The agreement is that “one person cooks, the other person cleans.” Maybe at some point early on in our marriage we thought we’d take turns with those duties, surprising each other with new favorite recipes and romantically dancing our way through the dinner routine, but 15 years and two kids in, it simply means that I cook and he does the dishes. It’s not exactly a scene from a rom-com, but it works.
Except when it’s 5:55 p.m., and everyone is hungry and I’ve finally got all the ingredients into the hot pan but now I can’t find the spatula. I can find the one that’s too big and the one that’s too floppy and the metal one that shouldn’t be used on this nonstick skillet, but I can never find the small-ish black one I need. He always puts it away in the silverware drawer instead of the cooking utensil drawer. Maybe he does this because it’s so small-ish, or maybe because the cooking utensil drawer is so overcrowded, but whatever the reason, at 5:55 p.m., with vegetables that are starting to brown in a skillet of spattering olive oil, it’s maddening.
But maybe instead of getting mad I should ask myself why I have all those other spatulas.
I thought about this recently when Coffee + Crumbs’ resident recipe master, Sarah, shared her thoughts on minimizing kitchen clutter. “If there’s one kitchen supply everyone needs it’s a decent, sharp chef’s knife,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be expensive, and probably what many people already have in their house is sufficient, but it’s just never been sharpened. No better kitchen tool exists in the universe than a sharp knife and someone who knows how to use it well. If you know how to use a knife, there are a million kitchen gadgets you will never need.”
The idea of possessing fewer, more functional tools—in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense—felt surprisingly and wonderfully profound.
I thought of my kitchen, of everything stashed away in those drawers and cupboards and pantries. I thought of the promises those items once proclaimed: To chop an onion without making me cry, to turn vegetables into pasta, to zest a piece of citrus just so, to grate the fancy cheese in a fancy way, to froth milk like a barista, and to crisp a homemade pizza crust like I’ve ever made homemade pizza dough in my life, to name a few.
And yet. This week we’ll eat regular ole spaghetti marinara, chicken chili from the crock pot, and maybe some kind of burrito bowl. I’ll use the same two pans and three utensils to prepare most of it. I’ll use the same knife every night, knowing now that it’s not sharp enough and that I’m not particularly skilled at wielding it, but I can get the job done. This is my lane. I’m good at this kind of cooking. There is seldom any need for microplaners and frothers and infomercial choppers with too many blade options anyway. I enjoy this kind of simple cooking. My family eats well. Our meals are healthy and affordable, and we enjoy them together around our kitchen table and I feel good about that. I never feel bad about not making homemade pizza dough.
But then I look in the metaphorical drawers and cupboards of how I mother, and it’s not so simple. There are the Pinterest boards and the newsletter subscriptions and the behavior charts that only get two stars per month because I always forget. There are the craft supplies I swear I’m going to use but don’t because I suck at crafts, and the now-expired email invitations for various classroom volunteer opportunities that I ignore for both valid and invalid reasons alike.
Mostly, there are 87 million broken promises to myself about how I will mother them better. Better birthday parties and bedroom decor, better after school activities and weekend playdates, better snacks and bedtime rituals, better boundaries and examples, better church and better state. A better mom, a better everything.
I have all the kitchen gadgets because somewhere along the line I was convinced there was a need I didn’t even know I had. Of course I need to spiral slice my apples into a slinky, how have I even lived this long without that. I will totally eat more vegetables if I can juice them with the push of a button; I already feel healthier just placing this order.
But maybe I am a simple mother in the way I am a simple cook. I don’t knead my own pizza dough and I don’t craft my own Valentines. I don’t make homemade lattés and the theme of my kids’ birthday parties is always “Birthday Party.” I zest a lime just fine with my cheese grater, and I declare that 3 p.m.—4 p.m. is for “Independent Play.”
When it comes to motherhood, I may not have a lot of fancy tools or tricks, but maybe I never needed them anyway.
No better kitchen tool exists in the universe than a sharp knife and someone who knows how to use it well.
What if I let go of the notion that I need to be craftier or churchier or somehow able to slice it all up into a perfect, whimsical slinky, and instead just focused on the tools I’m actually good with? What’s my one, sharp knife? How can I be a steward of it? How can I keep it sharp and master its use?
I give them freedom and safety and a love so strong it defies all logic, and surely that counts for something. Surely that cuts through any disappointment (both theirs and mine) over store-bought Valentines and thrifted Halloween costumes.
And so my job is to wield that as well as I can. To give them freedom enough to discover the world around them. To keep them safe enough to discover themselves. To make them feel so loved they cannot help but love the people and places they encounter along the way. To do this over and over and over, and when we feel worn down to sharpen this love back up again.
To cut through the clutter.
To cut through the disappointment.
To cut through my perceived failures. And theirs.
To cut through the Pinterest boards and the broken promises and the idea that I should be, or could be, a better mother.
To cut through all of that and love them with what I have, with what I do well, with the one sharp knife I have: The knowledge that they are mine, and I am theirs, and that is enough.
Photo by Sarah Hauser.