I remember the first time you taught me how to make your lasagna. I was around 13 years old. It was in our old blue house—the one that caught on fire. You showed me how to boil the noodles, lay them on wax paper to cool. Then how to cook the ground beef, put a small amount of sauce on the bottom of the pan, swirl it around to cover the bottom, then add the first layer of noodles. On top of those went the meat, the cheese, the sauce, then repeat until ingredients were gone. Your secret ingredient—that made the casserole soupy (a trait we all loved)—was cottage cheese instead of ricotta.

You didn’t cook much. Most of our dinners were prepared by a company named Schwans. They delivered frozen meals every month, which was always clearly marked on the calendar. You were quite busy with work and running us kids around back then. If you weren’t able to cook, we just assembled a meal with the packaged food in the fridge or pantry.  When you did have something you cooked [mostly] from scratch, it was good, and I was interested to know the recipe. Except meatloaf. I never liked that. Pork chops too. They were always so dry. But I don’t blame you, I know from personal experience how hard it is to maintain moisture in pork chops. 

I don’t know how you did it, mom. 4 kids, who all played sports after school, you worked all day, dad worked day and night. You were the one who I remember being around the most, which tells me that you had the duty of caring for us on your plate more than dad did. You must’ve struggled and felt like you never had time for yourself. Maybe, and I think I might be right, you lost yourself, because, how could you really retain who you are when you had us to care for through those circumstances?

I wish I had become a parent sooner so that I would have realized these things about being a mom, and your experience with being a mom, before you passed away. I imagine what it would be like to talk with you about this. The struggles of early motherhood. The challenges of disciplining children. The hardships that create wedges in marriages, relationships, children. I feel like you’d understand better than most.

Speaking of food—one of my fondest memories of food with you is when we would bake cakes for a birthday party and have leftover frosting. You would then take that frosting and make saltine-frosting sandwiches. There was usually only enough leftover for a few of them. So we each got one or shared one. My favorite was chocolate frosting sandwiches. I can’t wait to make them for my sons.