When I was a baby and my family lived in Japan, my parents took me along with them to attend a conference in Hong Kong, leaving my three older siblings in the care of a childless couple from the church. The pair fed my brothers and sister liver. This has never been forgotten, nor, I think, have my parents ever been quite forgiven this breach of trust.
When I was nine or ten, my mom went back to work full time. By this point my two oldest siblings were away at school, but every once in a while my mom had to travel for work, and my dad, brother and I were left to fend for ourselves. We knew our way around the kitchen. My dad spent most of his summer evenings processing the garden’s fruits and vegetables for the freezer; my brother and I, less healthily, spent our after-school afternoons, on our own, building tall stacks of peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers, or secretly baking and eating Stir n’ Frost cakes fast so that my mother would never know (except of course she knew). None of which should have instilled a whole lot of confidence in my mom that we could cook in her absence, but as far as I can recall, while she might leave ingredients and suggestions for meals, she did not cook meals for us in advance. I knew how to make meatloaf and minute steaks, there were plenty of vegetables in the freezer (thanks to my dad’s summer labors), I could follow a recipe. So we did not starve. Of course, there was the time we tried to bake potatoes, and didn’t know to prick them all over in advance. After a time, we heard a dull thud and opened the oven door to find shards of potato innards scattered all over the walls and floor of the oven. We turned off the oven and went out for pizza. But mostly we did just fine.
Now I’m about to go away on my first business trip as a mom, and while I’ve organized school pick-ups for my days away, supervised early Valentine-making and left my husband reminders about swim class and the school fair and a Saturday playdate, I haven’t done a thing about meals. He knows how to cook, and in fact while I’m gone, the three of them will probably experiment a bit in the kitchen; maybe I’ll come home to a new variation on puttanesca, or some leftover Saturday morning scones.
The big story here isn’t the family left to fend without the mom – in our house, dinner is every bit as likely to be cooked by my husband as myself – but the mom on her own for seven (of course I’ve counted) restaurant meals, seven meals without children. I’m both happy and anxious about exploring this unfamiliar terrain. I’ve assembled my airplane snacks and head off to Chicago with a list of restaurants and a couple of good books. It’s time for me to learn to eat alone.