Mamas Day 2014: Lessons from the Kitchen

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This post is part our #MamasDay blog series and is authored by Echoing Ida's Samantha Daley. 

When I was growing up, my household, indeed my life, revolved around the kitchen. There was always something going on or some work to be done, and my mommy, Verns, was the center of the machine that was our family. To say she worked hard would be an understatement. A single mother, she worked 2 to 3 jobs for the majority of my childhood to provide everything her family needed. And though she bore that label, “single mother,” she and we were never alone. In fact, our family included a community of mamas who lent their support and made an indelible impact on my life. Mama’s Day is a day to recognize all the mamas in our lives, be they related by blood or so close they are family. Like many others, I’m sure, I was raised among many women who taught me deep and powerful life lessons. Surrounded by a community of mamas, all of whom I consider family, those lessons came with the stirring of a pot.

My mom was always working in some way or another. If she wasn’t trying to make ends meet for her children, she would be in the kitchen whipping out dish after dish of Jamaican delicacies. Many mornings, I would wake up before the sun and hear my mama’s throaty laugh reverberate through the house. Then I’d come downstairs to see the kitchen already buzzing with life and moving full steam ahead in the preparation of a breakfast spread. Often, she had made my favorite: ackee and salt fish with boiled bananas and fried plantains, and a little ginger tea on the side to warm your stomach and your heart.

But the kitchen wasn’t only a place of creation—it’s where I learned some of the most important lessons of my life. The kitchen was my mama’s sanctum. It’s where I learned how to prepare oxtail, and where I learned the values that shaped me as a person and the decisions I would make thereafter. It’s where I learned that in order for me to be successful and happy, I would have to venture out of my comfort zone and try things that might make me uncomfortable. It was by watching my mama take pride in every dish she prepared, that I learned to have pride in everything that I do.

Because my mama worked so much, I also leaned on my community of mamas to share their styles and techniques, as well as what the kitchen meant to them. The kitchen was where all big decisions were made, disputes were settled, and where my community of mamas taught me some life lessons that I may have never learned otherwise.

This community included my stepmom, my aunt, cousins, and close family friends from the past and present. Our kitchen was the center of our home and our emotions were conveyed through our meals.

My stepmom, Hillary, was always the worker, the traveler, and the networking queen. My experiences in the kitchen with her were lively to say the least, and always included her friends and getting business accomplished over the course of a meal. I remember being overzealous and ecstatic about helping my stepmom cook because along with a delicious meal came stories of her fantastic adventures in the Cayman Islands and the hospitality industry. These experiences taught me to take a chance both in my cooking and my life because you never know what opportunities you will come across when you try something different and take a chance. And you couldn’t help but feel utter satisfaction after a piece of my stepmom’s raved about rum cake.

My aunt, Althea, was the most soft-spoken of my mamas, but she never really needed to raise her voice. Her meals—especially her soups, all made from scratch—said everything for her. Whenever there was a schism in the family, my aunt and her unforgettable soups would be called upon to restore order. Through the experiences with my aunt, I learned the value of creating a safe space where people feel they could come and not be judged and where issues could be settled without the combativeness and the yelling that can sometimes come whenever my opinionated family of Jamaicans gathered.

There was Peppa with her spicy palette and even spicier tongue and Ms. Monica who always kept it real. I have some of my earliest memories in the kitchen with my cousins Cynthia and Forba, whose elaborate spreads during the holidays kept our family tight. Through these powerful women I’ve gained an understanding about how spices can shape a dish and how meals with family can be just what you need to help you through hard times both professionally and personally.

One would be lucky to see all my mamas in one room; the confidence in their skills and that inner power that was evident in their stance left people in awe, and will always be one of the first memories that I hold dear. This group radiated strength and in a major dispute my community of mamas kept my family from coming apart at the seams.

What strikes me now about this unique and yet universal way I was raised is how far American culture has strayed from it. Obsessed with parenting perfectly and trying to do it all on our own, modern mamas must remember what our foremothers knew—that mothering happens in community and is far too much for one woman alone to bear. All these women taught me the importance of breaking bread, and how powerful of a tool that can be for learning and growth, laughter, and helping to move forward. There is so much to learn by watching and getting to be in the kitchen with our elders and family. Without their willingness to take me into their kitchens, to teach me the ways of the world through the stovetop, I may not have come to know about love and relationships, about striving for dreams, and taking my time. I look to these women with fondness, gratitude, and respect for everything they did to shape me while growing up in their kitchens of love.

To all of you beautiful mamas—those who invest in the rearing of children, who open their kitchens and their homes to the young curious ones—I salute you for everything that you are, and for the culture and stories that were passed to you and that you have so fiercely and unapologetically passed on to others.

Samantha Daley is a senior and soon-to-be graduate of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Her major of studies is Biomedical Sciences and Health Sciences with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is the president of the Choice USA chapter at her college, and also is a former Choice USA student correspondent. In participating as a Choice USA blogger, she has been able to share her points of view on a number of issues. Samantha has helped perform research on bullying and harassment in middle schools, and also volunteers at The Inspiration Family Birth Center in Winter Park Florida. Samantha is passionate about all things surrounding reproductive justice, and one day hopes to open up a women’s clinic.

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