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 true).
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 pickles.
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 person.
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 unrealistic.
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.