As a girl born a generation after the feminist revolution, it seemed I could dream any dream I wished. I could become a doctor, lawyer, singer, or writer. I could travel. I could teach. The world was wide open. Except in one small candle-less corner: I could not develop domestic skills. They were out of vogue. To learn to cook or sew, to think or talk about one day having and caring for children, it just wasn’t something my girlfriends and I did. And it certainly wasn’t something our teachers or school counselors encouraged us to do. So even though I had a weird obsession with cooking shows any time I happened to see one, even though I always enjoyed the visual and manual aspects of food, even though when I traveled it was the one thing I was willing to spend a little money on, I never learned to cook (or even really eat, always worrying, as everyone else seemed to be, about fat and our figures).
Then, after two degrees, travel, work, and service in my church, I got married. And, sure enough, along came a baby in a baby carriage. And I really liked him. I loved him—unabashedly and desperately. Which surprised me just a touch. But what surprised me even more were all the dreams that opened up for me when I quit my job to stay home with my wee and sleepy infant, when I had a little time, a little cultural permission, and perhaps a little motivation to think about such things as running a house.
Strangely, I felt I had more time than I had ever had in my life before—a life that had been filled with school and work and an unhealthy obsession with perfection and over-achievement. I couldn’t exactly lock my son in the garage and head off to work every time he fell asleep. But I could write. And I could cook. I could read, do yoga, paint a wall, call a friend, and do something kind for someone else, even sleep. And I could cook.
I didn’t start out trying to make brains like Julia Child had. I kept it simple. I began with Hamburger Helper. I stood over the meat as it changed in color and aroma, and it struck something in me—something primal, homey, and lush. I had cooked it. I would feed us. It was quite similar to the feeling I had had when I first breast-fed my son. It was a young version of the feeling I would have when eventually I gardened and grew the things we would eat. And it was, frankly, crazy intoxicating.
From that first simple meal, I moved on gradually (very gradually) to more complicated things. I made eggs, to which I added tomatoes, garlic powder, onion powder, and served with a bit of salsa, feeling every bit like a little chef with my brilliant additions. And then I made some mashed potatoes from scratch one day. And, oh, they were so much better than the instant ones.
And suddenly my dream was something that in all my studying and working and worrying and degree-getting I had never thought to dream. It had to do with growing things and then nurturing and shaping them even further. It applied to kids. It applied to our home or our mini-homestead as I liked to think of it. And it applied to cooking, to food. In time and with experience, my cooking became more experimental and more creative. My life, though seemingly narrower and more restrictive, felt fuller than it ever had.
I started emailing recipes to friends and family. I started finding advice and more recipes on the internet. I couldn’t stop reading about food, gardening, animals, and the land. And with each pregnancy I learned to listen more to what my body had to say about food. Eventually, I got to the point where emailing people recipes all the time was a pain. I wanted a forum in which to share them.
And then one night there was the perfect storm of ideas. I’d been trying to knock about $200 off our food budget—no simple task when you love to cook. I’d been thinking about comments politicians and journalists had made about how the poor could not possibly afford or have the time to prepare “good food.” At the same time, my husband who is a paramedic and I had been discussing the ill-effects of smoking on people and society. I wondered if people could eat on the amount of money they spent to smoke. I expected they could (which isn’t to say it would be easy). I suspected they could while still eating with a fair amount of ecological responsibility. And I believed that my family of six could. It was an exciting, terrifying, mind-whirring sort of prospect. And I liked it.
Within six months, The Tasty Cheapskate was born. It contained recipes, commentary on food and home life, and a budgetary challenge: our family of six would try to learn to eat on $6/day. It’s an obsession, I admit, but one I try—in fact, insist—I keep in check. Because one thing I’ve learned in finding and living my most verdant dreams, is that they might go unrealized if a person doesn’t have a little time to sit on the sidelines. Preferably with some good food in hand and a chubby toddler on her lap.
If you have made the decision to be a professional mother, what dreams did you discover that both surprised and delighted you?
Do you have a dream that has hidden in a small candle-less corner?
If you enjoyed Jean's post, you may appreciate Christine Vick's Simply Living.