Beans

I didn’t grow up eating beans.

Well, canned green beans were presented on a plate, overcooked and gray. Unseasoned lima beans, pasty in color and consistency, were thrust upon us every couple of weeks. Canned peas, which I could barely tolerate. But not garbanzo beans, or black eyed peas, or black beans, small red kidney beans or cannellini beans.

When I was a young mother, I saw a bowl of beans soaking on my friend’s counter. She had little kids the same age as mine, and I remember standing there staring at the beans in water and thinking about becoming a bean eater. It was a conscious thought, so foreign was the notion of cooking beans from scratch and wanting to eat them, or feeding them to my toddler. Am I a bean eater? Can I learn to cook beans?

Do I want to?

Another friend of the family, a musician buddy of my ex-husband’s, once brought over vegetarian black eyed peas with cornbread and barbequed chicken. He was raised in New Orleans, so he knew how to cook. Those peas were some of the best food I have ever had, and I folded the recipe into my annual New Year’s Eve tradition, as he had instructed.

And I became a bean eater. Did I ever! Black eyed peas, red beans and rice, black beans and cilantro rice, broccolini with cannellini beans and serrano peppers, crispy baked chickpeas with roasted sweet potatoes, and new recipes we discover every week.

The benefit of being forced out of my family because I got pregnant was that I had no choice but to create my own path, forge my life based not on what I was told was right or good by my family, but based on my experiences, on what I liked and didn’t like. There were areas where this kind of choice was easier — food, music, clothing choices — and areas where it was harder. I remained a devout Catholic well into my children’s lives intentionally to retain some ties to my family, however nominal.

And so with food, we became bean eaters, one-meatless-meal-a-week eaters, experimenters with foods outside the seven dishes my mother would make in rotation.

They were

Spaghetti with meatballs
Meatloaf
Mac and cheese
Shake and Bake pork chops and applesauce
Steak and potatoes
Fried chicken
German sausage with scalloped potatoes
Occasionally, lasagna
Tacos when my dad was out of town for work

The mac and cheese was legendary. She made it from scratch, with a béchamel my sister and I attempted to replicate for years. “I think I made Mom’s mac and cheese!” we’d crow. But the rest of it was your standard Midwestern fare.

My mother was highly talented in many ways, but cooking was not one of them. I found out just how mediocre her cooking was when I went away to school and found that the dorm food was a step up from what I got at home.

As time went on, I discovered more opportunities to define myself. Am I a bean eater? Will I discipline my children as my parents did? Will I smoke, like my mother? Do I enjoy traveling? What kinds of friends do I want to have? Do I want to read the New York Times every Sunday? Am I conservative, like they are?

Once I took the big step away from organized religion, it felt like I finally pushed away from the dock. My course was set for the duration of my childrearing responsibilities.

Our daughter moved out last weekend. For the last few days, I’ve danced between missing the feeling of having one of my three favorite people within arm’s reach and giddiness over my new slice of freedom. Until she left, I wasn’t aware of the ways I was still conforming my day and behavior around her presence. She was never invasive when she lived here, and has always been intensely independent, but my Mother Brain continued to keep her needs high on my priorities. What I cooked, when I played music and how loud, when I would grocery shop, how loud I played the TV, when I would leave for a day-long adventure, when and how I would travel — all of these decisions were made with her in mind. She never asked me to do it, but I factored her into my every day plans.

So now I get to decide once again: am I a bean eater?

An array of choices are laid before me. Most of them are of little consequence, but I’m feeling like I did when I was a young mother at the age of 21. Walking around naked is but the tip of the iceberg. I’m entertaining experiences I haven’t tried before. Can I play music as loud as I want? Can I make inappropriate jokes for my own amusement? When I make dinner, can I just think about what *I* like? I mean, sure, Tim has some say, but now I have one fewer personality in the house defining my choices.

I don’t know yet what I’ll discover in this new era of freedom. Maybe I’m a 3 a.m. typist. Maybe I practice all my scales first thing in the morning. I could take a month-long trip to Idaho just to see the Snake River again. I just don’t know.

The opportunity to continue to learn and grow is the most exciting thing about getting older. Each stage is new and thrilling or challenging or frustrating but always moving, progressing along some invisible timeline I have yet to unravel.

With each new shedding of what was, I have room for what might be, and I may become drunk on possibility. Am I a bean eater? Yes! And so much more.

If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll know why this is my favorite song of all time.

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