Thank the kitchen gods

Happy Mother’s Day in advance. It’s only three days away. Order flowers. Make her a card. Bake her some cupcakes. Get her a pass to that fancy spa she has been eying on for weeks. For a change, let’s get her pampered instead.

Whenever I think about my mom, or “career moms” in general, my admiration for them is with a strange mix of intimidation. In a way, the situation resembles that of a novice hiker gazing to the peak of whatever hill she is resolved to climb – with wonder, curiosity, and a constant stream of self-reassurances. And it shouldn’t be this way.

Many moms in Myanmar are stay-at-home moms, and so are an increasing number of highly trained moms in the US choosing to drop out of workforce. When I was in college, people usually told me that a student can only get two out of three things: a good GPA, a fun social life, or an impressive track record of extracurricular activities. While I know many students that seem to have had it all, a similar tri-lemma arises here. When you become a mom, it is as if you can get only two out of these three: being a good mother, having a fulfilling career, or keeping the ‘spice’ in your marriage. Why? Because the roles are so conflicting.

Role models ranging from Anne-Marie Slaughter and Shery Sandberg to French mothers have reached different conclusions. But the bottom line seems clear: the future of feminism desperately needs participation from men. As women penetrated into the formal economy sector in the past decades, their responsibilities at home have never receded. The new freedoms are beginning to enslave women in double-duty shifts: fabulous professionals by day and glamorous moms and wives by night. It’s really scary.

Things in Myanmar are slightly different. With the help of extended family and relatives, there is some help releasing maternal pressures. But Burmese husbands also tend to be less involved, adding a different twist to the American story. Ha and by the way, thank god for the sexually repressed nature of the conservative Burmese society: married women are usually not expected to look glam all the time, like in the States. The nature of career has so far been different although things are changing fast now. Without many multinational companies in the country, most women have worked in family-owned businesses: family farms or mom n’ pop stores with very flexible hours. It will be interesting to see how this trend will have changed in ten years’ time, when there are more corporate jobs available and when the long isolated country gets immersed in prevailing trends and new, modern biases without the former “protection” of self-imposed isolation.

In any case, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. My point is, what an amazing job our moms have done today! How have they navigated their way to today? What are they feeling? Do they feel fulfilled? By how we the children have turned out to be? With their career path? And their marriage, even? Are Burmese moms today happy?

Happy Mother’s Day!

Daily Bread by Barbara Kingsolver

The clink of tin cups in the kitchen
rouses my ears. I close my book,
hold my place with a fingertip while
I listen: to the measuring cups,
little quarrels of half against quarter,
then the sifted hush of the flour.
There will be kneading,
there will be punching down,
and rising and rising again,
the press of increase constrained
by the small square box in the oven,
the immutable passage of time,
and finally a home and a hunger filled
with fragrant gold.
I return to my reading, but first
I thank the kitchen gods
for what marriage is: throughout this
immutable passage, these square
impossible constraints, these petty clinkings
of half against quarter, and oh
this needing, oh this falling and this rising,
I am blessed
with a husband who makes bread.