim to that part of his body and his life. I can’t really blame them, but it doesn’t make dinner easy. When you are nearly 2 and nearly 4 you don’t care that your mom is a food writer or that she makes nearly everything for you from scratch.
I try to be rational; they are only children after all. Brown-eyed, soft-brown-haired children and they are trying to find their way, discover what matters to them and when to take a stand. It is my job to muddle through the tough parts so they come out unscathed, well-rounded and at least in the eyes of a food writing mom – with a diverse interest in fruit, vegetables and protein.
In the middle of all this defiance, I briefly put away my stockpots and chopping blocks in favor of faster foods, but it didn’t work for us. I have to cook for them. I consider it an act of love. Cooking is a necessary part of mothering for me, and when I don’t do it with my heart. When I don’t value the practice, I can taste it. We all can. So I have let the act of cooking for my family slip a bit these last few weeks. I have felt a little sorry for myself and perhaps a bit dejected. That is until, Newtown.
That evening, I sat down at the very same table where I made pappardelle noodles a few hours earlier. Where horror and disbelief gave way to a tremendous amount of appreciation and an overwhelming desire to tend to my children. I served them their nests of noodles with smashed tomatoes simmered in herbs and oil.
As expected, my kids didn’t eat it. It’s just not where they are right now. Instead they nibbled on sliced pears with cinnamon, drank too much milk and chomped on a broccoli floret or two.
This time, however, the mealtime rejection was tucked neatly in a mental file marked not important and doesn’t matter in light of this crushing new perspective.
This time, I fed my family a meal with gratitude that this task is mine and it is still required of me.