When I was growing up, my mother never let me help her in the kitchen and certainly never let me try cooking on my own. She was impatient, hurried and harried, and - more than anything - controlling. I could never do things to her satisfaction. I was slow and clumsy and always made too much mess.
I remember her clearly telling me, "It's just easier for me to do it myself."
I didn't learn to cook and follow a recipe until I was 21, in college and living in an off-campus house with some friends. We all agreed to cook together so we divided into pairs and each pair was responsible for cooking for everyone on their scheduled night. The food had to be low cost and vegetarian.
In a dimly lit kitchen in central Iowa, I learned to make pasta and curries and stir fries. I learned to measure and make mistakes. I learned read a recipe and plan while sitting at a table with a good friend. I learned to cook and I learned to laugh and I learned to let go.
Even now, some of my favorite times have taken place in kitchens - in my own, in friends' - chopping or sautéing, helping or watching, laughing over a glass of wine or a cocktail. There is something inexplicably beautiful about a good meal, lovingly prepared. Getting to share in that creation only deepens the connection.
I know that.
But I forget sometimes.
When Miguel was young, I thought of my mother and the way she handled my requests to help her in the kitchen. I didn't want to be that kind of mother so I helped little hands level cups of flour and teaspoons of salt. I closed my eyes and breathed as flour spilled on the floor and fingers were licked and messes were made. It wasn't easy because, as much as I don't want to be like my mother, I am in certain ways. I too can be impatient and worried about messes but, when my son asked to help, I said, "yes". Always.
Then, we had another child and things got harder. Two children wanted to help and they fought over who got to do what part and the process felt unmanageable. They were conflict and chaos while I was control. I found myself saying "no" more often when they'd ask to help. And then, I started saying, "It's just easier for me to do it myself."
Of course, it is easier but hearing myself saying the exact words that my mother had used to keep me out of the kitchen made me stop and think. I know the impact of those words.
So, I am trying to say "yes" again.
Last weekend, Miguel and his friend, Augie, planned to cook dinner for Luisa and me - pasta with Alfredo sauce, garlic shrimp and a salad. There were moments when Luisa and I had to step in to help and there were moments when I had to step away because I couldn't watch. Nothing tests a control freak like two 12 year old boys shelling and deveining shrimp.
At the end of the night, however, the four of us sat down together and had a delicious meal and both boys were giddy. They made dinner and it was good.
This morning, Zeca asked if she could make pancakes and I could only think of what it would require of me. I had woken up at 6 a.m. for no reason and was tired. The thought of supervising her while she made pancakes and then dealing with the mess was too much. But, she was persistent and I finally said that she could do it but she would have to do it completely on her own.
I laid out all the ingredients and the two bowls and the measuring cups and spoons for her. I opened the cookbook to the recipe and told her that, if she had a question, I'd be on the couch with a cup of coffee and I walked away.
And you know what?
She made perfect pancakes without any help from me.
I hope to remember this so that it will keep me from following my mother's path. I hope. But, I am also learning to embrace the fact that I am not perfect. I am not always the mother I want to be and must learn to embrace that too.
But, today was a small victory over the past. Today, letting go smells like pancakes.