“Come in here, and let me show you how to be a good wife.”
When I was a kid, my Dad would call me into the kitchen every weekend to help him cook. Looking back on this now, I know was highly misogynist. My brothers were never required to stir macaroni. They never were scolded for lifting the lid on the rice. They were not schooled in the art of sausage gravy making. I don’t know what they were doing, probably having boy fun somewhere, but I being a female (and someone’s future wife, I guess) was expected to learn to cook.
I’m sure these classes at the Dad’s Interpretation of a Good Wife University were meant to be just another well-intended childhood educational experience, but my little child brain took these lessons to mean that I wasn’t good, yet. As an adult, I know that this was more a jab at my mother’s cooking than a statement on my general worth. (Sorry, Mom.) His passive aggressive attempt at a joke had me judging my own goodness and believing that every man was one burned casserole away from leaving. He planted the seed at a young age that a lot of problems between a man and a woman could be solved with a good gravy and a biscuit. (That part actually might be true…right?)
I’ve been married for three years now, and my Dad has been gone for five. Yet, I find when I am standing at the stove, I think of my early-wifehood education the most. The first meal I ever made for my now-husband was a Roasted Chicken, a green salad, and basic risotto (a dish I actually bought a book to learn how to make). As I took a bite of my risotto, the rice tasted too firm. Uh oh. I’m definitely losing points in the “wife-potential” category. He was super encouraging, “It’s just a little al dente.”
I hung my head in shame. Risotto doesn’t come “al dente.” It’s either cooked properly or a dismal failure. Later after we were married, other food mishaps would occur. Like the one time I undercooked a pork chop, and he microwaved it in front of me. It was as if a million daggers were thrust into my sternum. I’m bad, again. Let me help you pack your bags and deliver you from this life of misery, raw pork chops, and too hard rice. And that moment became one of those miraculous “off your mat” yoga moments we teachers often talk about. It was a moment when all that breathing on a mat in a crowded room turns into a tiny space between thought and action outside of that room. I felt that shame, those daggers, and then this static comes up within that wordlessly conveys, “Wait.”
In that tiny static space flashes of memory begin: of being nine years old and stirring macaroni, being eleven and hearing his sharp intake of air as I lifted the lid on the rice too soon, and being twenty and flinching at his exasperated grunts from my drops of spilled grease on the floor. I got the sense that my strong aversion to microwaved meat wasn’t about my cooking prowess. It was about being a good wife, and the self-appointed dean of Good Wife University wasn’t here to give me my degree. What stings the most about all of this is that even if he was to appear to me as a ghost with his spectral sheet of paper that officially declared me a Doctor in Philosophy of Good Enough, I’d still have my doubts. I mean, I don’t even think Good Wife University is an accredited institution.
In that moment, staring at my pork chop rotating in the microwave, I could remove those metaphorical heart daggers. My worth couldn’t be tied up in food preparation or a dead man’s opinion of a perfect woman. Good women burn casseroles. Good people forget the sugar. Hell, really good people just get take-out and let those other people deal with it.
This debate of my own worth has definitely become less hyperbolic (and a lot less heart-dagger-ish); yet, I still find times it pokes its head out again. Last night, at the end of a class I was teaching, I became aware of all of those feelings of unworthiness, completely out of nowhere. I looked over my class lying in Savasana, and I watched the rise and fall of their breaths, closed eyes, and open palms. I told them the usual things I always tell my students in this pose: to stop trying, to let their bodies relax, and to breathe as they normally would. That night, my mind tacked on another part to those same instructions: “Your breath, your body, and your effort is good enough, and now you can rest.” As I heard the words leave me, my shoulders eased down my back in relief.
It was good enough, for now.