Monday, May 13, 2013

On When I Knew I Was My Mother...

At my age I have had plenty of moments where I stop and think about how my actions resemble those of my mother. Heck, I even have those moments where I feel like I am more like my father. But have you ever had the feeling that you turned into your mother? I did, and it was so scary that I had to physically stop everything I was doing to look in the mirror to make sure I was still ME.

It was a typical Tuesday night. I came home from work a little late but knew that the kids would be expecting dinner the minute I walked through the door. Don’t think I didn’t have it on my mind all day; should I order pizza? Should I make mac and cheese? Are sandwiches on the menu for tonight? Ugh, why can’t dinner just make itself (and spoon itself into my mouth while it’s at it!)? These questions were all going through my mind when I suddenly remembered that we had leftovers from the night before.

Let’s rewind a little and allow me to tell you a little about the picky eating habits of these people I call my family. Three out of four of them do not…I repeat…do NOT eat leftovers. Juanito was not raised eating leftovers and my two little ones have no idea what leftovers are. Lola, well she is my non-picky, non-judgemental eater so I can serve yesterday’s cuisine on her plate and she will respectfully decline to say anything bad about it. This is probably why she is my favorite human on the planet! I digress.

The previous night we had ground beef tacos and white rice. There wasn’t very much left over at the end of the evening, but to save space I put it all in one container and stuck it in the fridge. Since it was all in the same container when it came out of the fridge, it seemed the logical thing to do to heat it up together in the wok. The operative word here is ‘together.’

(Fast forward to everyone sitting around the dinner table with a lovely plate of white rice and ground beef mix.)

As I am about to take the first taste of my culinary delight, I hear a voice that sounded very far away. It didn’t just sound far away, but it was also accompanied by a twinge of disappointment and a healthy dose of whine. The words I heard were, “I don’t want this. I want a taco.” I can still swear that the words came out of his mouth spaced apart as if he were speaking a sentence and there was a period between every word. Imagine it to sound like this: “I. Don’t. Want. This. I. Want. A. Taco.” Got it? In Wolfie’s defense, the plate didn’t look too appealing; it looked like mashed potatoes with roly polies in it—true story. But he didn’t even try it. He didn’t even give it a chance to surprise his mouth with its soft, warm deliciousness that can only be achieved with a perfectly seasoned meal reheated with unconditional love. (I acknowledge that I am stretching it here and I am just trying to help you imagine my Like Water For Chocolate moment in my kitchen.)

My body went into auto-pilot mode. It decided to do something so against my core that I am still surprised two weeks later…so surprised that I am dedicating a whole blog post to it. I stood up from my chair, walked away from the dinner table, and went into full Julia Childs mode. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Julia Childs. I went to the refrigerator and took out fresh ground beef, two tomatoes, half an onion, and began to make a fresh ground beef dish that I could use to make Wolfie some tacos. As if that weren’t enough, I took out my measuring cup and precisely measured a cup of rice, rinsed it in cold water until the water was clear, and boiled it until it reached a fluffy level of perfection. I was so entranced in the special meal that I was making for this picky child that I didn’t even notice that everyone else had finished eating dinner and had cleared their own dishes from the table. All I knew was that I had to heat up some tortillas at the exact time the rice was done steaming and the ground beef was as brown as it was going to get.

I walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door. The brightness of the bulb made me realize that I had not turned on the light in the kitchen. It wasn’t completely dark in there because the dining area and kitchen are all one big space, but the fridge light did serve to take me out of my trance. It was then that I looked over to the table and finally realized that Wolfie was no longer there. “It’s ok,” I thought. I figured I had a few more minutes to get his table setting together. I proceeded to take the sour cream and shredded cheese from the fridge because truth be told, I was going to make this the best damn meal he had ever had in his short life!

Table was set. Tacos were served. Rice was sprinkled with just the right amount of soy sauce. I even put two ice cubes in his sippy cup and made sure that I served his favorite juice: apple. But where was Wolfie? Shhhh. Do you hear it? Me neither. I didn’t hear any noise in the house other than the faint noise of the television in the living room. I walked over to turn it off and that was when I saw him. Wolfie had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for me to make his dinner.

I looked over at the cable box. It read 8:13. Juanito was behind me at this point and said, “Babe, I am so sorry that he fell asleep after all the work you did.” Did Juanito watch me the whole time? Did he think I was some mad woman who was hell-bent on pleasing a three-year-old child and giving in to his culinary whims? Who was I the woman who let her dinner go cold because the mission was to give the boy a meal that wasn’t reheated, that wasn’t scary and unknown and wouldn’t be found in an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives?

I don’t need to spell it out; I had turned into my mother. At that precise moment on April 30, 2013, the memory floodgates were opened and I began to reminisce about all the separate meals my mother would make as we were growing up. My father loved his spicy food. My elder siblings were always trying fad diets. My little brother, older sister (Claudia), and myself would eat the tasty non-spicy traditional foods that my mother would serve. Everyone ate what they liked, and my mom made it all. We were all a bunch of little “Wolfies” telling my mother what we wanted and it would magically appear on our ceramic, mismatched plates on that little kitchen table that only could sit four at a time.

I told this story to my mom on Mexican mother’s day. She quietly listened to me as my voice became more agitated when I talked about how I finely chopped the tomatoes and the onions so they wouldn’t be visible in the ground beef. I even described in complete detail the color of the sippy cup and what type of spout it had on it so that the apple juice wouldn’t spill. When I was done telling her the story, I asked her in Spanish if what I did made me a crazy mother. She said to me (in Spanish, of course), “It doesn’t make you crazy. It makes you a mother. It’s what we do when we are mothers.” She never threw it in my face that she used to do that for us as children. She never said that she hated having to make three different meals on some evenings. She simply said that it is what we do.

I am blessed to still have my mother with me. I speak to her almost daily; sometimes I speak to her ten times a day because I am so neurotic about getting her recipes right the first time. I won’t ask myself if what I do for my kids makes me a crazy mom, or an over-protective mom, or even if it makes me a good mom. Do you know why? Because none of that even matters. “It’s what we do,” she said. And that, my friends, is the best excuse of all to be who I am…my mother’s daughter.

Until next time, I leave you with the homework of thinking back to the precise moment when you knew you had turned into your mother…or when you knew you turned into your father. I bet that if you try hard enough, there will be more than one defining moment in your life!

Enjoy your ride, my friends. Life IS good!

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