Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 5, 2013

Mardi Link: New year, with side of mashed

BY MARDI LINK, Local columnist

---- — They said they couldn't take it anymore. They really, really couldn't.

They couldn't take the plain, tasteless meat. They couldn't take the unadorned vegetables. And they definitely couldn't take the boiled potatoes.

They just. Could not. Take it. Not even for one more day.

"Dinner should at least be kinda exciting," went their irrational demand.

This showdown unfolded in our kitchen — a room apparently filled with machinery and utensils so menacing, so complex, that only someone weaned on an Easy Bake Oven and trained from girlhood via Barbie's Malibu Dreamhouse, could be trusted to manage it.

In a houseful of men, that someone was me.

If this was their line of thinking, I fumed, then my teen years wearing a softball glove was only to prepare my feminine hand for the oven mitt, right? And building those campfires, on those college hiking trips must have been just a precursor to learning the womanly arts of searing, roasting and broiling.

There is a good argument to be made here about how well men can cook and how well women can complain about the menu, but that's for another time. For now, I silently turned to face my accusers with a potato in each fist.

"If you want exciting," I suggested, "try motherhood."

This retort must have landed well, because it was followed by a moment of silence, then a concession.

"Could we just have mashed potatoes and gravy instead?" they pleaded.

When you are a working mother, with deadlines, half-finished projects and intermittent housekeeping that barely keeps the grime at bay, cooking dinner is not what you do for excitement. No, cooking dinner is like any other chore: necessary but not necessarily well planned or enjoyed.

So I opened my mouth to say no. To say that mashed potatoes and gravy were for special occasions, but not for tonight. To say that the holidays were over and a basic dinner was all I had the time and energy for.

Then a somber thought stopped me, and the words died in my mouth. That thought was Newtown, Conn. That thought was Aurora, Colo. That thought was Virginia Tech. It was Iraq and Afghanistan.

That thought was for all the mothers who would give anything — anything — to be able to make mashed potatoes for their family every single night if that's what they wanted.

There might not be a lot I can do, but there is at least one thing and it's right in front of me in my own kitchen. I can grab the masher while the potatoes are still hot and offer an ordinary bit of grace to my family at dinnertime.

And then tomorrow, and the day after that, I can do it again.

Mardi Link is a Traverse City writer and the author of "Isadore's Secret." Send comments and questions care of the Record-Eagle or via email at