I never thought I would have children. I felt somewhat detached from my siblings in our early days, even though all three of us were born within four years. I learned to read when I was four, and was drawn to books more then to the kids my age. I was shy and awkward around other children, and smaller kids frightened me. I never looked at the babies lying in the strollers. Younger children ignored me and I avoided them as much as I could.
They, in turn, adored my sister, listened to every word she said, and followed her directions as if she were the Pied Piper of Hamelin. She could coerce them to do her bidding and the adults at the time were getting pretty frustrated with the usual defense of the young ones when confronted with the accusatory question of “Why did you do it?” “Ljiljana said so” was a mantra among them, something all of them understood and could not convey to the older generation. They were stealing corn from the neighbor who had only five corn plants, running up and down the elevator in a newly erected apartment building, pressing the buzzers and running away, calling people on the phone pretending to sell small, green tractors, smoking our father’s cigarillos on the balcony, in full view of the neighbors. She was the dare-devil, the pirate, the adventuress. She loved the action and did not think twice about breaking the rules. And for that, she was the hero. And still is to a bunch of almost middle-aged men and women who still tell fairy tales about my sister’s influence on their lives.
While she was taking the neighborhood kids (and our brother) on the path of adventure and rebellion, I was lying on the couch, getting lost in literary worlds. When I envisioned my future, I saw myself as Virginia Woolf in a cottage, composing the most influential prose. Or like Georges Sand, strolling along the Champs-Elysees with Chopin (did I mention that I have a crush on him? To this day his music makes my knees wobbly). I saw my life children-free.
It was not meant to be. When I was about twenty five, I developed this horrible habit of peeking into baby-strollers, asking questions about babies and smiling at baby gurgles and coos. I was astounded. This new development got me thinking and planning. I told my husband that it was time for me to become a mother and I got pregnant. Unfortunately, I miscarried. My father, an ObGyn at the time, threw his briefcase against the door when he heard the news. But I did not give up. I planned the next pregnancy in detail: my child would be born in November, preferably Scorpio. I’d go to Serbia and have her there, with Father supervising it. I’d lose all the baby weight and attend my 10th high school reunion in style, still glowing from the brand-new-motherly bliss.
It all happened as I planned, except that my first daughter was born a bit later in November as a Sagittarian.
She is twenty three years old now and finished UC Berkeley eighteen months ago. But I did not stop there. I have two teenagers, Anya, soon to be seventeen, and Zoe, the awaited Scorpio who will turn sixteen in November. To this day I wake up in panic, realizing that I am a mother. The days pass me by and I remember the pregnancies and deliveries, but it still astounds me that I have children.
When she was in college, Nina used to call me when she had an interesting linguistics assignment. We talked for hours about the etymology, Latin, and comparative analysis of languages. We took a trip to the Yucatan a few years ago, as much friends as mother and daughter, and enjoyed every minute of it. She visits when she can and I love the young woman she has become, even though I need a vacation every time she leaves. And a maid. I see my influence on her life. And I feel relieved.
The teenagers have each other. I do not know how much of my experiences I have instilled in them. We read books together. We watch movies together (it astounds me that they would sit quietly through a black-and-white film, and deem it perfectly entertaining). I let them choose a “topic of the day” and we spend 10 to 15 minutes researching human anatomy, Greek architecture or history of China. And they go away to their room and disappear from my world altogether.
We have been through a lot in the previous few years and my girls watched me fight, gasping for breath, and emerging to the surface again and again. The waters have calmed down and there is only an occasional ripple in our everyday lives.
My children adore my sister. She still has that Pied Piper charm and on their list of cool peeps, she is at the top. I am their mother and by definition I cannot be “cool”. But knowing that they appreciate what I do, what I am, what I strive for, allows me to take a deep breath and admit that I might be doing a good job as a mother.
How does the salad I am featuring in this post enter my motherhood story? Love of food is something I instilled in my girls, like my mother has instilled in me. Add an innate sense of curiosity and penchant for adventure that are present in all four of us, and dishes like this one appear at our table frequently.
- 1 cup quinoa (I used rainbow quinoa)
- 2 cups water
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 can beans, drained and rinsed (I used pinto beans)
- 3 mangoes, cut in ¼ inch cubes
- 1 avocado. cut in ½ inch cubes
- salt, pepper
- handful of cilantro, chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 inch piece of ginger, grated
- 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Rinse quinoa in a strainer.
- Place in a pot and add water and salt.
- Heat until it boils, turn the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the water evaporates, 15-20 minutes.
- Rinse the quinoa in cold water.
- Heat the oil in a skillet and add onions.
- Sautee on medium-low temperature for 10 minutes, until soft.
- Take off the heat.
- Combine beans, onions, quinoa, mangos, avocados and cilantro.
- Whisk together lemon juice, ginger, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Pour the dressing in salad and mix gently to combine.
- Serve at room temperature.