There is a scene in my novel, THE MARRIAGE BOX, depicting a Syrian Jewish family at a Shabbat meal. A sentence reads,
“My father sliced the roast into thick pieces.”
When my book was getting its last edits, my agent commented,
“A few lines earlier, we learn there is chicken on the table. Would there be both chicken and roast?”
When I read the comment, I laughed because the answer is, YES!
Shabbat is a really big deal at my house, as it is for most Syrian Jewish families living in Brooklyn today. At my house, Shabbat is partly about spirituality, partly about family but mostly about food.
And so every week, I start preparing on Wednesday. I create a menu, keeping in mind the foods each of my children (and my husband) enjoy, and I make lists.
By Thursday all groceries, meats and vegetables are in my house. And to get started, six pounds of string beans are cut and cleaned; five pounds of potatoes are peeled and cubed. Friday, a good part of the day is spent cooking.
Every week, I make a dish called Chicken and Spaghetti. It’s a staple in our house, a favorite, and my kids can sure put it away. There was a time, when they were young, that I made four boxes of spaghetti. Today, I use three boxes even though there may be up to eleven (and I’m not exaggerating) other items on the table.
Over the last few months, I started adjusting how we ate. (Read- Food: How One Family Evolved.)
I cut back on oil.
I made roasted brussel sprouts instead of keftes (a Syrian meatball).
Sweet potatoes instead of white ones.
My chicken and spaghetti recipe has evolved as well. I went from using canola oil in the 80’s to olive oil in the 90’s, and most recently, tried brown rice pasta, which did not go over well. Two weeks ago, for the first time, I didn’t make it at all.
All this to say, a big part of my week centers around Shabbat. And good food keeps my kids around the table.
This week on Wednesday, I sent my kids a group text:
Who’s coming for dinner Friday night?
One by one, I got…
Hate to pour it on but not me either.
One by one, each one of my children declined.
This was a first!! EVER!!
And then my son who loves chicken and spaghetti the most wrote,
What do you expect when you don’t make chicken and spaghetti?
The sentence was followed by seven emojis. (I’ve started using emojis since writing Pouting Face Emoji but still I didn't know what one of the faces meant.)
“Oh boy,” my other son wrote.
Trying to fit in and speak their language, I sent an angry emoji and a sad one.
The Chicken and Spaghetti Lover’s wife wrote: He’s joking!! And added two of the emojis that had no meaning to me.
I hesitated before sending the following text. I meant it to be funny—no guilt intended.
“Is there an emoji of an old mother and father sitting at a long Shabbat dining room table alone, crying? I’m looking for it."
Chicken and Spaghetti Lover Son: Hahahahaha. I was joking!!!
After the teasing stopped, reality set in: Your kids really do grow up and leave.
I have to say, even though I’d been warned, I never really believed the day would come. (I’m dense that way— I never thought I’d get wrinkles either.)
All those years of cooking and cleaning and carpooling and helping with college essays and doing all the millions of things that mothers do—you’re exhausted and busy and you think it will never end.
But it does.
To be honest, there were plenty of times I wished I didn’t have to cook. Didn’t I want, no need, more time to write? (A Woman's Work Is Never Done).
(That’s when people love to throw in: Be careful what you wish for.)
Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I were just fine on Shabbat. It was simply strange, something to get used to.
It took me some time to re-group. But I figured it out.
Happily, I cooked for my two best friends and their husbands. No kids. We had challah and a delicious dinner- no chicken and spaghetti but there was roast AND chicken. We drank red wine and, as usual, Shabbat was special.
Just in a different way.