About a week after the birth of our daughter, I tiptoed into the kitchen one morning with the first small surge of motivation I’d felt since giving birth. After gently laying her down from a morning nursing session, I was ready to carry out the plan I had been carefully orchestrating —which was often since Baby Girl was waking up every 2 hours.
As I opened the freezer, I let the frosty cloud breathe into my sleepy eyes. Behold—frozen pancakes. I carefully separated them and laid them out onto name brand paper plates for each person in the house, except the baby of course. I quickly slid a skillet onto the stove and let the sound of the bacon sizzling harmonize with the hum of the microwave. When the plates hit the table I garnished them each with a little sliced strawberry and swooshed a bit whipped cream in each corner. With each movement of preparation, I felt myself gliding to the next step, almost like a dance, but slower since I was still in recovery.
As we sat down to eat my “gourmet” meal, I watched my husband take his first bite as I lamented, “I know it’s not fancy, but being able to do this gave me…”
“Life?” He finished my sentence.
Yes. It gave me life. To microwave frozen pancakes, fry a few measly slices of bacon, and serve it up on paper plates. It gave me life because it made me happy. It made me happy to feel a little more like me again.
I’ve loved to cook since I was a little girl. I think it runs in my blood. My grandfather’s cooking was as authentic as his Cajun accent–I’d do anything to taste his gumbo again. Growing up, he and my grandmother had an unspoken Sunday tradition of cooking a big meal, and anyone who showed up was welcome to eat it. Their food brought people together. When I’d spend summer days there, I remember dragging a stool across my grandmother’s kitchen floor so that I could reach the counter and help her mix Monkey Bread or make homemade tortillas. Instead of summer camps, I’d ask to go to cooking classes where I learned the textbook basics of all the Cajun staples before I was a teenager only to find myself in Maw and Pop’s living room years later asking about the “real” way to cook it all.
For me, being able to take a bunch of isolated ingredients and meld them into perfect deliciousness is an absolute thrill. I especially love being part of a culture where food is considered the heartbeat. When I cook, I find myself getting lost in the art of pouring myself out into the food so that when people take a bite, they get a tangible taste of my love. I may not be a professional chef, but cooking is very much a part of who I am.
When I became a Mom, cooking like I wanted to went on a metaphorical backburner because motherhood engulfed my time and my energy. Meals were as quick and unpredictable as the windows of nap time that I had to put something together. Slowly, as our son got bigger and more independent, my meals became more thoughtful and exciting because I had more of myself to devote to them. And here I am with baby number two, back at square one feeling lost in the world of boxed dinners and take out yet again.
When thinking about why frozen pancakes made me so happy, I remembered a group text conversation I’d had with my best mom friends recently. I scrolled through my messages to read the words again:
“Motherhood is so deep, it’s not all hugs, kisses, and bedtime stories,” said one of my friends who was venting about feeling alone in being a mom at times.
Emphasizing our need to get out, find a hobby, and get lost in doing for ourselves every now and then, the other responded, “It’s so easy to get lost in ‘being a mom.’ And that’s crazy beautiful, but when it starts to define you it gets sad and lonely.”
It starts to define you. That’s it. That’s why frozen pancakes gave me life. They gave me a glimpse of my definition again.
I love being the Mama to my babies, but at times it takes every ounce of my life to breathe into theirs and that’s an exhausting feat. Microwaving frozen pancakes in the quiet of an isolated morning breathed life into me again because it nudged at a defining part of who I am, which in turn gave me newfound energy that I desperately needed to be a Mama for the day. It wasn’t the complete definition, but the small spark was what I needed at that time. As my babies get older, I’ll get back to getting lost in the gravies and gumbos that give me life and make me feel like myself again. Eventually, I hope those meals will be the Sunday traditions that bring my little family together and give them life back in return for years to come
The reality is that our children need healthy moms. Physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy moms. We need life so that we can pour into theirs. And sometimes that life comes from finding yourself again. Cooking might not give you life, maybe it’s painting, reading, sewing, or plant collecting. Whatever it is, know that it was a part of you before you became a Mom and it is still a part of your definition. It is not lost, only simmering in the background patiently waiting for you to stir it back up. For now, you may only see glimpses of yourself in the microwaveable moments. And that’s okay. Embrace those moments to fuel you toward the day when you get to light your fire again.