Mom didn’t cook, she burned.
Dinner was ready when the smoke alarm wailed. Because of this, we spent a lot of time at restaurants in and around St. Louis, Missouri. It was just me and mom, mommy and I. Two best friends, partners in life. We were regulars are El Maguey, a local Mexican eatery with sombreros for birthdays, midwest eccentric decor, and an ambiguous health code rating. Mom would order a Negra Modelo, and I a strawberry daiquiri. “Virgin, extra whipped cream,” I’d say with a hair flip. As if I could find adulthood in the bottom of a glass. We ordered white cheese dip for the chips and steak tapatio. There was always more. More whipped cream, more chips, extra dip, leftovers and desserts and love.
Then I turned eight. And mom adopted two leeches. Well, siblings. I learned the word “budget.” Our lavish nights dining out morphed into our version of a nuclear family dinner. Mom bought pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and canned green beans. (For years I thought all vegetables grew in cans.) We sat together and ate while my siblings, Anastasia and Tony-Mustafa, learned English, table manners, and things like “Stop climbing on the refrigerator.” Mom stressed the importance of the family meal, as if the ritual overrode any budding dysfunction.
Then I turned 12. And my whole world flipped upside down. Mom adopted three teenagers. Goodbye steak. Goodbye chicken. Hello Costco—off-brand, on sale, bags of muck sold in bulk. Hello frozen pizza rolls and pirogies—freezer-burnt but edible trash. We were all old enough to cook for ourselves now. Dinner became whatever we chose to microwave.
It’s not that Mom wasn't maternal. She was. It’s that Mom was a provider, not a line cook.
But I missed the days of more, more, more, when I opened the pantry and saw less, less, less. My siblings were hoarders of food. They especially liked to eat my favorites. They consumed food as if it might disappear. In the orphanage, it often did. But I was 12, and not yet a Buddhist. So I reacted.
I stopped eating entirely.
Which led to binging. Which led to restricting. Which led to binging, then purging. Which led to anorexia nervosa. Which led to Mom, in the hospital, cradling me in her arms, asking me, “Why, why why why?” What I said to her was: I miss “more, more, more” and you gave me “less, less, less.” She told me was that she did it for me.
Sometimes less means more, and sometimes more means less than we think.
So Mom and I started grabbing dinner again. My daiquiris were no longer virgin, and her hair got grayer, which I probably contributed to. She gave me more. But I was on a no-carb, no-sugar, no-fun diet. So Mom had more. More chips, extra dip, leftovers and desserts and love. Slowly, I learned to be happy with what is.
Today, Mom and I still grab dinner.
McKenzie Moser is an aspiring writer who will graduate from Webster University in Missouri this December. She can be found @mckenziemoser/.
Mom’s Chicken and Green Beans
1 can green beans (any brand), heated
1 rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store, preferably one that has been sitting under heat lamps for hours, even days
1 glass tap water