From a young age, I’ve seen myself as a superwoman of sorts. I’ve always relied on myself for healing and overcoming any and every obstacle. My resilience, unwavering confidence, and can-do attitude made it easy for me to mask my high-functioning anxiety, so I seldom sought help—even when I needed it. College, however, quickly humbled me.

For four years, I stood my ground in a predominately white institute five hours away from home. I endured culture shock, a fair share of terrible roommates, and daunting 18-credit semesters, but I always found a way to pull myself together. Until senior year.

By the time I was a senior, I was burned out, overwhelmed, and ready to graduate and get out. My relationship with my friends-turned-roommates quickly soured, and I found myself feeling anxious and alone. This house was not a home, and I felt extremely uncomfortable living in a toxic space. My “I’ve got this, I’m a big girl” superpowers were deteriorating and my mental health was declining. I was slowly sinking into a bad place. So when things became unbearable, I found solace in my mom.

At the time, I was learning how to cook because I was tired of eating bland quesadillas, PB&J sandwiches, or leftover pizza every day. I missed my mother’s cooking. I missed walking upstairs to my family’s apartment in the Bronx and smelling the warm aroma of Adobo seasoning, minced garlic, caramelized onions, pepper, paprika, oregano and bay leaves from the hallway as my mom cooked her signature pechuga con moro y ensalada (chicken breast with rice and salad). My mother’s cooking always reminded me of home, and I wanted to feel that warmth again in college.

cooking lessons from mom mental health
Photo: Courtesy Author / W+G Creative

It began with me randomly video calling my mother through WhatsApp for help whenever I put too much water in my rice or didn’t know how to properly skin the chicken, but soon, it became routine for me to call my mom whenever I decided to cook. Every day after my classes, I’d put on my headphones, prop my phone on top of the kitchen counter, and wait for her big smile to pop up on the screen. She’d ask me what I was in the mood for and walk me through the process of making my own dinner.

I loved cooking pollo guisado con arroz blanco y habichuelas rosadas (stewed chicken with white rice and pink beans) with my mom on the phone. She would diligently watch as I sprinkled adobo and spices everywhere. She was always patient with me, even when I would frantically throw the chicken into the oily pan because I was scared of the oil popping everywhere and burning my skin. During her cooking lessons, we would talk about our days and she would give me advice on how to stay motivated and focused, even on the days when I felt hopeless. These were our moments to connect and bond, just the two of us. When I was cooking with my mom over the phone, time stopped. My worries vanished.

During her cooking lessons, we would talk about our days and she would give me advice on how to stay motivated and focused, even on the days when I felt hopeless.

When the chicken started browning and sizzling, she would ask me to bring the phone closer to get a better look and see if the food was ready. Although she couldn’t smell or taste the juicy chicken, lightly salted rice, and savory seasoned beans, she could tell that the food was well-cooked. On my end, the smell of my mother’s recipes passed down from generation to generation would fill my entire college house, as my mouth watered, waiting for my plate to cool down so I could enjoy it with an ice-cold cup of passion fruit juice.

Although we were video chatting on the phone five hours away from each other, it felt like my mom was right there with me. Her presence warmed my soul and delicious Dominican plates warmed my stomach. She made me feel seen and loved through a screen. Her motivating words pushed me to keep working hard until graduation day. She was the reason why I was able to get up every single day and keep trying. Our conversations meant the world to me. No matter how far I was, she always made me feel right at home.

Buen provecho,” My mom said with a proud smile on her mouth as I ate a spoonful of arroz con habichuelas before hanging up. Thanks, Mom. For everything.

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