Growing up, we had an unbreakable rule in the house: always eat dinner together as a family.
Every night, we’d come together and gather round the dinner table that was bursting with home cooked dishes. Most nights, we’d talk about our days and share stories. Some nights, we’d rush through dinner because we had somewhere to be afterwards or because dinner was later than usual. Few nights, we’d eat in silence because we were mad at each other and didn’t want to talk. All nights, we’d eat together.
That’s the kind of love that kept my family together, and that sustains us in the weeks and months and years we’ve been apart.
One lunchbox packed with egg fried rice made with lap cheung, or Cantonese style sausage. One lunchbox packed with egg fried rice made with hot dog.
Every morning, the two lunchboxes would be on the kitchen counter without fail for my brother and I take to school. My mom was a firm believer that fried rice is best eaten the day it’s made, and not a day later. She’d get up extra early every morning to make us fresh fried rice. I didn’t like the hot dog kind. He didn’t like the lap cheung kind. So, my mother made both.
That’s the kind of love only a mother will give, even if her children are picky beyond belief.
Separating whites from yolks, frying up slices of pancetta so that it’s perfectly crispy, boiling water for the pasta.
His specialty was pasta carbonara, a riff on Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe. He talked it up for months before he finally made it for me, then was nervous that the final product didn’t live up to all of his hype.
It was delicious, of course. Creamy and cheesy and even a little smokey from the pancetta. But what I remember most is how he took a deep breath before setting the plates down at the dinner table and announced that dinner was ready. How he watched me as I took my first bite, and the slightest trace of vulnerability in his voice when he asked me what I thought of the dish.
That’s the kind of love from a boy who so desperately wants to impress his girl.
Running to the store to grab a bag of dark chocolate chips, the one ingredient that was missing from the pantry to make his favorite cookies. (Of course the lone missing ingredient was the most important.) Trying to keep the cookie making a secret so not to distract him from studying for his exams in the morning.
Staying up late, mixing and shaping and baking the dough, to form two dozen perfect chocolate chip cookies. Knocking quietly on his bedroom door when the cookies were ready, knowing that the absolute best time to have a cookie is when they are still piping hot from the oven, warm and chewy and delicious. Seeing the smile on his face spread slowly as he recognizes the gesture, and hungrily scarfing down the plate of cookies as a quick study break.
That’s the kind of love a big sister gives to a younger brother she loves so much.
Casually inviting him over for dinner later that night, then realizing there was nothing in the fridge that could possibly constitute something worth serving to a man who could start to mean something.
Panic shop at the grocery store, then come home and start banging around pots and pans, trying to figure out what to cobble together. Allow relief to slowly set in as instincts are trusted and the meal falls into place, even taking a casual sip of wine as the finishing touches are made.
The best part, though, is not the fact that the dinner was well made and he enjoyed it. No, the best part is that he does the dishes.
That’s the kind of love that could be, if given the right time and place.
“Mom has a cold,” eight year old me said to my younger brother. “What do we do?”
He scrunched up his face, thinking. “We cook for her. That’s what she does for us when we’re sick.”
So, we cooked. We made the only things we knew how: instant ramen with a side of spam and fried egg. We even did the dishes, too.
Sniffly as my mom was, she beamed when we brought her the tray of food. We were so proud, the two of us, that we were able to help take care of her the way she always took care of us. She thanked us and commented on how good it was, even taking sizable bites of what we had made.
That’s the kind of love children have for their mothers, and a mother for her children.