In a discussion with friends the other day, a question was asked as a sort of “prompt” to get a philosophical conversation flowing. I can’t remember it word for word now, but it was basically, “have you ever said something that sounds just like your mother, and what did you think about that?” Most of us in this particular group are mothers ourselves and so many of the examples given had to do with disciplining a child or frustration at a child. There were a few offerings of phrases most often uttered when life throws a curve ball or in the alternative, when something fantastic happens.
It was an interesting mental and emotional exercise in many ways.
Shockingly – or perhaps not – the thing that popped up immediately in my mind was, “are you hungry? have you eaten today?” I could hear it in my mother’s voice as I thought it, but not just hers. I heard it in my grandmother’s voice, my aunts’ voices, my great-aunt’s voice, and other women in my family … a conglomeration of concerned motherhood was echoing in my brain.
Afterwards, I got to thinking, what a wonderful thing to write about! And you know what? It is. I went back through my past work and lo and behold! I had already put pen to paper on this subject.
Sometimes love isn’t simply “I love you.” Sometimes it’s “are you hungry? have you eaten today?”
Feed Me (Originally Written in April 2014)
The overwrought parent. It’s an ageless and timeless trope that has been milked for easy jokes on dozens if not hundreds of sitcoms for decades now. The kids come home from college and the mom immediately rushes up to her son or daughter, clawing at their clothing while wailing about how they’re nothing but skin and bones. The mom then makes it her duty to whip up a hearty dinner of meat stew and potatoes to try to fatten her kids up before sending them back off to that barren wasteland known as University.
How many times have I rolled my eyes whenever I saw a mother portrayed that way? I’d think to myself, The kids are fine. Settle down. They’re 20 years old; they know how to find food for the love of God! Little did I know that I was bound for the same fate; my course having been set even before I was born, and now I have finally arrived at that echelon of motherhood teeming with irrational anxiety that for some reason my kids have lost any ability to live independently and will die without my assistance. Whew. Okay. Breathe.
My grandmother used to always push food on us like we had been locked in the Oliver Twist orphanage for decades on end. The funny thing is that she didn’t do this to us when we were kids, only when we were full-fledged grown-ups coming to visit. I guess that as a child she figured my mom would ensure we were fed. Maybe she thought the older I got, the less likely I would be lucky enough to find someone willing to give me food (because for some reason I don’t have the ability to do it myself). So, me as an adult, I’d come by to say hello and she’d cook (always) and even insist that I take food with me for the road trip home.
I remember she did the same thing to my mother after our visits in the summer. A sandwich for the road… biscuits for later… a piece of that fine ham she had for dinner. It was simply impossible to leave the house without something wrapped in foil or stuffed in Tupperware.
Her sister, my great-aunt Bunny, was the same way. I guess that should come as no surprise, since they were raised by the same woman, Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines, who also had an obsession with making sure people were fed. Back when I was a kid, we’d visit my Aunt Bunny every Sunday and sure enough, we always left with something in hand.
Then it was my mom’s turn. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but she hit a certain age and boom, she fell right in step. Sometimes when I leave her house after a visit it’s like I was just at the Whole Foods store. Balanced in my arms are loaves of bread, canned goods, sweets, and frozen meat (yes, frozen meat). Bless her heart.
Ridiculous, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. But the virus has taken over my brain too! My poor son. He’s 22 — a man in the eyes of the law and the world — and has moved into his own place, but he’s still in that “new adult” stage; scraping for cash, trying to get on his own two feet. When he comes to visit I feel that it is my maternal obligation to fill his belly with as much food as I can. I constantly tell him to ransack the place, rummage through the cupboards, take anything. I’m pushing food on him like the generations of mad women before me.
Except now I understand that it’s not that we don’t have faith that our kids can live on their own…it’s just that if we know they’re fed…if we can do that one small thing for them… then we figure they can handle the rest of life on their own. And really, money does play a part in it. I would rather my son ransack my cabinets than live on only Ramen for the week. I know my mom feels the same way about me and that’s why she lets me grocery shop in her cupboards.
We can’t solve all of their problems and we can’t “fix” everything no matter how much we want to. But we can feed them. We can make sure that one primary need is filled. So we can worry about them a little less. Knowing that makes me feel a little less crazy. A little.