Foods trigger memories in us. Some good and some bad. Squash fritters will always make me feel melancholy. It's strange how these fritters can make me feel two different emotions at the same time.
As soon as I smell them I am taking back to a hot Summer day in the country. I don’t remember the specifics just flashes of the day. It was a rustic house at the end of a long gravel road. You could barely see the house through the gardens that surrounded it. Flashes of kids clad in their bathing suits as a summer uniform running through the maze of plant and flowers. We had been there all day running and playing. We could hear the adults' voices floating through the air. The call for lunch came and being the people pleaser type I ran right into the country kitchen and sat at an appropriate spot. I sat there by myself watching this Mom prepare lunch for all us hellions.
"The way she moved with so much grace and without her saying any words you could feel the love for her children."
She moved casually around the kitchen. She scooped flour from old dinged up metal canisters. She pulled out a large, red pyrex bowl with nicks and scratches from years of love. Like it was all one movement. She leaned over and yelled for everyone to come to lunch and this time they all came running in like they knew this second calling was the final warning. It was like a tumbleweed of noise and sweat came rolling in the kitchen. Like a prima ballerina, she started dropping squash fritters in her dark, cast iron pan while simultaneously directed the children to wash their hands and find a seat. I sat there in awe of the easiness of it all. The way she moved with so much grace and without her saying any words you could feel the love for her children.
As I watched this scene play out in front of me another feeling was he over me. It’s the one childhood moment that is vivid in my mind. The moment I realized that something was wrong. Why weren’t these kids scared? Why did they not fear making a mistake? They just spoke freely and their Mom scolded them but it was more like chatty banter then reprimands. My Mom’s kitchen wasn’t like this. I can't remember a time where I felt the kind of love that radiated in that room. My mom wasn’t a Mom was she? It was like I was all of sudden realizing what pain is. That ache in your chest which there is no pill for. My mother required things from you. Her’s was a highly conditional love and most of the time the conditions were an impossibility. She dangled love like a carrot in front of a donkey. She managed to make you beg her to love you and then blame yourself when she didn’t. As a child, I just thought if I did better, achieved more and worked harder she would love me.
"I was angry at the kids - the way they casually made smart remarks to their Mom."
That day, at that table, I went from feeling content to overwhelmed then angry. I should have been angry at my Mother but I had been programmed to never be angry at her. So, I was angry at the kids - the way they casually made smart remarks to their Mom. How could they do that? If that was my Mom I would do everything she said. I would never talk back! How ungrateful of them? What brats to not be on their best behavior at all times? I thought of all the ways I would make sure she loved me always! All the chores I would do without being asked! I would never throw fits! I would be the perfect child.
As I have grown older and had my own children I think back to that moment. I remember that sad girl in her damp bathing suit with her towel-cape draped over her shoulders, wondering why her house didn’t feel like this and desperately wishing that maybe she could keep this Mom. The sad girl seething with anger at her new friends who acted like unappreciative asses. I wish I could go back and explain to that girl that one day she will have girls and she will try her best to be just like this Mom. That as they grow she will realize they aren’t spoiled brats, they are just normal kids. Children that don’t live in fear and desperation for their Mother's love. They don’t have to try so hard because they felt secure and happy. This is what it's supposed to be. Not perfect but perfectly imperfect. Laughter and yelling, messy hands and wet bottoms. Feeling happy and free instead of scared and trapped. Those squash fritters sounded terrible to me but I was not going to do anything to disappoint this woman that became ethereal to me. I ate every bite and I will never know if I loved them for the taste or for the love I saw go into them.
I know my mother will write a scathing email declaring me a liar and throw herself a martyr parade. All I know is what I felt that day and how I still feel every day. So either I am the most consistent liar that has ever existed or they may be some truth to it. I have not spoken to my Mother for well over 25 years and it is still the best decision I ever made. I chose me in the end and knew I would never survive if I stayed in such a toxic environment. I chose me then and later I chose my girls.
My mother did not teach me how to be a mother. I learned from watching other Mothers. I knew as I grew older that they were what a Mother is and I knew that's what I would strive to be. She likes to write me emails and letters. Most start out with, “I don’t know why...” then somehow always leads to how it's my fault and "how once my girls do this to me I will understand". Problem is Mom, I don’t understand because they know I love them. They feel safe and secure at their house. You know what you did and you know why all your children avoid you. You can blame everything and everyone else. If that’s what you need to do. You go right ahead. I don’t have to care about that anymore. I freed myself from your chains. I get to stand over my stove and yell at my girls to come get dinner. I get to hear my teenager bicker with her sister and watch my 12-year-old roll her eyes at me when I don’t know what a Vine is. I can put my hand on a skinny little six-year-old arm that's wrapped around my leg while I cook. Make their plates and hand it to them as they proclaim, “ugh, Mom squash fritters...” roll their eyes and run out of the kitchen. They are now those unappreciative smart ass brats and I love every minute of it because I did what I wanted - I managed to be that Mom.