This article was published in my column for the Khaleej Times, wknd magazine on November 1, 2013.
Three generations in the kitchen, learning the language of love
A few weeks ago, my life changed. I had a baby. There is a new man in my life, who gives it brand new meaning. I am a mother. And like every new mother after months of expectancy, I feel a series of emotions flood my body daily. It has taken my son to shed new light on how I value my own mother, especially the way she communicates with me through food.
My mother, Waneta May, travelled all the way from Jamaica to Dubai prior to the arrival of my baby so that she could spend three months helping me make my own transition into motherhood. In her bags, she packed some of her personal items, but sacrificed lots of space for gifts for me, husband and indirectly even baby as well. She brought bags bearing gifts of food.
She got me real Jamaican scotch bonnet peppers, seriously pungent thyme from the hills of St. Andrew, moringa, cocoa beans, hominy corn, ackee — Jamaica’s national fruit — as well as pickled favourites. For my mother — like so many mothers — food is her language of love.
In the last uncomfortable stages of pregnancy, few things brought me as much relief as a bowl of soup or porridge from my mom. After giving birth, my appetite returned with a vengeance, much to her delight. I, who was hard to feed as a child with very picky eating habits, had become an open food lover, willing to try dishes she had always loved herself but never dared to cook for me. I was now just beginning to get a taste of my own mother that I had never experienced. With a clean and eager palate, I welcomed the daily food adventures created in my own kitchen, in which she was rightfully crowned queen by both my husband and myself. I simply showed her where the items were and stepped aside, only to be blown away daily. I was inspired. My mother had ushered my food mojo back. With this newfound inspiration, I got curious. There was something I just had to do — aim for recovery as soon as possible so that I could get to cook with my mom.
I had always known she was a fabulous cook, but I had no idea how inventive and creative she was as well. I really thought I was going to teach her a few things I had learnt over the years since I moved out many, many moons ago but I found that I had more to learn.
When I was a little girl, I spent time in the kitchen with my mommy teaching me to cook. I learnt to cook for survival. I also learnt how to cook to impress others. The latter gift eventually paved the way for an unexpected career in food. But now that I am a grown woman and also a mother, I finally got to see who she really was. She was no longer trying to please the finicky eater who ate the same things over and over. She was putting herself on the plate.
I found myself trying to do the same for her from time to time. I wanted her to understand the woman I had become and the mother she had inspired me to be. Life is short and so much is unknown. It is in these moments with my mom in the kitchen and baby tied to my chest in a sling that I truly get what it is all about. The present is best lived with advice from the past and care for the future. In the kitchen, there are three generations of us who will continue to cook together through the years as we share our life experiences. Past, present and future — we are all three.