An Insult? Or Just A Grain Of Salt...

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Not long ago, in a life far away, my nest was empty and I thought I’d never have to make another meal again. I was counting on it... THAT is the part of empty nesting I longed for the most ... eating food prepared by anyone other than myself. Dinner options would center around prepared gourmet foods, high-end take out, Blue Apron, and...restaurants...anything but my own body situated next to a stove.

But life is funny when you’re a member of the Sandwich Generation. Things don’t always go as planned. I have a pit-stopping college student on one side, and my 91 year old mother on the other. Both of whom need to eat, and both of whom are not likely to do so without a little help.

So I cook. And cook. But not the haute cuisine of yester-year. Today’s fare varies greatly depending on: a) how much time I have, b) what I served last night and, c) whether I’ve had a nap.  

Generally before the 6 o’clock evening news, I call Mom to let her know if I’m making dinner, and what it’s likely to be (hard to say with certainty ahead of time... substitutions can happen right down to the last minute). There are two dishes Mom’s not crazy about (ie: won’t eat...), so I give her a heads up if clams and linguine, or anything with kale is on the menu.

Sixty percent of the time, Mom is “wow-ed” by my culinary efforts. Twenty percent of the time (on top of the 60), she’s appreciative. Ten percent, she maintains a neutral tone and expression. And, for the last 10% of my meals, she might say any one of the following:

1.     Can you bring me the salt?

2.     Does this have salt on it? (a variant of #1)

3.     What do you call this?

4.     This is interesting. What is it? (a variant of #3)

5.     I’ve never seen this before. (a variant of #s 3 and 4)

6.     Does this have butter on it? (a variant of #2)

7.     Is that kale I feel? It’s crunchy...

8.     Oh good... the vegetables are cooked (ie: mushy)

9.     Is that some kind of grain in there? (yes, quinoa)

And alas, a new one last night:

10. This tastes like the soup I just made.

There it is, my friends, the invitation to an argument I can barely resist.

Me- No Mom, it doesn’t taste like the chicken soup you made...Not at all... It’s chicken chili! They taste nothing alike.

Mom - Hmmm... yes, I think it does taste like my soup...

Me - (rolling my eyes) I gotta go Mom. My dinner’s on the table next door.

Mom - Oh... ok... can you just grab me the salt? 

How could this innocent exchange possibly send me to the edge? I know Mom’s taste buds work because 60-80% of the time she tells me how much she enjoys my dinners.  No...Mom’s comment tells me she believes my new chicken chili belongs on the lowest rung of her food desirability scale... one step up from the disposal.  

But is that what Mom really means? She’s not one to knowingly offend, especially the hand that feeds her. And I know she appreciates any home cooked meal that replaces a Lean Cuisine. In fact, I’m positive I have not actually been insulted by my mother.

It’s the computer inside my head that’s selected random thoughts, and crafted them into a perceived insult:

o   What do you mean it tastes like your chicken soup? Its CHILI for god’s sake!

It’s the best chili I’ve ever made!

o   I went out of my way to make this chili...going to the grocery store... buying chicken and beans... looking up the recipe...assembling it...

o   I presented this chili beautifully, with sour cream...served on your favorite tray!

o   No! I won’t grab you the salt!

All of these thoughts come together in a nanosecond to form this perceived insult from Mom... the result of a conversation taking place inside my head, where I am the only participant.

I haven’t seen Mom since I turned on my heel and left her apartment last night – insulted. And I won’t see her tonight because it’s Monday (my night “off”). So, the next time I see her, two days will have passed since the chili debacle. I’m pretty sure that in the course of our next conversation (where Mom is actually present), she’ll say something like, “Oh, that chili you made the other night was delicious!... with the chicken and the beans....How’d you make that sauce?

Mom will have forgotten chili-gate completely. In fact, in her mind, there was never a “-gate” at all. She was just Mom being Mom...a lovely 91 year old woman, watching her evening news, enjoying a home cooked meal prepared by her daughter.

How could I possibly have been insulted?

emily gaffney