The Gene My Mother Didn’t Give Me (Now With Video)

(This is the story I read at the recent, amazing Listen to your Mother show)

Today I cooked for my family and nobody died.

It’s always a good day when my cooking doesn’t maim, injure or kill. Because every time I cook, I am convinced that someone will turn pale, clutch his or her belly, foam at the mouth and then sprint for the bathroom. Or just keel right over.

Needless to say, I am not a natural in the kitchen. I try. After all, I’m a Mom. This is part of the job description, right? It’s supposed to be part of my maternal DNA.

I definitely did not inherit the cooking gene from my Mom. She’s the world’s greatest cook. I yearn for her meatloaf and cheesecake. When I’m sick, her chicken soup is the only medicine that heals. Her trifle is legendary in England. I have fond memories of helping her measure and stir, as she’d prep and bake. Osmosis, however, failed me.

Like me, she wasn’t actually a natural-born cook. But once married, my Mom experienced a culinary metamorphosis, blossoming into this competent, fearless creator of deliciousness. Hoping to nurture similar qualities in me, my parents sent me to an all-girls school. Alas, while I did well academically, my grades for “domestic science” were well below average.

Fast-forward to my 30’s. One evening, I invited my soon-to-be-fiancé over to my place, intent on making a romantic meal. I prepared the only dish I really knew. He wanted to hang with me in the kitchen, sizing up my qualifications for future wifedom, motherhood and domesticity. But he quickly recoiled when he saw that every ingredient was either from a can, a carton or the freezer. Mortified, I banished him from the kitchen.

Did I mention he’s a professionally trained chef? No pressure, right? Well, despite his horror at my pasta mush, he still married me. Maybe he thought my culinary skills might emerge, like they had for my mom? Fortunately, our relationship is based on many other qualities, like good humor and forgiveness.

These days, I can be inspired by a recipe, game to give it a go and expose my family to something new. I’m all about Pinterest. My “recipes to try” board has more than one thousand pins of culinary delights. I’ve attempted about three of them. My success rate is, well, low. Usually the end result looks nothing like the picture. It might taste good but my kids usually turn their noses up when served something that looks, smells and tastes suspiciously different from chicken tenders or mac and cheese. My husband, bless him, praises my efforts, chews his meal with enthusiasm and makes all the right “mmmm” noises. He coaxes the kids to try at least a bite. The silver lining? Plenty of leftovers.

It wasn’t always this way. When they were infants, they ate everything I cooked. Yes, cooked. I was really really good at making purées. Because, boiling and mushing stuff, that I can do – like a pro. And, since I wasn’t able to nurse my kids when they were infants, preparing food this way made me feel like mother of the year, all wholesome and nurturing. I was an over-achiever in the purée department; my fridge filled with baggies of green, yellow, even purple frozen cubes of homemade nutrition. My kids willingly consumed vegetables that today are considered devil spawn. Beets. Parsnips. Spinach. Even black beans. It was good while it lasted.

I’m happy to tell you that one of my cooking adventures has in fact become the stuff of legend on social networks. Allow me to introduce you to the Hippo Cake.

It was Rosh Hashanah and like all Jewish festivals, it’s celebrated with food. A few days before, I called my mother and asked for her wonderful honey cake recipe, thinking it was my maternal duty to bake one for my family at this auspicious time of the year.

I’ll never know what really went wrong. Did I confuse the measurements? Maybe I omitted the baking soda? Perhaps the oven was the wrong temperature (after all, British recipes are in Celsius not Fahrenheit)?

Never has a photo posted on Facebook received so much attention. “What is that?” was the most frequent comment. “Um, it’s a honey cake,” I’d respond. “It looks like a hippo,” quipped someone and everyone resoundingly agreed. And so the notorious Hippo Cake was born. Every year now, friends and family clamor for me to re-post the Hippo Cake photo on Facebook, claiming that the holiday cannot properly commence until I do.

So this is what it comes down to. I can bake cakes that look like animals and purée like a champ. Evidently, as a mother, cooking is not my strongest suit. But at least I haven’t killed anyone. They say genes can skip a generation, so I’m hoping my kids will inherit their quick wits, good looks and self-deprecating humor from me – and their cooking skills from their grandmother.

The infamous Hippo Cake

The infamous Hippo Cake

LTYM cast

The wonderful cast of #LTYM Boston – May 9, 2015

 

The Listen to your Mother Show: A Preview

What’s the one thing we all have in common other than, you know, breathing?

It’s mothers.

We all have – or had – mothers. Be they birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, step mothers, grandmothers. Some families have two mothers. Some families have two fathers.

Many of us are, or were, mothers. Dealing with all the highs and lows that come with the title.

Some of you aspire to be mothers. Some of you became accidental mothers. Some of you really don’t want to be a mother. Some of you did, but life took a different course. Some of us are working mothers; some of us are stay at home mothers. Some of us are married; some of you aren’t. Some of us are divorced or separated from our partners. Some of us have infants. Some of us have toddlers. Some of us have teens. Some of our kids have grown up and become parents themselves. Some of our kids are healthy; some have disabilities.

We are all sons and daughters. We all have or had relationships with our mothers. Good, bad or otherwise. Some of us aspire to be like our mothers. Some run in the opposite direction.

Motherhood is a universal reality – wherever you fit in this spectrum.

On Saturday May 9 at 2pm, 12 women from in and around Boston will step up to the microphone at Boston’s Old South Church to share their stories of motherhood. These remarkable, talented writers are daring. They are strong. They are eloquent. They are nervous. They are entertaining. They are emotional.

I’m one of these women. And I can’t wait to share my story with you.

I hope you’ll attend this amazing event. I guarantee you’ll be riveted. I fully expect you to shed a tear. I’m hoping you’ll laugh. You may even learn something. I know that you’ll see reflections of your own story in every shade of the rainbow of motherhood and you’ll be grateful that you came.

Buy your tickets here or at the door.

See you there!

Giving motherhood a microphone

Boston’s Listen to your Mother show is on May 9

 

The Understudy

Guest post by Tarah Cammett

Writing for me has always been simple.  A therapy of the mind.  A way to release my past.  Process breakups and major life changes.  Throw it out there in the Universe and remove it from my spirit.  What I have realized as I have tried to write about my experiences so far of being a ‘Stepmother’ – or ‘Understudy’ as I so often refer to it, is that I’m struggling.  Greatly.  It’s easy to write about the past; things that no longer exist or serve me anymore.  It is however, extremely difficult to write about something deeply personal and ever present in my day to day life.  More so, how do I possibly encapsulate all that I have experienced?  How this has changed me?  How wonderful and frightening it’s all been.  I can’t.  Not in a simple blog post but I have to start somewhere.  So consider this a Preface.  An introduction.  Perhaps this will be a breakthrough and a journey into a new place as a writer.  Perhaps it will be an utter disaster.  You’ll have to be the judge.

About a year and a half ago I was coming off the tail end of my own version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and unwinding from an incredible spiritual journey of the soul.  I had spent months traveling, talking, seeking.  Hours on therapy couches and a lot of time spent with an overly priced Shaman (which by the way was worth every penny).  My mind was at peace.  I finally felt at rest, that I had let these ‘things’ that had followed me around, plaguing me, go.  I had discovered acceptance in the not knowing and in the just being.  I was fiercely content or more so adamant about being alone and savoring every moment of it.  It was of course, in that moment, that my now husband walked into my life and brought with him his wee 1-yr old baby girl.

My life for all of its chaos has always been very controlled.  Well, because I have controlled it.  Controlled chaos.  Maybe even on some levels planned chaos.  But I didn’t plan them.  I didn’t plan on him regardless of the secret hope of one day finding someone who my soul sort of melted into but I most certainly did not plan her.

He was easy.  Every day that we spent together I fell more and more.  He became funnier.  Smarter.  Sexier. The boy that I had assured would never be anything more than a ‘buddy’ and/or ‘lover’, I found myself wanting to rush home from work to see.  He was just there, and never left and it was as if we had always been.  It just made sense.  And then, well, then I was introduced to his daughter.  She wasn’t what got me – regardless of how beautiful she was, it was the way he was with her.  So hyper conscious.  So madly in love.  So gentle and patient.  Nail in the coffin.  I was a goner.  There is nothing sexier than a good father.

She and I weren’t so easy at first.  It wasn’t that children made me uncomfortable.  I love kids.  I have god babies and nephews and until I met the Peanut they were the center of my Universe.  It was that upon meeting her I realized that I had to shift what I understood of love.  I knew in an instant that I would have to accept my place in my husband’s heart.  I would never be first.  And that was something that I had never experienced.  There would always be someone ahead of me.  It was something my ego wasn’t accustomed to.  Maybe in the beginning I was weary of her because of that.  Or because she was so painfully shy she didn’t immediately come running into my arms.  Perhaps it was the horrible relationship he had with her mother that I internally projected distaste for on to her.  All I can express, if I was to be completely truthful was that it wasn’t love at first sight.  For either of us.

It was ultimately a slow evolution of learning about unconditional love in a way that I had not yet known.  Getting to know a person, who is older and has sort of worked out their idiosyncrasies is one thing.  Getting to know an infant who’s changing every instant is another.  It was like navigating a mine field.  Ok.  It still is.  As a parent, it’s your choice and there’s a sort of genetic bond that prods you through.  As a ‘stepparent’ it’s a bit different.  This little intruder kind of appears and you’re supposed to just love them.  I guess in writing that, I just realized it is the same for any type of parent – genetic or not.  Perhaps it’s just that as a ‘stepparent’ I found myself being hyper cautious, and hyper positive.  Both of which made me feel off kilter.

Not long into it I found this weird ‘instinct’ I wasn’t aware existed.  I knew what her cries meant.  I knew what we should do for her.  I would always wake up 5 minutes before I would hear her on the monitor and wait knowing that she was about to wake as well.  As we adjusted to each other we began to play and laugh and every time I got her to smile or giggle my heart melted as my internal ego high fived herself at the minor accomplishment.  I found myself personalizing her whims less.  It’s ok if she wanted Daddy instead of me. It just makes the times that she does ask for me all the more sweet.  She became my first thought in the morning.  My last thought at night.  Her well-being.  Her future.  Loving her made me feel closer to him.  We had a shared goal.  Her existence.

Well, and then I became the cliché.  Poopy diapers, booger filled noses.  Singing weird made up random songs that made her laugh uncontrollably.  Reading books in funny accents and making silly faces to combat hers.  We became a couple.  The same way that two stranger’s sort of fall in love I guess.  Losing inhibitions, slowly being yourself.  Getting to know one another and then finally just realizing that everything weird about them is something great about you.

It’s not to say that this love isn’t without struggle.  I despise the word ‘stepmother’ or ‘stepchild’.  I don’t think of her as something in lieu of.  She’s part of my soul circle.  Souls travel in circles throughout lifetimes to find each other again and I believe she found me early on in this one because I’m supposed to teach her something.  But what?  Sometimes that thought plagues me.  I have no creepy notions that I’m her ‘true’ mother.  She has a mother.   I respect her mother’s genetic and emotional role.  I have no desire to replace it, circumvent it, or trump it.  I just want to be a positive force in her Universe as well.  Someone that she believes in.  Yes, when we’re at the grocery and the cashier wants to recap the perils of childbirth and gives me the, “Well you remember what that was like…” line, do I nod in vaginal unity?  Of course.  It’s easier.  But I am not her mother.  Maybe that does hurt on some level given my affinity for her but maybe what hurts more is that I don’t know how to ‘label’ our relationship.  To find a word, or a phrase that encapsulates it so that when it’s said people nod knowingly – that’s what I would like.    A word that means more than ‘step’ anything.

There was a moment a couple months back.  She and I had been dancing in the kitchen (we do that often).  It had just been one of those fantastic weekends where we laughed and played all weekend, everything was just happy.  We were packing her up to return her to mother’s.  It’s always a shit feeling that sweeps over hubs and I.  We don’t want it to end, but it is what it is and in essence the only way the Peanut has ever known.  I digress.  I was on my knees giving her kisses, telling her how much I loved her and that I would miss her and how proud I was of her and she began stroking my hair, then my cheeks.  “Mama” she said.  “Yes, you’re going to see Mama in a few minutes and you’re going to have so much fun with her” I responded.  She shook her head no.  She again stroked my cheeks and said, “Mama” and she stared intently into my eyes.  I knew what she meant.  It was her way of acknowledging my presence as a maternal figure in her life, she of course wasn’t calling me her mother. It was the only way at two years old she knew how to express herself.  I cried for pretty much a solid three hours after she left, just out of love, and wonder, and maybe a twinge of sadness.  I’m quite sure when I saw her a few days later she put out her hand and told me to, “Go!” so that she could be alone with Daddy but that’s how it works.  The ebb and flow.

I can’t possibly write about all of this in any succinct logical way.  One day I was wild and single and the next day I was picking out a crib and baby proofing a house.  I could create 80 chapters on each moment, emotion, phase, understanding, point of being, crushing moment of sadness, elation….you name it.  For now, I know this.  You are always exactly where you are supposed to be.  My husband brought me a beautiful gift.  A dowry if you will.  He brought me a teacher.  Someone who will challenge all that I have and will come to know and see of this world and myself every single day.  She might not be mine but god dammit she is part of my tribe and I will do whatever I can to protect her and to give her light.  My compass broke a long time ago so I’m navigating by moon phases, toddler emotions, laughter and levels of exhaustion but somehow, I still wake up every morning excited at what the sounds of the monitor will bring.  So I’m going with it.

Thanks for listening.

Tarah is a hippie corporate sell-out Marketing Director by day and a soul seeking Moon follower by night, hiding away in a tiny town by the ocean.

tarah

Wanted: Me Time

Like most busy Moms, the tradeoff for all the joy of motherhood and family life is the loss of “me time.” And we all know and read about the need for self-care: if we don’t look after ourselves, then how can maintain our multi-tasking superMom status for everyone else?

I don’t blame my kids, my husband or my full-time job. In fact, my husband, knowing me as well as he does, often asks me what am I going to do for myself each weekend. I’ve tried my hardest to make “me time” a priority at the weekends; sometimes it works, more often than not, it’s 30 mins grabbed here or there that, in truth, doesn’t amount to much of anything in the way of soul-soothing.

Truth is, there’s just not enough weekend in the weekend for “me time.”

So this morning, I decided it was time to take some action. I am demanding one whole Saturday per quarter for me and me alone. Because I need a whole 12 hours to unwind my mind and body. To do things for me. At my pace and to my agenda.

I am claiming my “me time” because I need to know that it’s there, carved out on the family schedule. It’s something to look forward to, to plan for. To decompress the depleting stress that creeps up on my brain and rattles my sleep. To recharge my silly.

I know that everyone will benefit from my “me time.” Not just me.

Embed from Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Are You My Mother?

Recently, a new friend said to me, “It wasn’t always like this, but now my mother is my best friend.”  I thought, “Wow, I love my mom, but that is not how I would describe our relationship.”

Not a day later, another friend plaintively asked, “How do I keep from turning into my grandmother?” … who was bitter and lonely at the end of her life. 

The proximity of these two comments has me thinking about the spectrum of mother-daughter closeness and where I would like to be, both with my mother and my two daughters. I recognize that it takes intention, and a lot of years, and that individual personalities will have some effect as well, but I am determined.

Then I hesitate. I love my mom and I know she loves me, but tends towards negativity and has trouble expressing affection. So how do I do everything completely differently without invalidating the good aspects of my memories of childhood and my solid, if not best-friend-close relationship with her now? I know she worked hard to be a more fun and supportive mom than her mom was – so who am I to criticize? But I still have issues.

The question from my friend about not turning into her grandmother actually prompted the best answer for me. I told her I think you have to be someone who doesn’t judge. It has been my overriding interpersonal goal lately to not judge. It is a difficult practice and, as with yoga, Buddhism, or anything worth improving, perfection is likely elusive.

The effort, however, has already had a profound affect on my relationship with my mom. I’ve started gently calling her on negative comments, and pushing back, actually telling her that it hurts my feelings when she makes judging comments about me. I have noticed a change in the way that she approaches our discussions and, with consistency, there seems to be an actual decrease in negativity as she learns the new rules. This approach applies to so many mother-daughter discussions. When she tries to engage me in a discussion of my cousin’s baby weight gain, I firmly refuse to discuss it.  When she makes an observation about my daughters’ eating habits – food and body image issues being one of the sorest of the sore spots – I remind her that I’m their mom and that it is none of her business. When she says things like, “Oh, I just want your sister to settle down and find a nice man to marry and move back here so she can be happy,” I gently point out that she may be perfectly happy living a social single life.

Now, how will this improve my relationship with my own daughters? Well, I work on not being a parent that kills self-confidence with judging comments. I try to catch myself before I say, “That was good but you can do better,” if I can. Or before I override their decisions. 

More importantly though, I am practicing not judging myself, probably the hardest part, especially growing up with lots of “That’s great, but …” I know that in order to foster a more loving and durable relationship with my daughters, I need to model loving myself and not worry too much about what the neighbors think of my messy house.

Erika Jerram is an urban planner for the Town of Framingham.  She is also the mom of two amazing girls ages 7 and 2, who astound her daily with their capacity for curiosity, humor, and sheer self-confidence.  Erika’s days are filled with seeking that mystical place known as “Work Life Balance” and housework usually loses the battle for her attention. She works at not judging people and not sweating the small stuff and her relationship with her Mom is stronger now than it ever was.

photo 1

%d bloggers like this: