I had one of those Wednesdays that was filled with back to back meetings, telecons, and fires to be put out. I had had a grand total of 20 minutes to exercise in the morning (far below my sanity dose), I left work, still on a telecom, had to stop at the grocery store because the refrigerator had gone empty or foul while I was out of town for three days, grabbed a combination of pre-prepared and make it yourself foods, and drove home. As I got out of the car, my lumbar roll fell onto the wet driveway, I dropped a bag because I was trying to carry everything in in one trip (I should know better), and my key ring got stuck on my finger under the grocery bag and it hurt! I fumbled with the key finally making my way in the side door, only to encounter a husband (who has asked to remain unnamed in this blog post) sweating away on his indoor bike robot, watching something mindless on Netflix, and asking, “When’s dinner?”
So, let’s get a little back-story. I had been cooking dinner for our family for 25 years. Back when we were grad and medical students in Berkeley, we went through this “share the cooking” period, but as the kids were born and grew, our gender roles became more stereotyped. But even as the kids left the nest one by one, I was still doing all of the shopping and cooking.
The year before, I had asked said unnamed husband to cook just once a week. Wednesdays were always my busiest day, so I thought, “Surely, he could manage one meal a week.” The first two weeks went well, although his repertoire was limited to garlic pasta and pasta alla puttanesca, at least there was dinner on the table. The third week, I drove up, walked up to the door and didn’t smell anything cooking. I started getting irritated. There he was on the exercise bike. I said, “Honey, it’s Wednesday.” He said, “Crap, I’ll order a pizza.” It was late and I was hungry and didn’t want to wait, so I just made myself a salad. I was not pleasant. I asked how someone who was so successful academically and could herd academic cats better than anyone I knew could not remember to cook one night a week.
After describing his disability to his team at a party one night, they tried to help out by compiling a book of local take out options. But even with that handy guide, he could not manage to remember to feed us on Wednesdays.
So this particular Wednesday, lumbar roll on the wet driveway, keys strangling my fingers, I had had enough. I put the groceries down on the floor next to his bike and resigned. On the spot. Only one child was left at home and she was an omnivore so there were no special diets or preferences that needed to be considered (aside from my dislike of Brussels sprouts and tendency to turn green and vomit when I eat scallops or clams), so surely he could figure out a way to feed us.
He was a little gob smacked, but it must have been clear by my affect that I was not kidding. I was really resigning. Tears were shed and a rant was had. Watching him exercise oblivious to my Wednesday plight pushed me over the edge. After about an hour, I realized what I had done and tried to back paddle. I tried revisiting the Wednesdays only idea, but in a moment of brilliant insight, he realized that he was an all or nothing kind of guy and if he was going to do it, he was going to do it all the way. No half measures. Shopping and cooking was now his domain.
I was petrified. This was the guy who would come home from the grocery store with moldy strawberries, expired milk, and the wrong brand of everything even if meticulously written down. Had I just destined us to perpetual oscillation between garlic pasta and pasta alla puttanesca?
So it was a bit of a rocky start. The turkey nachos didn’t go over too well and the shopping trips lacked a few essential ingredients, and included a few peculiar ones, but once he figured out how to digitize the process, things got smoother. He installed a note-sharing program on all of our devices and building the shopping list became a shared project. I could take pictures of products and say “BUY THIS ONE” and he could compare what he was grabbing to what we needed—no thinking involved. We went on a few field trips to Whole Foods and I demonstrated how to find firm grapes, where to check for strawberry mold, and I introduced him to the vegetable section!
On my end, I promised not to complain and not to make fun of him if he bought rotten fruit. I assured him that I would give honest, non-affectively laden or judgmental feedback. And I promised to clean up after his cooking.
He gradually started getting a little more adventurous with his recipes, found a way to get the recipes to populate his digital shopping list, and it all seemed to be becoming almost fun. He asked for more feedback! We could ask for more vegetables, teach him how not to kill the broccoli, and decide what stayed on the recipe list or got deleted forever. I loved my new role. I could work right up until dinner and do the dishes and clean up afterwards. At first this was quite the project as he had not yet learned how to clean up as he cooked, but gradually he got more organized and my job became more reasonable.
Gradually, some other things started happening. He started getting impatient if we didn’t come down to dinner the minute he called us. I remember that feeling. Then he started talking about the food—nuances of flavor and spices and the techniques that he used to cook things. There was some eye rolling at the table when the kids came home from break as they wondered when their dad had been replaced by the Galloping Gourmet. He started sharing recipes with my mother! He moped if a dish didn’t work out and at one point turned to me and said, “ I can’t believe this, it really hurts my feelings if you guys don’t like something I cook.” One night, he folded my laundry.
My parents couldn’t believe I resigned. My dad said that I would be “out on my butt” if I were his wife. My mom thought it was a bold move, but wondered how it would affect his job! Ahh! What about my job for these past 25 years! No one cared about the impact of all of the time spent shopping and cooking on my job. To that point, my husband thinks that this new responsibility has made him more efficient. I think it has made him more empathic and attentive. It has made me less stressed and irritable and so much more appreciative.
I wouldn’t trade my 25 years of shopping and cooking for the world. I loved finding special foods that made my kids or my husband smile. But, I don’t miss it—at least not yet. I had to go shopping a few weeks ago when he was out of town and I discovered I had lost my shopping radar. They had moved everything around in the store and I no longer had the ability to beeline to precisely what I needed in the shortest amount of time possible. I bought the wrong half and half!
He has become a better cook than I am. Granted, he doesn’t have to wedge cooking in between school and soccer practice or trips to the skating rink and he doesn’t have to deal with all of the kids’ at times incompatible preferences. He can take his time and cook for someone who is overjoyed about being cooked for. I love washing the dishes and making him a cup of herbal tea to drink when he goes back to his computer after dinner.
A new ritual has been born and we have evolved into our new less stereotypical roles. As I write this, he is reading up on modern Swedish cooking and contemplating all of the new dishes he’s going to try while we’re in Sweden.
I am glad I resigned. It has made us both better people.