It's 1:36 p.m. and Lilia is finally down for her nap. After an
exhausting morning of running and playing, I cannot wait to … start
making jelly. Um, excuse me? Yes, this afternoon, I am making two
kinds of jelly, canning it and baking pumpkin bread. I ask myself
how on earth I got here-the same person who once had to call her
mother for instructions on how to hard boil an egg (I swear it's
Cooking as of late has become a need for me. I need to make
banana muffins, dilly beans, tomato basil shrimp and my very own
My mother, bless her, forced me to be in the Girls Scouts until
the sixth grade. It was torture for me. The nature, the sewing, the
cooking. I hated it. I remember one of the scout leaders
complimenting me by telling me I was very domestic. Even at 10, I
bristled against any such characterization. And I lived most of my
life purposefully avoiding any hints of domesticity. So to find
myself going from store to store looking for the right type of
pectin is still quite a revelation.
What could have possibly transformed me from a person who was
seriously intimidated by a Betty Crocker cake mix into someone who
makes her own pickles and pasta sauces from scratch?
Everything changed with the birth of my daughter. People ask me
what it is like to have a child, and I tell them it is like having
another sun thrown into your solar system. It changes your orbital
path. Nothing is the way it was before because you are in new
orbit. You are navigating new worlds.
While I love making food for my family and the feeling of
creating something tangible, I realized recently that my kitchen
compulsion has been a search for identity. I'm not sure I know who
I am right now.
My husband and I decided that staying home, at least part time,
with my daughter was the best answer, so my career path changed
drastically. I used to know I was good at my work and had a set
income. Now, none of that is certain. And my main job, motherhood,
is not very black and white. I rarely know when I am succeeding but
always know when I am failing.
The cumulative effect of my work, a well-adjusted, caring,
confident woman, seems a long way off when I am talking about
potties and Elmo.
My daughter makes me want to be a better person, a worthy
Through this journey of motherhood, I have learned an untold
number of things about myself. I am more patient than I thought I
was. I expect perfection from myself when it comes to raising my
daughter, which is a cause of much heartache and anxiety.
I was once the kid who needed real help with boiling an egg, and
I'm now a culinary genius (OK, mid-achiever). Why? When faced with
the enormity of the legacy of your life and your role as a mother,
it helps to have little wins at the end of the day-a contented,
sleeping child, fresh-baked cookies and a feeling that somehow,
someway, it will all be all right.
Jars of jelly and loaves of bread are real results of my day.
And before you say motherhood is enough, I would tell you that is
only true for some. For me, my daughter is almost everything to me,
but I reserve the right to keep a little of my life for myself.
So I cook. I cook to find myself again. I cook to have a
tangible outcome for my day. I cook to keep my mind involved in
something that I can control. I cook because I can learn the rules
of my oven and baking soda when the rules for parenthood seem so
hard to understand. I cook because I need to feel connected to my
childhood ideal of a good mother, no matter how outdated or
And I cook because it makes the house smell good.
Eun Jung Decker is a freelance writer living in Chicago’s Bucktown/Humboldt Park neighborhood with one amazing child, one amazing husband, and the hope that someday she’ll have enough space for one amazing dog. She is the author of lovecookrepeat.com.
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