x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The overwhelming question: what should we have for dinner?

Once wed, a woman learns what her mother wwent through, asking "What do you want for dinner?'

Every morning of my life for as far back as I can remember, my mother would ask the same question, as dependable and predictable as the sun's daily appearance. She would ask it while yanking my unruly hair into tidy braids for school, as I tried not to fidget from my cross-legged position on the carpeted floor in front of her. She would call it out from the kitchen while making her coffee, as I stood wide-legged in front of an open wardrobe, hands on hips, trying to pick out the perfect outfit for the day from an overcrowded wardrobe.

She would sigh and demand an answer while I rushed around my room hurriedly making my bed with one hand and brushing my teeth with the other, in order not to be late for work yet again. "Do you have any suggestions on what I should cook today?" Simple, straightforward and not quite as easy to answer as one would think, considering how frequently it is asked. My father and brothers treated it as more of a rhetorical question and would only ever give a useful answer one out of every 10 times asked. As for me, my standard answer never varied from the whatever-you-want-as-long-as-it's-easy-and-not-too-tiring variety.

We never really took the question seriously, nor understood why it was such an issue for her that she had to ask us each morning with such a desperate undertone to the words. My first mistake was believing this was a habit unique to my mother. My second was failing to understand the reason behind that desperation, the need to get one of us, any of us, to give an answer she could actually use. It is not unique to her. It transcends every nationality, profession and religion. It only demands that the one asking be a married woman with a mouth to feed other than her own.

My grandmother asks the question whenever we visit. My mother-in-law asks the question, days in advance of our visit, and every time over the phone. A friend's mother, a colleague at work looking for ideas, a newlywed friend in search of easy recipes. I got married and finally understood. Suddenly, I can't get away with suggesting a bowl of cornflakes for dinner without being racked with guilt. There are only so many ways I can spice up an omelette considering my husband's aversion to eggs, and I think if he does not lose it after one more meal of some kind of sandwich and some variation of a salad, then I certainly will.

Now I'm the one calling my mother, begging for ideas. What can I cook in under 30 minutes, and with whatever I have in my fridge? And for that matter, what should I be shopping for, in consideration of that fridge? It's a whole new science, requiring forward planning, menus, recipes that can be adapted and time-management skills that I am learning as I go - and the end results are not always pretty.

With marriage comes new skills, many of which are not easily acquired.