It is my mom’s birthday today. She likes birthdays, but isn’t someone who craves attention. Growing up in Texas, as children and adults, we would buy a cake from our local grocery store, usually German chocolate cake, with bright red icing that screamed Happy Birthday. The cake would be placed in the middle of our old, worn brown dining table and we would light one candle, sing Happy Birthday, and the birthday girl or boy would make a wish and blow out the candle. It didn’t matter whose birthday it was, cake and singing was a guarantee.
Last night we celebrated my mom’s birthday by continuing the cake tradition. I bought my mom a carrot cake and my husband, my daughter and I sang Happy Birthday to her as she blew out her single candle. I paused for a second while watching my mom. I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about my Mom. In an odd way, I take my mom for granted. I assume my Mom will always be in my life because, although life without my dad is hard, life without my mom is unthinkable. I don’t think I always knew this, but it is something I came to realize and appreciate over time.
Growing up in Texas, I always remembered that my Mom loved to be in the kitchen, always making a mess, trying to cook her way through life. I never understood that about her, this need to be in the kitchen. As a young girl, I would come home from school and smell fresh Indian bread and a combination of curry sauces on rice and various vegetables. I watched her, balancing the pots and pans, throwing spices in all directions. I vowed never to become that woman: housewife, domestic engineer, or stay-at-home mom.
Although I ate my mom’s food with a quiet appreciation, I was never curious about how she made all of her concoctions. In the beginning, she would try to encourage me to cook and I would scoff at her, telling her that my resume wouldn’t benefit by listing “cook” as a qualification. I think she understood my rebuff because, although she encouraged me to cook, she wasn’t adamant about it.
What I didn’t realize as a young woman, I understand now. There was a loftier purpose behind my mom’s cooking. What I saw were pots and pans, messes on the counters and floors, the thick aroma of Indian food covering up the scent of Glade candles. My mom saw different things: she saw her husband and her children indulging in a warm, authentic Indian meal conversing with one another everyday at dinner time. During those conversations, we would learn the most about each other, sharing mundane details about our day, but also revealing our little joys, like an A on a test, or my father talking about his promotion at work. We would end the meal, with “That was good mom”. My mom wouldn’t say Thanks, but she would smile, not full-toothed smile, but a quiet smile, hiding all the many things that brought her joy.
Since becoming a mother, I understand that smile, that quiet satisfaction of knowing when my daughter and husband have enjoyed a meal that I’ve cooked. My daughter will say, “That was yummy, Momma.” These days my mom is in my kitchen too and I smile, giving thanks to those things that I never understood as a little girl or young woman, but understand now.
Happy Birthday Mom. Love you forever.