I walk into the kitchen just in time: My 90-year-old mother is aiming the frayed cord of an ancient waffle iron at an outlet by the sink.
“What are you doing?” I exclaim, shooting my hand out before Mom can be electrocuted.
“I’m making Mother’s Day breakfast for you!” Mom beams.
“Don’t be silly! You’re the mother! I’m going to make a nice, healthy omelet for you!” I answer and open the cupboard to get a pan.
“It’s my day! I’ll make an omelet for you!” she insists, nudging me aside. She pulls out her vintage nonstick skillet, so scratched that it seasons everything with little black flakes of no-longer-sticking-to-anything-except-the-food-you-swallow 1960s Teflon.
She drops half a stick of butter in.
“You shouldn’t use so much butter, Mom!” I scold her.
“I’m 90 years old,” she answers. “Maybe you should use more butter!”
“You work too hard,” I say, moving toward the coffee maker. “Let me help.”
“I don’t need help!” Mom body-blocks me with her tiny frame. “You work too hard. I’ll pour some coffee for you!”
“I’ll pour it for you!”
“Stop trying to take care of me while I’m trying to take care of you!”
We blurt that one out together. One voice. After decades spent liberating myself from Mom’s real and imagined grip to become my own person, I realize I’m arguing with a selfie. Might as well be yelling into a mirror.
We look alike, sound alike and have an identical conviction that we know what’s best for the other. Dueling caregivers, that’s what we are now. Two genetic clones locked in a battle over which one needs the care and which one should be doing the giving.
I, who have fought so hard against things that undermine women’s self-esteem, am now in the bizarre position of trying to care for my mother by pointing out all the things she can’t and shouldn’t do anymore.
“That’s too heavy for you, Mom! Too slippery for you! Too complicated for you!” As if her generation of women didn’t spend enough of their lives being told what they couldn’t do: “You can’t have a career; can’t play sports; can’t handle finances. You belong in the kitchen!”
And so my brilliant, educated Mom channeled her talents into becoming chief executive of the kitchen. It was her office, the one room in which she was completely in charge, where she filled her daughters with food, love and inspiration to go off and do all the things we