A friend from a large family was recently reflecting wistfully on the light and sumptuous pancakes that his mother — who worked full-time — would often prepare for the family on Sundays.
“It’s funny though,” he said, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “I never saw her eat one herself.”
My own suspicion is that she ate the first abstract, malformed efforts right out of the pan and counted that as her own breakfast, since making pancakes for a crowd is something that should be over as soon as possible. Still, life as a woman is chock-full of doing things for others that we do not always find enjoyable but do anyway. Automatically.
I think we can all agree that no one wants to return to the heady “Mad Men” days when women were unapologetically kept down and could not rely on equality in or outside of the home. But it seems important to note that during those so-called simpler times, the many activities today that we consider de rigueur — gym memberships, children’s competitive sports/dance lessons, committee/coaching commitments — did not exist, at least in the same ubiquitous form as today. Similarly, the way people ate dinner only a few decades ago was extremely predictable and, therefore, less complicated. Sunday was a roasted something, then leftovers, maybe a midweek chop or two and then the whole cycle was repeated. Again, not only did other options not occur (there were no “Memories of Szechwan”) but without FoodTV, recipe blogs and Instagram, the only celebrity chef was “Boyardee.”
My own mother, a person of some resilience, once presented ‘Turkey Tetrazzini’ — leftovers transformed by a curious powder, flecked with green — and was rewarded with familial outrage. The “strangeness” of it all was too much for my father, who was rattled by suddenly not having the same-dinner-every-Wednesday of his life. As a child, I found it exotic and happily lapped up every one of those (way) beyond al dente noodles.
The point is, that even though women today have a much better chance of “having it all” none of the traditional expectations have actually been dropped. In fact, many more have been surreptitiously grafted on. Meal planning is now a daunting task since dinners must not only be healthy, frugal, locally-sourced and fast, but everyone must enjoy it. This, I think is especially unique to our times. Back in the day, enjoying dinner was a nice bonus, but certainly not a primary concern. Providing a decent meal (no one worried about processed foods!) was enough.
Lack of time and guilt-fueled exhaustion have now created an industry that will not only deliver meals but also cater to dietary preferences. Millennials especially are hugely comfortable with this concept and definitely don’t expect to eat the same thing every day. The dietary bar is set high. Instagram proves that “regular cooks” are making expensive enamelware, sous-vide machines, and a working knowledge of Kombucha positively mainstream.
For women running their own businesses and single mothers particularly, exhaustion and self-sacrifice are an accepted part of life as they try to do everything, and do it well. But it’s time to be kinder to ourselves. An hour on Sunday to read, or a quiet glass of wine as the pasta water boils is not too much to ask. Make sure it happens. Regularly. I recently read an article in which a woman likened her chaotic life to being slowly squeezed in a panini press. The fact that she made this analogy, and that we all understand, says it all.