Let this be a Mother's Day reminder. We all feel guilty but are trying our best.
And there's one dish from my childhood that, I believe, captures the essence of motherhood. It's messy, but delicious.
When I first became a mom, I remember calling my own mother crying. I had never been around babies, and despite all the books I had read, now that my daughter was here, I had no idea what I was doing. I felt guilty for bringing a child into this world with such an incapable mother.
Her words of consolation?
"Carli, being a mom is about feeling guilty every day for the rest of your life."
I would later learn that moms use food as a primary strategy to make up for feeling guilty.
S.O.S captures essence of motherhood
And there's one dish from my childhood that, I believe, captures the essence of motherhood: it's "s--- on a shingle," also known as S.O.S, or chipped beef (or bacon) on toast. (There are other names but my editor won't let me write them.) This breakfast dish is the definition of motherhood for all the right (and wrong) reasons that are very un-Instagrammable: It's messy, it's a hodgepodge of whatever you can pull together but, most important, it's delicious.
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Let me start off by saying that I am hardly a master chef and that I wasn't raised by one, either. Growing up in the '80s and '90s in Denver, my mom was too busy being a single mother and working to spend any extra time in the kitchen. She had to put in the same grueling hours at the office as her male counterparts who, in all likelihood, did not have half of the domestic and child care duties that she had as my primary caregiver. Unfortunately, that is still true for women today and even more so during the pandemic.
Growing up, I had cereal for breakfast and sometimes also for dinner. The brown bag school lunches she prepared for me were simple: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple, maybe some cheese and crackers, carrots or celery sticks. I would occasionally feel the pangs of jealousy when a friend would bring a hefty serving of last night's lasagna, cheese enchiladas or even a bagel and lox. I knew she worked her butt off and everything she did was for us; I rarely complained because I didn't want to make her sad.
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But on the weekends my hardworking, single mom made up for the unglamorous week of meals with a special recipe from her late mother-in-law. It was also pretty much the only thing she knew how to cook. I didn't realize until I became a mother what the true meaning of those special weekend meals was. It was an act of extreme love by a woman who felt like she wasn't doing enough, even though she was doing absolutely everything she could for me.
Motherhood is messy and delicious
S.O.S., or s--- on a shingle, is an Army dish born out of necessity and scarcity. In the 1910 Manual for Army Cooks, it is listed as a supper recipe as "stewed chipped beef," but according to Atlas Obscura the name S.O.S. and its use in breakfasts became popular in World War II. It's a hodgepodge of meat (any will do), along with a basic sauce, eggs and toast.
Like motherhood, it can look unruly and unimpressive – with the gravy dripping off the toast and mystery meat layered above hard-boiled egg bits – but also like motherhood, it's someone's attempt to do their best with what they have.
That's all you can do as a mom, anyway: your best.
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Looking back, I realize how hard it was for my mom, who grew up poor but made it in corporate America: running from the house to drop me off at school, then to work, to then circle back to take me to afternoon sports. She did all the shopping, all the doctor visits, stayed up with me all the nights I had a tummy ache or a fever – all of this in addition to whatever she had going on at work and in her personal life.
Not until I was a mother myself did I understand how hard she must have struggled to handle it all.
One day your kids will understand how hard you tried and how much you loved them. I know I did. From the hurried morning hairstyles and less than spectacular lunch ensembles to all the times we got mad when we should have given a hug, one day they will understand you were trying your best.
With parenting, like cooking, what matters is how it makes people feel that counts – not so much how it looks on the outside. My mother understood this when she became a parent, and I understood it when I became a parent myself. My hope is that one day my kids will understand that their mommy tried really hard.
It may not have always been good enough, but it was always my best.
Carli Pierson is an attorney, former professor of human rights, writer and member of USA TODAY's Editorial Board. You can follow her on Twitter: @CarliPiersonEsq