It all started with a simple question.
A friend and I were discussing what we were making for dinner. I told her that I was making meatloaf and mashed potatoes. She then said, “Oo! Meatloaf! Can I have your recipe?!” I don’t have a recipe for meatloaf, and I told her so. She got a sort of miffed expression on her face and told me I didn’t have to be such a food snob.
A food snob? Me? I’m not talking about making duck a l’orange here. I’m talking about meatloaf, one of the most basic staples of housewives for generations. So I asked her to elaborate, and she told me that this isn’t the first time I’ve told her that I didn’t use a recipe for something I was cooking. That in the past she has asked me for my recipe for something and I’ve just rattled off a list of ingredients and instructions to her, when she really just wanted me to email it to her later. She said it made her feel like I was acting superior to her, because she didn’t memorize things so easily.
Whoa there, I told my friend. I use recipes a LOT. I’m always making new stuff, and thanks to Pinterest, my family never gets a chance to get bored with any of it before I find something new to make. I have a folder stuffed with recipes that I’ve copied down from online, recipes I’ve ripped out to magazines, and recipes that I’ve collected from family members. I have very few things memorized.
She scowled and said that making new stuff all the time makes me sound even snobbier. She makes the same basic stuff all of the time “like a normal person.” Apparently I make her feel like she’s not doing enough, like she’s a bad wife and mother.
Ok, hold up. Is it me, or are you seeing this a lot lately? Moms feeling like they are in competition with each other? Or that they aren’t as “good” as other moms? Me too. And it needs to stop.
Look, I told my friend, just because I can make stuff without a recipe doesn’t mean that you aren’t as good of a mom as me. It means we grew up differently and have different priorities.
I grew up in a house where most stuff was made from scratch. We didn’t have a lot of convenience foods around. I didn’t know that mac and cheese could come from a box until I was in high school, and didn’t actually taste it until I was in my twenties. Take-out didn’t really exist yet, and nobody delivered to our farm.
I can remember my mom teaching me how to make meatloaf when I was a kid. I thought it was cool because I got to smush it with my hands. I’m sure she was quite willing to pawn that job off on someone else. My mom was (and still is) a pretty boring cook, and most meals consisted of meat, starch (usually potatoes), and (frozen) veggies. Rice was exotic. Spices didn’t move much beyond salt and pepper. She was an awesome baker, however, and some of my fondest memories revolve around cookies, cakes, and pies.
From the time I was 14 to 17 my mom was the Camp Director at a Girl Scout camp, and she was only home every other weekend for the entire summer. Since my dad worked all day, it fell to me to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. I still hate cleaning and laundry, but I really fell in love with cooking during this time. My dad has a much more adventurous palate than my mother, keeping a cabinet full of things like Thai spices and lentil soup mixes that he cooked for himself on weekends. Because of this, I felt that I could branch out from mom’s standard recipes into unknown territory. I searched through cookbooks and cooking magazines for fun new things to try. Sometimes I crashed and burned. I remember when we decided to try making General Tso chicken at home. It was so bad that we went out for pizza. But most of what I made was really good. I learned new techniques, and more importantly, I learned how to put together flavors.
In college I was the only one of my friends who lived in an apartment instead of the dorms. The food on campus was….sad. So I’d invite my friends over to my place and cook for them. They would take turns asking for stuff they missed from home. (Non-mushy pasta was a theme.) For the end of the year, I made five cornish game hens, each stuffed and seasoned with different stuff. It was during college that I realized that food could bring joy and comfort.
Fast forward to the present, where I have a spouse and two kids to feed. All three of them are pretty picky, so my cooking is limited to what I can actually convince them to eat. (The girls are more persuadable than Chev, by the way.) I don’t really cater to the girls’ tastes, because it is my opinion that four year olds don’t have the experience to tell me definitively what they do and do not like. So I cook what the grown ups like, and if the kids don’t eat, well, then they don’t eat. But I really like when I find a new recipe that all of us like, and I don’t want to fall into a rut, making the same handful of things all the time. I cook for fun as well as for fuel.
And there is the difference between my friend and I.
I’m not really a food snob. I just really, REALLY like to cook. I’ve been cooking for twenty years. I love combining new flavors, trying new spices, and figuring out delicious ways to get my family to eat things they all claim to hate. If I were young and single, I’d be a food writer and eat my way across the globe.
My friend didn’t grow up cooking. She just wasn’t interested in learning how to cook from her mom or grandmother. She was in sports, choir, 4-H, and band. She had practices every night of the week. In college she lived in a dorm and lived off of Ramen noodles. Now she is married and has the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen. For the first time in her life, she has found herself to be the person in charge of putting food on the table every night, and while she has basic cooking knowledge, she is no master chef. Cooking just isn’t her thing.
And you know what?
That is ok.
We all have our own strengths. My friend is super active. She takes her little guy to the park almost every day. She runs, plays tennis, and sings in her church choir. Her son is in karate and t-ball. Her hubby just did his first half marathon. Their Facebook photos all depict them doing fun things like hiking, swimming, and having epic snowball fights.
They make me feel bad about me.
The fact is that the only kind of marathon I’m interested in involves Doctor Who and a large tub of popcorn. My kids watch too much TV. Chev and I are much more on the sloth end of the activity spectrum than the cheetah end. I have zero desire to hang out in the frozen tundra of our yard while Laurel chucks snowballs at me. I fear that we are raising the next generation of couch potatoes.
I explained this to my friend, and she got very quiet for a few minutes. Then she hugged me. She told me that she was afraid that I thought she wasn’t a good mom because she would rather go for a run than bake cookies with her kids. I laughed and told her that I figured she thought I was a bad mom because my kids watch so much television. It was like a barrier had broken down between us. We were no longer judging ourselves by how we thought other people saw us.
We were just moms, talking about what we were making for dinner.