From the beginning, there were no illusions of my culinary domesticity. We met, he cooked, and I fell in love.
At the time, I was working in campus ministry, which meant: one, I was not wealthy, but two, I had a generous expense account. With it, I took students out for dinner and ate lovely balanced meals. I always ordered meat, because restaurant meat was the only animal protein I was getting at the time. I always ordered fresh vegetables, because vegetables are expensive when they don’t come in a can.
At home, I ate things from cans. And Zatarain’s. Lots of Zatarain’s.
There is no shame in eating red beans and rice from a box. And my to-be husband was happy to cook. He loves to cook, and most people love to eat what he cooks. I was content to do the shopping and dishes, and to set the table with candles and cloth napkins.
I’m not completely undomesticated.
Our system worked well until children came into the picture. For a variety of reasons, and against both of our good judgments, I became a mostly stay-at-home mom, though I tried to be not-at-home as much as possible.
I spent a lot of time pushing strollers around museums, frequented the library, and mapped the location of every bathroom at the zoo. I leaned up against piles of laundry and read theology during naptime. I planned playdates with people I liked, and refused to give up coffeeshops.
This was my survival strategy, and everything (apart from diapers, inexplicable crying and constant fatigue) was fine and dandy. Until about five-thirty.
“Honey, I’m home!”
And almost every day, when my husband walked through the front door, I experienced two emotions simultaneously. One was relief, “Oh-thank-you-Jesus-it’s-another-grown-up,” and the other, a daily dose of magnified guilt about dinner. It felt like June Cleaver was slapping me across the face with her perfectly manicured hand. Dinner. He had just worked all day long, and I was at the museum, and now I expected him to make dinner.
Now, nevermind that my husband likes to cook and that it helps him unwind from the day (I do not understand this, but he swears that it is true). Nevermind that it gives him a free pass from kid responsibility for another hour. Nevermind that he whips up amazing meals from random things he finds in the fridge, and I can cook spaghetti into the shape of a ball. “Excuses, excuses,” scolds the well-pressed superwoman in my head, “what kind of wife and mother are you?”
In my better moments, I am astounded that I give this scolding superwoman the time of day. It’s 2015 for goodness sake, and set gender roles have shifted, at least in part. My husband likes to cook, and he’s good at it. This is his role in our family, and he accepts it. So why do I experience this nagging pressure? What’s next? Am I going to start questioning my right to vote?
But all of this is more complicated than a caricature.
I have these female friends, and they are not caricatures. They are accomplished, dynamic women, and I have a lot of respect for them. A few years ago they started doing things like family meal planning, and as far as I can tell, family meal planning involves not only planning (which is bad enough) but also cooking(!) from scratch(!!). They bookmark food blogs, research chef knives, and collect healthy recipes on Pintrest. They make brownies with hidden spinach. They buy Brussels sprouts at the Farmer’s Market and prepare them in a way that their kids will eat.
And they don’t do all of this as superwomen, or because they are trying to squeeze themselves into some predetermined role. They care about nutrition, and they care about their families. And so they are working on new habits, in fits and starts, according to their schedules and situations.
And because I know my friends, I can’t dismiss them as I would a caricature of a “fifties housewife,” just as I can’t hide behind my caricature of a “liberated woman” or even “hopeless cook.” My husband is our family’s 9-5 worker in this season of our lives, and we need to eat, and eat well.
Maybe there is a part I can play.
I’m not saying anything revolutionary here, just that I’d like to take meal preparation a bit more seriously. I’d like to explore a role that I have largely rejected-not because I have to, but because it would be beneficial for the people I love. I won’t do all the cooking (oh perish the thought), but I could do more, and I’m sure that it won’t be a complete disaster.
Maybe I’ll begin with a big pot of homemade beans and rice. I don’t want my daughters to think that only men can cook.
Photo by Peter Grevstad