I vividly remember watching Like Water For Chocolate on VHS from the library. The themes in that movie reflected back to me a reality I had never identified outside myself. It was like the moment the fish swimming in his bowl finally understands this is water. Though my roots are Italian and Puerto Rican (not Mexican, as in the movie), all of those cultures place an emphasis on food. And like the main character Tita, it felt that the women who cooked in my family — my great-grandmother, both my grandmothers and my mother — poured their emotions into their creations and their charges were immediately infected with their feelings. Love was as real and as substantial an ingredient as flour or milk or butter.
When I became a mother, I realized instantly how important feeding my children would be to my happiness. I fretted over breastfeeding (is he getting enough?) and eventually I served up mashed fruits and vegetables by hand. Even today my husband will tell you that nothing lifts my spirits like a clean plate handed to me by my 3yo or 5yo.
So when I’m inclined to go above and beyond what a busy mother can “get away with” at school functions, it typically revolves around a baked good. But sometimes it’s just about showing up. My actions – every little thing I do for my kids – are my expressions of love.
A few months ago Lauren Apfel and I began this debate for Brain, Child Magazine with a focus on Superwoman Syndrome — I had it, she didn’t. At the time, I was explaining why I felt the need to do so much, especially around my family, especially when I had a full-time out-of-the home job. But as our drafts progressed, my life changed. I reduced my work schedule and I started to let go of some of the less significant things (like a clean house). Yet that pull to go above and beyond, to perform to perfect standards (even if they were only my own or my child’s as opposed to society’s ideas) remained.
I also refused to believe Lauren lacked ambition by any definition of the word (this woman is a phenomenal writer), which is typically thought of as the “opposite” of Superwoman Syndrome. So when she used the metaphor, ” I never wanted fingers in lots of pies. I wanted one cake at a time so that I could properly enjoy the eating of it,” we knew this conversation would revolve around the symbolism of baking and motherhood. Of course, it’s about so much more than that. I hope you will read the entire debate here: