I usually enjoy setting up a new kitchen, but this has become a joyless and highly charged task. My mother and I each have our own set of kitchen boxes, which means that if there are two cheese graters between us, only one will make it into a cupboard. The other will be put back in a box or given to Goodwill.
Each such little decision has the weight of a Middle East negotiation. While her kitchenware is serviceable, I’m a sucker for the high end: All-Clad saucepans and Emile Henry pie dishes. Before long, I’m shaking my head at pretty much everything my mother removes from her San Diego boxes. She takes each rejected item as a personal slight – which in fact it is. I begrudge her even her lightweight bowls, which she can lift easily with her injured hand.
Here she is, a fragile old woman barely able to bend down as she peers into a low cupboard, looking for a place where she can share life with her grown daughter. At such a sight my heart should be big, but it’s small, so small that when I see her start stuffing her serving spoons into the same drawer as my own sturdy pieces, lovingly accumulated over the years, it makes me crazy. Suddenly I’m acting out decades of unvoiced anger about my mother’s parenting, which seems to be materializing in the form of her makeshift collection of kitchenware being unpacked into my drawers.
When I became a mother myself, I developed a self-righteous sense of superiority to my mother: I was better than my mother, for having successfully picked myself up and dusted myself off, for never having lain in bed for days on end, too blotto to get my child off to school or even to know if it was a school day. By sheer force of will and strength of character, I believed, I had risen above all that she succumbed to and skirted all that I might have inherited. This, of course, is too obnoxiously smug to say in words. So I say it with flatware.