If you ever walk into my family’s kitchen when I’m home, it’s hard to miss the stacks of Barilla pasta boxes and half-opened marinara sauce bottles that line the pantry shelf. It’s my signature.
When my mom passed away five years ago, I had to learn how to cook, and fast. At the time, my dad’s idea of dinner was taking everything that was about to expire and making what he liked to call, “an experiment.” Trust me – the dishes tasted worse than their name.
At the time, the extent of my cooking ability was microwaving frozen food. Even then, it was debatable whether I would be successful, depending on whether I remembered to take off the plastic covering or microwave it for the right amount of time.
Regardless, I had to grow up quickly and learn the ins and outs of life in the kitchen. My dad got a lot better once he realized that leaving the kitchen while trying to cook was not really the best way to go about it, but I still made a majority of my meals while I was in high school.
I would come back from crew practice, toss some water and pasta in a pot and shower while the pasta cooked. Ultimately, it became a habit, something that I didn’t even think twice about doing every day when I got home or on the weekends when I woke up. However, it’s been in the years since I’ve come to college that I’ve realized that that simple blue box taught me much more about myself than I could have ever imagined.
Each day as I left practice, I would overhear my teammates talking about how excited they were to eat their mom’s homemade mac and cheese or leftovers from their weekend feasts. I would often feel jealous, knowing that there wouldn’t be any food ready when I got home, and that whatever I wanted to eat (aka pasta for the fifth time that week), I would have to cook myself. When I told my friends about my daily routine, they would feel bad for me and I came to look at cooking for myself as a burden, one more thing that that few others my age had to do.
I would often tell my dad and grandma how frustrated I was, but it was always met by some speech about how the ability to cook for myself was something to be proud of. It always seemed like some excuse they were making to ensure that I didn’t stop doing something that my family needed me to do at the time.
However, as I got older, and saw others around me begin to take on some of the same responsibilities, it did make me feel proud. It made me feel proud that I was capable of taking care of myself from a young age and that I was able to take on more responsibility at home while still juggling my teenage life for all those years.
Cooking for myself taught me how to take pride in my accomplishments, cooking or not. For years, I always felt mediocre, as if there was nothing that I excelled at, and thus could be proud of. But I now know that taking pride in small accomplishments can often provide the greatest satisfaction.
When my mom passed away, I didn’t think that I would be able to handle the responsibility put on me. I knew that my dad could only do so much, and that as the older sibling, I was going to have to do more at home. I was terrified, knowing that I needed to keep doing well in school in order to achieve my dreams, that I needed to stay in sports to relieve my stress, and that I needed to have fun in order to stay sane. I was worried that the extra responsibility – from cooking my own food to watching my sister each afternoon – would take its toll on me and that I’d have to make many difficult choices.
Through it all, I came out a stronger, more mature person. I learned how to manage my time, take everything step by step, and enjoy each minute no matter what I was doing. It made me realize that I was so much more capable than I ever gave myself credit for. I should have believed from the beginning that I could do it, that I could be a teenager and an adult at the same time, that I could handle whatever life threw my way. While that mentality sometimes gets me into trouble now, it has empowered me with so much drive and motivation that transcends into all areas of my life.
But above all, that simple blue box taught me that there is never such a thing as too much pasta!