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 for me (always) and even insist that I take food home with me.
I remember she did the same thing to my mother. 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.
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 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.