Food for thought: The job of a lifetime

Content with her lot, a stay-at-home mother makes her case.

Japanese chicken 88 248 (photo credit: Ilana Epstein )
Japanese chicken 88 248
(photo credit: Ilana Epstein )
Last month I had a big birthday, but there were no celebrations or fireworks. I received a hug from my husband, kisses from my children, phone calls from my parents and siblings, SMS messages and e-mails from friends. I surprised myself by being quite content with the attention. In fact, as the day continued, I was feeling quite smug. No self-pity at all. I was pleased that my close family and friends remembered and that they were forthcoming in their warm wishes. The smugness continued well into the day. In fact, by five o'clock, I was well on my way to sainthood. That is, until I chanced to bump into a good friend. Before I continue, I want to define "good friend" in the best sense of the word. Someone who loves me for who I am, who has been there for me and I believe has allowed me to be there for her. The friend said, "Ilana, I'm so pleased to have bumped into you. There is something I must discuss with you." I find that I learn so much from these conversations that I eagerly agreed. That, however, is when my birthday turned from smug to "ugh." My friend asked me the simplest question in the world: Why don't you go out and get a job? You are talented and bright, you have much to offer, and you could help your family by putting in an honest day's work. My response should and could have been many things, except for what I did respond with: a wealth of excuses, back-tracking, and innocence-pleading that hasn't been seen since the auto industry executives traveled in private jets to the US Congress to cry poverty. I believe there are many women like me, stay-at-home mothers who wished they could mother and work. Intelligent women who are trying to balance the needs of their family with their financial requirements, as well as their own personal sanity. There are also women on the other side of the spectrum who work and feel guilty and insecure about their children and what they are providing for them. I'm one of those people that have the perfect comeback five minutes too late. Now, six weeks later, I am prepared to defend myself. I do have a full-time job. I am mother to four of the most incredible creatures on this earth, am married to a strong and honest man, and I am part of a large and loving family. All of these are blessings from God, given into my stewardship. Somewhere along the line, I asked God to give them all their health and, in return, I look after them in my way. Caring for them is the most rewarding and difficult job I know. On any given day, I am a camp counselor, nanny, short-order cook, chauffeur, tutor, psychiatrist, sanitary engineer, dry cleaner, nurse, doctor, mediator, public relations expert, advice columnist, coach, cheerleader, army captain, informal educator, lifeguard… In short, I am a mother. I am grateful to have a husband who not only supports me but is my second-in-command. I don't believe that I am replaceable or redundant. To be a mother, no matter if you mother via cell phone from your office or, like me, working from the epicenter of the madness, if you are a mother commanding from above or below, if you are a mother to one or a dozen, if your children are young or old. I applaud you. I believe that mothering is the hardest job in the world, and no matter how you do it, there will always be those who will tell you that it can be done a better way. It's been a while since I have been on a plane with a child, but do you recall the emergency procedure, the one that tells you that in case of emergency, put your yellow Dixie cup - that somehow is going to save you from calamity - over your own mouth before you put it on your kid's? The reasoning is simple: If you are passed out, you can't help your child. I believe that our instinct is to look after our children before we look after ourselves. Logic, as opposed to emotion, would have it otherwise, that if you look after yourself, you will be better equipped to look after others. So, too, with the different forms of mothering. We each should mother in a way that makes us happy with ourselves and ensures that we are able to live to mother another day… with some form of sanity if at all possible. I am infinitely grateful to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, though I am uncertain whether my working full time would cover the financial expense incurred by hiring a three-star general to look after my children. I am grateful to my friend, who thinks that my talents are wasted. I may be making a party dress for Winnie the Pooh, and baking green cupcakes on a random Tuesday, but none of me is wasted. My reward will be when my children go out into the world, indomitable and self-assured, when they give of themselves candidly and fondly, just as my friend has always given of herself. So to mothers everywhere, take care of yourselves. Your children, no matter what age, need you. My birthday wish to myself this late in the game is that I never again make an excuse for who I am and that I can keep on doing what I do as long as the monsters need me; and when they can look after themselves, that none of my talents will have disappeared, and that employment of some sort will be available to me, the three-star general whose CV will have only one word on it: MOTHER. Japanese chicken This dish is so quick, so easy, yet has me feeling like a gourmet chef while my children eat something that isn't coated in bread crumbs. I find that the frozen cubes of minced ginger and garlic are perfect for this recipe. 2 Tbsp. soy sauce 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar Half a cup honey 1 garlic clove, minced 1 tsp. grated ginger 2 whole (from 2 chickens) chicken breasts, skin and bones removed Preheat oven to 220ºC. In a medium bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Cut each chicken breast in half vertically, and then in half again horizontally. Line a deep roasting tin with aluminum foil and place the chicken breasts on the foil. Pour half the marinade on top and roast, flipping the chicken every five minutes in the marinade. Keep on cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve with the remaining marinade, white rice and roasted greens.