Mothers in Kitchens

Standing here sobbing as I strain my broth and make my curried chicken salad. I’m listening to President Obama give his farewell speech. So many feelings stirred. Mostly… Daddy don’t go! But also streams of, when will I… how will I… will I…contribute to this complex world so in need of strong, engaged women? I have so much to say and so much to offer and here I am watching the world spin out from my kitchen.

The swirls of oil spin around my pot of broth. This wooden spoon in my hand feels as ancient and primal as this act, this stirring of the broth, this stirring of my heart and mind. I find I don’t even know whose hand I’m looking down at, like I’ve done this role a million times. I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. I’m what you’d call a stay at home mother, meaning I don’t work outside of the house. While rewarding in its own ways, the currency I gain for this job is not monetary and there’s no worldly praise or validation. I have a 5 year old little girl and I’ve been raising her and caring for my family full time since she was born. Its kind of a strange time to have this job, which forever women didn’t have a choice around. It’s odd to feel that while our nation is so close to a female president, with women around the world coming into their power and positions of power, I am choosing to stay home to raise my daughter in these young years. I no longer get the immediate sense of contribution that one receives while working in the outer world. Women across the globe are in a feminist revival of “having it all,” which alone is a term I feel alienated by and do not personally experience the truth of in its totality. I believe we can have it all, just not necessarily all at the same time. I’m lit up and emboldened by seeing a woman nursing on the senate floor or running a company where daycare is present and women can breastfeed and boardroom all at once! That kind of juggle is not necessarily for me, and I feel underrepresented, or perhaps alone, as a smart, engaged, educated woman who has chosen to live inside her kitchen.

I live inside my kitchen. At least it feels that way sometimes. Yet, really progressive and profound things happen in this kitchen. Just the other day my 5 year old daughter, who has a really passionate temper, became outraged that I mashed her baked potato when she really wanted it whole. It was one of countless explosions that day, week, month, year. This child has a lot of spirit and fire. I’m really trying to work with this fire inside of her. It’s a fire I know well. A fire that burns for justice and clarity and creativity, and I’m trying to help her harness the power of those big energies so she can use them appropriately and tame them appropriately. Back to the incidentally mashed potato which provoked the tiny terrorist who lives inside of my beautiful little girl, we all have one inside of each of us, to throw down a fucking bomb. She shook her fist in my face while foaming at the mouth, tried to punch me and I stopped her arms from having that access. I said, “Wow, you really had a different idea about your potato.” Her rage kept building and she yelled. “You’re mad and I’m sorry that didn’t go as you wanted. We can find a solution, but first you need to calm down. Can I help you? Would you like me to hold you or do you want a little space?” 

“I want space!” she spit at me. She got off her stool just so she could slam it down hard into my beautiful hardwood floors. Now I’m mad. My inner terrorist began to rise, along with a whole host of other inner characters like the one who feels no one appreciates her and all the work she does in nurturing every single body inside this house. So I took a nice, deep breath and told my daughter that when she is ready for help that I can really help her. I also affirmed that while it’s okay she’s mad, she may not slam furniture or fists. When she calmed a little I said, “Would you like to try that again in a different way?” She did. Then I asked, “Remember that book we just read about the Little Critters who went to the fire station? Remember how they learned what to do when there is a fire in the house?” 

She remembered. “Stop, drop and roll!” she replied.

I took that moment as an opportunity to build on a simple concept I knew she already had a framework for. I taught her that when we get so, so mad about something, it is like a little fire inside our bodies. We have talked about this before, but this time something was reaching further. I told her that when we feel a fire brewing inside our bodies we have to Stop, Drop and Breathe. She laughed and said, “But my body isn’t making a real fire!” And that is when I explained how much it really burns when someone yells at us in anger, or physically attacks our body with their body. She thought about it and said, “It burns my arms when you are mad with me and you pick me up too rough.”

“Exactly, my love. When I don’t stop, drop and breathe… when I pick you up in anger, you feel the burn of my fire and it hurts not just your body but your heart too. And I’m sorry for that. I’m working on this too.” 

This all landed. She softened and cried and I held her. She apologized for trying to punch me and for banging the stool. She asked for a do-over and we reenacted the whole scene, and this time instead of blowing her lid she asked politely for another potato that wasn’t yet mashed.

We cook up a lot of do-overs in my kitchen. Mistakes are always welcomed as long as we’re willing to own it, clean it up and begin again. And this is one small twig on the branch of life lessons, on the tree of profound importance that grows inside my kitchen where nobody sees me and nobody knows how much I am contributing to the world while I bake my bread and make gallons upon gallons of soup. And this brings me back to President Obamas righteous farewell speech and the primal, metaphysical sensation I had while stirring soup and listening to him reflect on our country. I can sense that I have been here before. Im looking down at my hand and all I know is that the hand I am seeing has changed with the times, but my soul is still at it. I am in my kitchen now as I have likely been in past times, as my grandmothers were in their kitchens before me and their mothers in their kitchens before them, and my friends and women all over the world are in their kitchens, cooking and cleaning, and teaching the next generation how to be a responsible human in this world. How to love, how to make mistakes, how to forgive with grace, and how to be in a world of grave uncertainty and still engender joy, peace, acceptance and compassion. We teach this, we model this, so our children can become it and bring it with them into the world.

I have many dreams and aspirations as a woman, as an artist, and I don’t think I will always live inside this kitchen. But in this moment in time, my goal is to generate for myself and the women around me a deep knowing that our work inside these kitchens runs as deep if not deeper then any other way in which women contribute to the betterment of our world. I do believe that women are the instruments to healing this planet, and those of us inside our kitchens are right there with them.