Cooking Up A Storm

One day my husband left the country, and a squall blew in, unearthing resentments and loneliness. The only hope for me and the kids was to cook our way out of it.

By Dulce Zamora

My husband, N, rolled his luggage toward the taxi. He opened the passenger door, and turned to give me and our two daughters an uncertain smile. He continued eye contact as he got in, and waved until he was out of sight.  The blue cab was heading toward a dead end in our cul-de-sac, so we knew the driver would have to turn the car around. We waited to see N again. However, he was looking down at his phone and missed our wave. The girls and I reluctantly lowered our hands, and listened to the whirring engine as the car rounded the bend.

Overhead, a fierce wind howled as it passed through rows of tall triangular rooftops on both sides of the street. On the ground level, a gentle, balmy breeze rustled the leaves of the frangipani tree in our front yard. Fragrant blooms fell into a clear koi pond. Shimmery orange and white fish sucked up imagined treats on the petals. Figuring there was nothing there, they huddled toward the mellifluous fountain. Their mouths opened and closed in harmony with gliding fins. Nearby, a sprightly yellow-winged bulbul hopped, pecking at sun-scorched stones along our driveway.  The bird seemed oblivious to the orange-marbled feline eyeing it from the shade of a parked car. The cat yawned and stretched its paws on the concrete.

“Let’s make breakfast,” I nudged my 9-year-old and 11-year-old daughters. They blinked, looking startled as if I had disrupted their reverie. My voice surprised me, too. The crisp tone belonged more on the streets of New York City than in the leafy outskirts of Singapore, where we returned after a three-year stint in California. If the barrage of place names confounds, it’s because the path from roots to our current perch is as gnarly as a banyan tree.

I grew up in both the Philippines and California. As an adult, I backpacked around Europe, and at some point, had an address in London, Los Angeles, Omaha, and the San Francisco Bay Area. I pursued a career as a journalist and author, and, as many young people aspire to do, moved to New York City in search of adventure. I met my husband there. He was a native Brooklynite and a rising star accountant in a Wall Street-area firm. His company moved us to Singapore in 2007.

In our first few months abroad, I continued to work as a freelance journalist. But my career took a backseat when our first child was born. S was a bounty of sweetness, curiosity, and energy. Before I could wipe the dust off my work laptop, J was born. She was a passionate, clever, and a determined force. Both children infused joyful and tearful chaos into our home. I entered the realm of stay-at-home-motherhood, while the writer side of me waited in the wings.

After 8 years in Singapore, N’s work situation changed. We also wanted our children to develop greater bonds with our families. So we moved to the West Coast. There, I found a warm writing community. I wrote several short stories which were recaps of the memoir I planned to write. There was so much to say about the people and places I had encountered along the way.

Yet the winds changed again. Actually, the whole repatriation thing was a tempest. The moment we returned to the States, we were all homesick, which was confusing because we were technically back in our home country. The kids couldn’t understand why the U.S. was home when Singapore held their heart. N and I talked about possibly returning to Asia when the girls were older. It was only talk until N got a job with an international company. He traveled from North America to the Asia and Australia several times.

Each business trip steadily became more gut-wrenching for me and the kids. It was not only because we missed him, but because life without him was exponentially harder. I was busier and had less time and patience. I had to put my writing on the back burner again, although I did manage to write some short stories, and present them at a local bookstore. The kids had to help out more. They learned to fold laundry and put it away, which were positive things, but they weren’t as fun as having N around. So, we decided to move back to Singapore. N’s travel times would not be as long since we would all be in the same region. We could have more time together. We could go back to the place we loved. Problem solved, right?

“Why does Daddy have to leave so much?” S asked as we entered the house. N was on his way to the airport.

“It’s part of his job,” I explained, directing the kids toward the kitchen. “He’ll be back next  week.”

“But he’s going to Hawaii! He gets to have fun without us,” lamented J.

“It’s not a beach trip. He has to go for a meeting,” I said. “Now, what are we making for breakfast? Remember, you can plan the menu.”

The girls protested. “Daddy said they’ll go to the beach and have a scavenger hunt!”

“Well, even adults need to learn how to work together as team.”

“No fair!” said S. “He goes to cool places and does fun things while we get stuck here.”

“It was the same in California,” I reminded her while taking out a box with measuring cups and spoons. “He had to travel for work when we were there, too.”

“Yeah, but we had our family there. They made it fun,” she said. “Here, we have no one!”

A lump formed in my throat. The girls looked at me, expecting a response. I could tell them that they have their friends at school, but I was distracted by the blinding white wall next to the dining table. We still needed to put something there, and had not sorted it out yet. It was on the list of things to do, just like organizing all of the unpacked stuff that had just been piled on top of my desk. Or like getting a big table so that the kids’ Lego town could be lifted from my office floor. It had already been 6 months since we moved here. Why didn’t I already have it together so I could help everyone feel settled? Shouldn’t we be adjusted by now?

“I miss our family and friends, too,” I said, fighting to stay composed. “But, let’s just make the best of being here, okay?”

“Fine!” They both said too quickly.

I asked them again what they wanted to make for breakfast. They told me they already planned the menu. It included triangle sandwiches with orange and pomegranate cream cheese, spinach and bacon frittatas, maple bacon, fruit salad, granola yoghurt parfait, and tea.

“That’s a lot of food, and it’ll only be us.” I said. “Why don’t we take out one thing?”

They both frowned and crossed their arms.

“No! We will eat it all,” declared J. “We’re hungry.”

S crossed her arms. “Daddy always lets us do whatever we want.”

“No, really, it’s too much.” I said. “Daddy is not here to help us eat it. I’d rather we not waste food.”

“You always tell us what to do!” screamed S. She hurled a small multicolored blanket that was on the living room couch toward me. It sideswiped my head.

“You know better than that!” I yelled. “Five-minutes on the couch, and you will not have text time with your friends in California today!”

She huffed, elbowing her sister as she passed.

J cried, her sobs magnified as it echoed through three floors of staircases, each landing a level closer to the chapel-inspired ceiling. There were plenty of windows but it still looked dark.  The clouds had come in. The tears rolled freely down my cheeks. I knew we were grieving our old life. I knew N’s frequent trips unsettled everyone, me included. I knew it was all probably normal. However, I still felt like the worst mother in the world. Why did I agree to uproot the girls again? So that they could feel alone? That’s how I felt.

I took a deep breath. “Okay, girls, I would like to spend some quality time with you, but it will be hard to do that if we’re all fighting.”

J wiped her face with the back of her hand and said, “Okay, we can take out the sandwiches and cream cheese.”

“Thank you,” I said. Outside, heavy rain pelted the trees, ferns, and the pond. The thunderous drops reverberated around the house.

S shot me a dirty look. I ignored her. I got the iPad and chose a pop hits playlist. Bruno Mars was talking about dripping with finesse. Maybe some of it could rub off on me, or at least help make the space feel less desolate.

J and I baked the bacon and brushed it with maple syrup. In a pan, she melted butter, and added cashews and white chocolate chips to pre-made granola. Then she scooped the combination into parfait glasses, layering them with plain Greek yogurt, fresh strawberries, frozen raspberries, and the orange honey we got from Tasmania. Finally, she diced some apples and mixed them together with fresh strawberries, frozen grapes, and frozen bananas.

After her timeout, S made spinach and bacon frittatas. She cracked eggs, whisked them, cut bacon and spinach into small pieces, and grated fresh sea salt over the batter. After stirring everything together, she ladled the mixture into muffin cups. I put them in the oven, and we watched with anticipation as the batter rose inside the oven. When it did, I took out the tray and placed it on top of the stove to cool. Some of the  muffins sank a few minutes later.  Maybe they needed more baking time?

“Sometimes things don’t turn out perfect, but they can still be good,” I said. The girls agreed, smiling as they helped lay their creations on the dining room table. I brought out the good placemats, and the formal white china we got from our wedding, because… Why not? We were not having the big dinner parties we had imagined while registering for this stuff. At least we could enjoy the delicate dinnerware instead of just letting them get dusty. We also used our fancy matching tea pot to hold the fragrant Canola Flower and Honey Tea we got from Jeju, South Korea.

The girls and I ate almost everything,  gave our food excellent reviews:

  • The maple bacon was sweet and yummy.
  • The frittatas had too much spinach, but they were still delicious.
  • The granola parfait was heavenly.

My most favorite review came while we cleaned up. “This is the best day ever. You are the best mommy in the whole wide world!” they both gushed.

“But I’m the only Momma you’ve got,” I teased.

“And you’re the best!” they said, giving me sticky hugs and kisses. We survived the eye of the storm. I took it all in, knowing there was still a full weekend ahead of managing emotional soup. I had some ideas of fun and relaxing things to do around Singapore, including taking them to a theatre class and to check out an urban art festival. Maybe, just maybe, I could squeeze in some writing while the girls were in class. A little light streamed in through the windows. For now, we had hope, love, and happy bellies.

© 2019 Windswept Wildflower

Singapore

January 19, 2019

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