My sister arrives from Italy tomorrow, and we are all quite excited. I've not seen her since May which is just the reality of the distance + kids + schedules + cost, but I wish we saw each other more often. We are very different personalities but have a great friendship and sistership, and I feel lucky about that; it's the kind of relationship I hope my boys maintain throughout their lives. Some of our morning was spent at the doctor, finding that Mr. O has a double ear infection, and at two pharmacies, waiting for his prescription and getting yelled at by some grinchy older woman (NOT old, simply older) who despite looking quite fit called the boys wild Indians and said something to the effect of "get away from me, don't you know I could fall? I'm older!" People, my boys are extremely energetic, and you know I'm the first to admit when their behavior sucks, but such was not the case this morning, and I muttered Happy Freaking Holidays angrily under my breath. In situations like this, I usually try to consider that the meanie-in-question might be having a terrible day, perhaps has some issue that makes her act like a horrid crab, but this morning I just wanted to tell her to shove off. I didn't, but I thought about it.
It occurred to me on the way home, as I attempted to tune out the incessant chatter about are all cowboys sheriffs? (Jack: yes; Oliver: no; result: major argument) that for me, cooking is as therapeutic as gardening. It surprised the hell out of me that I've not thought it about in those terms before. I love to cook, I love to feed people, I enjoy the creative outlet it provides, and I am grateful for the sense of achievement and productivity it allows me, but I don't know that I'd considered it as another version of gardening or vice versa). Sinking your bare hands into something unformed and messy, with no sure bet of success but with the possibility of a beautiful outcome that is more than the sum of its parts, this is the essence of why both these activities sustain me when I feel enervated by much else in life. The kids bicker, Tom travels, Percy pees on something, relatives age/get sick/struggle, the news from around the world is grim, no one seems to be remotely inclined to do anything about climate change, I still struggle to get a decent night of sleep for the love...and without realizing it really, or at least coming to these hobbies in a purposeful yet subconscious way, I have found things that provide me the stillness and quiet and sense of accomplishment that I used to get from school or work but that is much harder to see in motherhood. I'm betting that the boys will turn out well, quite well really, but as a parent, I haven't found that you can count on any sort of regular feeling of "yes! look how great this has turned out!".
I suspect this is one reason we feel so blindsided by our reactions to parenthood sometimes. When you imagine having children, you don't immediately consider how relentless and at times completely one-sided the whole thing is. You imagine a smiling, sleeping baby rather than an individual who talks back, puts boogers on the wall, digs up the garden, rides the dog like a horse, wakes you up for seemingly fake reasons, and so forth. The reality is much messier and simultaneously much harder to really get until you're in it.
So back to cooking. I always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but since Jack was born, I have also realized that I underestimated the time I'd still want for myself. And I think I've been trying to find ways to balance me as me and me as Mom. Cooking allows me this: my kids need to eat, I don't want to feed them crappy food, the whole process of preparing/tasting/being together at mealtimes...well, it meets several needs at once which is rare and welcome. Cooking allows me to be creative in relatively intellectual ways (that's not quite the right word, but I mean as opposed to drawing another jack-o-lantern or making another collage), it allows me to see a result in a fairly short amount of time, and it's one more vehicle for loving and caring for my family. Although cooking in some ways more communal and giving than gardening, the organic nature of it feels the same, as do the healing aspects of both. Just a little food for thought.