Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Love Language


I get it now.

Back in my short-lived aspiring singer/songwriter days, I thought there was no greater love language known to man than music.   How could one resist the tempestuous beats of reggae, or the mesmerizing melodies of ballads, or the intoxicating chords of rock and roll?

Well, I was wrong.

I now know the greatest love language is food.   Sometimes the things that can't be expressed with what comes out of the mouth can be by what is fed in the mouth.

You put food down on the table, and you instantly have fellowship.  Friendships are built over coffee and cheesecake.  Love grows as two people connect over a bowl of puttanesca and a glass of red wine.  A new neighbor is welcomed on the block with a batch of homemade cookies.  A bowl of porridge helps a starving child live another day.

There is nothing greater which connects any two people than the need for the most basic necessity in life.  To satisfy one's hunger.

And food can even help mend the most difficult of relationships.  This is where my mother-in-law ("MIL"), who is an amazing cook, comes into the story.

My MIL and I have what is typical of many mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships.  I was vying for the number one position in her son's life and she was none all too happy about that.  Like many MILs, I think it was difficult for her to let go of her son and let her daughter-in-law assume the role of primary caretaker in his life.   Like many mothers, it's hard to imagine anyone loving more or taking better care of someone than the person who brought him into the world (I'm sure I'll encounter a similar feeling when my sons eventually get married). 

We struggled in our relationship for a number of other reasons.  She's old-fashioned and traditional.  I'm not.  She's stubborn but so am I.  She insists on her ways, and I insist on mine.  There was no understanding of healthy boundaries.  She also speaks very little English, and I speak very poor Korean.  So the communication barrier made it much harder for us to engage in a deeper and more meaningful relationship.  And it also made it that much easier for misunderstandings (of which we've had many).

There was a time when I wondered if she and I would ever be able to sit in the same room together without one upsetting the other.

In the early years of marriage, my MIL would spend hours preparing food, whipping up meals, and bringing them over to our house.  And she insisted I be the first to try out everything.  Of course, I didn't mind tasting and enjoying the food she prepared (did I mention already that she's a fabulous cook?).  But what drove me absolutely crazy was her going into great detail about how the food was prepared and then insisting I be spoon fed by her (as though I were a child) to taste the food!  I'm a grown woman for Pete's sake! 

Time and time again, she would bring over dishes and try to shove spoonfuls in my mouth while telling me how she woke up at 5 in the morning to prepare the food.  I honestly didn't want her to go to all that trouble, so I told her not to.  I know it hurt her feelings and bruised her ego, but I figured she'd eventually get over it.  Resound in her stubbornness, she continued to cook and feed us.

Now that I'm a mom laboring in the kitchen, preparing meals and baked goods for my family, I get it.   You spend much of your day feeding and nourishing your spouse and children.  This is one of many ways I'm able to express my love to them.

And my MIL, unable to communicate with me through spoken language, had been demonstrating her love and acceptance of me through what she knows best.  A delicious, home-cooked meal.   She spends hours in the kitchen washing, cutting, chopping, peeling, slicing, grinding, marinating, frying, steaming, boiling her love into the food she prepares for the people she cares about most.

So today I find myself grateful for her.  For the generous ways she demonstrates love every day.  I am thankful for the love she lavishes on us.

And now I even find myself asking her, "Mom, how did you make that?"  You can't imagine the delight it brings to her face.   Thankfully though, she has stopped spoon feeding me (my sons now have the privilege of enjoying that).  :)

2 comments:

Time for Good Food said...

I love this post! It's amazing how food can help us overcome misunderstandings and connect with one another despite our cultural differences. I am new to blogging, but have been writing a lot about food, family and traditions lately. (Also, my name is Rachel and I have have two young boys). Thanks for sharing, and I really like your blog and beautiful photos.

Anjanie said...

What a beautiful post! It's true that a plate of food can bring people together, change the atmosphere in the room, and be an expression of love in itself.

Thanks again for this post!

Ps: I'm totally going to try making your Bocca di Nonna Cookies.

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