Chicken pops and sizzles in fragrant coconut oil in the skillet.
A vegetarian option, carrot-coconut-curry soup, simmers on the neighboring burner. I’ve got five omnivores and a temporary vegetarian in the house, so I chop and stir and saute to nourish each one.
I’ve been cooking meals for over twenty years now. Tonight, the sweet and sour chicken I whip up from memory, adding a dash more soy or shaking in more brown sugar as I deem necessary. The soup is new, a recipe from a Ladies Home Journal that I picked up at the bookstore so that I could study the publication and consider submitting an essay about my dumb dog, Clarence, and how he’s taught me a lesson in unconditional love.
Clarence, cornstarch to thicken, turn the chicken, where’s a spoon?…All this rolls through my brain and evaporates as quickly as the vapor swirl that rises from the soup-pot.
There’s a stack of mail on the dining room table, right next to a pile of college art homework and a teetering tower of library books. There’s a random collection of shoes near the front door, a small stack of laundry on the couch and an even larger (as in mountainous) stack in my bedroom. It’s mid-March and valentine hearts still dangle from the chandelier.
It’s Thursday, so I’ve choreographed the dance of drop-offs and pick-ups and my shoulders drop a bit with the relaxing thought that I’m in for the night. The cooking is the work I love. The nourishing of souls and bodies, the sensory gift of spice and vegetable and sauce.
It’s hard to believe that I spent six months incapable of running this home while recovering from our accident. But I did and now, like a miracle, I’m back in the fray full throttle. I breathe a prayer of thanks over the stovetop and it mingles and rises with the steam.
And honestly, this is right where I want to be.
It’s weird, counter-cultural almost, to feel satisfied with my career choice when it’s been this stay-at-home-gig. A low-paying, under-appreciated and misunderstood profession. And it’s hard because I feel short-handed and short-sighted so much of the time.
I haven’t developed an amazing, organizational system or added “homeschool mom” to my long list of duties. I send them all off to school now, happily, and welcome the masses back home each afternoon. They arrive each day ravenous, digging through the fridge and in cabinets for snacks. But in the midst of the tumble of shoes and backpacks and snack-wrappers and dogs and the cat there is the conversation. The sweet comfort of recounting the day, telling stories, saying nothing but silly things.
Eventually, we eat. We eat late, my husband still in his browns (UPS) and worn-out-happy, and we talk and sip soup and eat rice and slurp sweet, sour sauce. We laugh at ridiculous YouTube videos and settle into beds and comfy chairs and the UPS guys falls asleep on the couch, again.
And the piles and stacks on the dining room table, pushed to one side, wait for the morning. The cat finds a laundry pile and sleeps on it. The dishes get done and I begin to turn off the lights.
It’s eleven and I’m drinking coffee with my daughter and eating vegan chocolate cookies that she baked and cooled on the island in the kitchen. Me in the midst of my lifetime, her on the cusp of college life. We sip. She takes hers black. I like cream.
And this, this is home. A mess of real. A perfect blend of imperfection.