setting the bar

A therapist once told me that I’ve internalized my mother’s role when hosting guests. This has led to what he called “overperforming domesticity”: managing the shit out of meals, conversations, and activities—even the “spontaneous” ones like strolling around the corner after dinner to see the neighbor’s crazy Christmas lights—and then imploding with resentment at how busy I am while everyone else gets to sit around sipping nog.

So last weekend, when I took the Greyhound to visit my parents, I found myself watching my mom’s every move. A scenario:

Only a 5pm reservation is available at the little café she’s discovered, so we sit down with a quick glass of white before heading out. As I’m telling Dad about the grant I’ve applied for, Mom slips out, and I hear frying sounds from the kitchen. Within six and a half minutes the smell of cooking wafts over, but Mom calls, “No, no, it’s nothing; I’ll be right there!” She enters the living room holding a tray on which is arrayed three small bowls and silver spoons. “Just a little amuse-bouche,” she says. “Now we won’t have to order apps.”

It’s lobster bisque. Saffrony crème, huge chunks of sweet meat, crispy green onions, flaked almonds. A gentle linger of cilantro.

I look up through the fog of sensory pleasure and scrutinize my Mom’s face for signs of stress or anxiety.

“Geez Louise, this is delicious!” says my Dad, and she winks at him.

Surely there are control issues in there somewhere, though. Jealousy at the way father and daughter have been relating in her absence? Food-as-love overkill?

I try, but it’s not there, I swear. In all the years I’ve been watching my mom, she’s taken pleasure in cooking special foods for the people she cares about. She’s become so practiced and passionate that the aura of a spellweaver attaches to her offerings. I mean, c’mon, lobster bisque? Really? Just like that?

And what does a daughter take away from all this? Well, I mean, it’s clear who has set the bar for my own hosting calisthenics. But I certainly can’t blame her for it. My taste buds would never let me.

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