A parent's role never ends — it just moves to the kitchen

February 18, 2010|By Susan Reimer

On a recent trip home, my son paid almost as much attention to the refrigerator as he did to any of the humans in the house.

He hung on the fridge door the way I have wished he would hang on my words of wisdom. But what he found inside satisfied him on a different level. There was lasagna, crab cakes, quiche, kielbasa and kraut, ham, scalloped potatoes, baked beans.

All his favorite foods, planted there by a conniving mother looking for any way to connect with a grown son.

Talking with my 20-something daughter can be like tip-toeing through a jungle. Pick the wrong topic, and you can be struck with a painful bite.

But when we cook together, the conversation is smooth and easy. "Can you dice this for me?" "Would you use red pepper flakes in this, or not? "Do we have any lemons?"

Food, I think, is neutral territory for parents and their emerging adult children. And it is also our last way to minister to them, to connect to them.

I can't call the office and tell the men in charge of my Marine Corps son that he won't be in today because he's feeling poorly. I don't dare try to talk my daughter through friend troubles.

I can't pick anybody up, I can't drop anybody off. I can't bring a forgotten lunch or forgotten sports equipment or write an excuse for a missed homework assignment. I can't even pick out a gift that is guaranteed to please my children.

All I can do is cook.

My son will sit at the counter and argue politics with me while polishing off a plate of chicken scaloppine and fettuccine Alfredo.

My daughter will accept my gratitude with a sweet smile when she jumps in at the last minute to help me cook for a party.

And I will take what I can get.

The trouble with parents like me is that we don't feel like our job is over, even if our children are quite certain that it is.

We want to put the finishing touches on our kids, and smooth their transition into the burdensome world that we know awaits them.

They don't want any part of that help, and I don't blame them. I remember myself at 20-plus, and nobody could tell me a thing. But I loved going out for Italian food with my mom.

There is another reason why I cook for my children in order to keep them close. I like them.

I like having them around. I like their sweet faces and their laughing voices and the fresh ideas that come from them. Unless one of them is really angry with me, I would choose to be with them over anyone I know.

And I tempt them to come closer with food.

My son will be home again soon for a visit.

You should see how long my grocery list is. And I am counting on my daughter to help me cook it all.

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