Personal Essay: The Recipe for Parenting Success

woman cooking

I once cooked lamb chops in my bra, not wanting to risk splashing port on a favorite top, but daring even less to grab a t-shirt and wake my baby, asleep at last, in our bedroom.

The lamb chops had themselves been something of a stretch, but were evidence of my determination to eat well, even with the wondrous, all consuming new being under our roof. My husband and I had enjoyed years of great dinners, but we’d never been as deserving of them as we were in those thrilling but exhausting first months as new parents.

I’m a serious cook. Bouillabaisse and duck confit never daunted me. What did was wondering how I’d ever be able to make anything approaching those things again with the needy little dreamboat who’d entered my world. It wasn’t long before I realized the culinary bar would need to be lowered a wee, and that naptime would be showtime. But those brief hours soon proved to hold no guarantees, and mighty competition for my attention.

I’d fully expected that life with a baby would offer little chance for standing at the stove, lazily stirring the makings of a wild mushroom risotto, and I’d planned accordingly. I felt smart, even smug, about the freezer I stocked as my belly swelled, filling it with homemade soups and stews and such. Clever me, ready to host a mid-winter dinner for six with the short ribs I’d braised in September. I’d hold my beatific babe in one arm as I passed the polenta with the other.

Somewhere around the time my son turned 6 months old, I realized I could barely close the freezer. Boxes of gyoza and ravioli and spanakopita had managed to insinuate themselves—the result of my strolling the grocery aisles, Baby Bjorn’d and blissful, and thinking them splendid purchases for my busy new life. Home from the market, I’d shimmy my biryani and wedge the osso buco, ending up frazzled and nearly frostbitten, but still not sure about what we would eat.

For we never actually did eat any of the contents of that packed sub-zero drawer. The fact was, though my days brimmed with new motherhood and a trimmed down but demanding career, I still almost always had the nightly urge to cook, and that was an urge the freezer couldn’t satisfy. On evenings when dinner from scratch just wasn’t an option, we’d call up our favorite Asian noodle joint or bring in chicken souvlaki and a big Greek salad. My frozen assets remained in a kind of no-man’s land—too treasured for a quick solution on a harried Tuesday, and too unfulfilling to serve up for dinner when what I really wanted to do was cook.

But back to the bra. It felt weird. It felt thrilling. It felt weirdly thrilling to be standing in my kitchen, wood blinds drawn at 2:30pm, stripping rosemary from its stems, racing the clock, and exhilarated from the novelty of it all. There are, in this world, some iconic images of women, Madonna with child and the pin-up among them. At this moment I was nearly but hardly both—an unexpectedly racy new mom, sautéing shallots in a pair of jeans and a 34C.

I quickly finished the sauce and set it aside, then dove into some work in preparation for an upcoming meeting. I had just turned my attention back to the chops and a rosemary and olive oil paste when I heard my son’s cry. Maternal synapses fired. I’d finish the dish later. It had been an oddly sequenced and hardly perfect plan, but still a plenty good one. We’d eat well tonight. I darted to the bedroom, warmed by the sight of my sweet boy.

Years have passed, and with them, meals. By the time my baby was a first-grader, he was enjoying food with the kind of relish rarely encountered in a small child, savoring dishes like tandoori chicken, roasted asparagus, and smoked salmon with capers the way others swoon over cupcakes.

I began cooking six lamb chops instead of four, and couldn’t have been more thrilled to do so. Taking a bite of one, Timothy would close his eyes, as he has seen my father do when tasting something wonderful my mother has cooked—a very quiet, almost involuntary “mmm” escaping from him. Eyes still closed, my little boy lovingly mimicked his grandpa, but with an appreciation all his own, saying: “This is not just lamb—this is a beautiful delicacy.” He is a beautiful delicacy. Life is a beautiful delicacy.

Laraine Perri is an editor at the 92Y, a freelance writer, and an NYC mother.

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