When I Accidentally Became a Single Mother, I Had to Learn to Feed Us

The last time I had cooked a proper meal for someone else, before having a child, was a man I had been dating a couple of years before in Los Angeles. It would take a long time to explain why I fried carrots in a wok with hot oil and then added squeezy honey, thinking this was what honey-glazed carrots meant. Or why I then added a packet of tofurkey that I found on the shelf, thinking all proteins were the same. Or why I then, looking around for something to serve it in, and not being in my own home, thought a lovely artisan bowl type thing, clearly bought on vacation, with some kind of decorative ceramic ridge that swooped up and down around the edge of it, looked ideal.

“Why,” the man asked me, after trying to eat a few mouthfuls of the oil and sugar and orange vegetation that I had apparently glued onto some fake meat, “did you decide to serve this in an ashtray?”

My daughter will turn 10 this year and has developed the personality of a small Joan Rivers fan. We make ourselves hysterical by seeing who can outwit the other with sarcastic one-liners. She rolls her eyes at me a lot, having not had life handed to her on a silver platter. Perhaps because it still takes me by surprise, for example, that after you buy food once, you also have to buy it again. This system seems deeply flawed. The other day we got up for breakfast and realized we had run out of milk to have on cereal. She offered to eat it dry, but it turned out we didn’t actually have any cereal either. I said she could have toast, but we looked and found only the dry ends of the loaf of bread remained. I tell myself that it’s resilience training, that I’m stopping her from becoming a brat, that it’s all about resourcefulness. She looks at me like I could have sorted this shit out a long time ago.

Last Friday night she wanted her customary pepperoni pizza from the big, boring pizza chain, something that, even to my untrained mouth, clearly tastes like cardboard. I insisted she finally try a vegetarian pizza from the more adventurous foodie takeaway instead. Cooked by actual Italians. She had no choice.

“This would taste better,” she said, as she finished her second slice, “if it didn’t exist.” I wanted to tell her off for being rude, but I’ve always said: If you haven’t got anything nice to say, make sure you have a punchline.

When the pandemic hit I panicked, like we all did—if she and I were stuck together in our home with no friends, no family, no cafés, and no school lunches, I wasn’t sure how we’d get through it. So I offered our spare room up to my friends, and one of them, a male friend whom I knew a little, took it. A year has passed and he hasn’t left yet–in fact we all moved into a new house together the other day. My definition of our family, which I had come to proudly accept as being only two people, has expanded to three. He is a man who loves to cook, loves to spend hours stirring and adding and tasting and perfecting. Loves to cook for me, loves to cook for my daughter. Loves to cook for friends. A man to whom you can send a text first thing in the morning saying, if you’re in the kitchen, I can’t get out of bed, pls bring scrambled eggs and a cup of tea, and he will actually do it.

So you could say that someone did come to save us—and that it was another accident, perhaps, as the best things in my life seem to be—but the fact is that I still hate cooking and I still hate the kitchen. I hate the new kitchen an awful lot less, especially when it has all three of us, and our family dog, and his dog, laughing and barking in it. The man pointed out recently that it doesn’t matter if you hate cooking, as long as you love eating. I never thought of it like that. I still hate cooking, but I definitely love eating. My daughter loves eating too. We all love eating very, very much indeed.

Sophie Heawood is a London-based writer and the author of The Hungover Games, a memoir about what happens when you accidentally become someone’s mother.

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