One day I had stepped outside to prep my garden soil before the weather had decided to stay cold, blow hard or turn up the sunshine. I wore an apron over a thick buffalo plaid flannel shirt, my hair tucked into a ponytail and my husband’s tactical Boonie hat on my head. He called my attention and I turned around with the rake in my hand. He snapped my picture with his flip-phone, and I asked why he did that.

He said, “You’re a hot mama!”

Being hot is a state of mind, and it isn’t always mine. Sometimes, mostly, it’s his. It’s not about make-up, hair-cut or any other myriad of beauty enhancements. It’s not the numbers on a digital scale or the size of my flannel shirt. It’s not flannel versus silk. It has more to do with affection and the confidence we share in our love for one another. He tells me I’m a hot mama because I look happy when I’m in my garden.

This is true. I’m not masking a polite social smile so my face will appear friendly to strangers. I’m not uncomfortable trying to live up to somebody else’s expectation of what a woman should look like. I’m getting to know my garden space after a long winter of snow. At one point I’ll get down on my knees and sift my fingers through the earth. I’ll imagine what and where I’ll plant around the perennials of tarragon and chives that are returning.

When it heats up, I’ll water what I’ve planted. On those hot summer days when the promise of Tuscan tomatoes emerges and my brow is sweating after careful weeding, I’ll turn the hose over my head, letting the water spill over my face and body. With wet t-shirt and bare toes in the soft mud, I’ll feel like Sophia Loren. I’ll feel like the hot mama he sees in me. No matter how odd I might seem to the passerby or mail carrier; it’s his affection I mirror.

I miss my garden. These days, I’m hoping to pass through the rites of passage from maiden to crone. I anticipate continuing my hot mama status, although I wistfully long for hot flashes. I’m done with the child-bearing years. Pregnancy at half a century sounds like a horror movie, not the act of love it was 30 years ago. Sometimes I hope my womanly herbs are working so well I might miss out on hot flashes, but the truth is I’m still fertile.

Life without a garden seems a metaphor for the menopause years. But I don’t see it that way. Planting is the most sacred act we can do and it’s not all babies and purple runner beans. We can plant ideas, hopes and dreams.  Many women are past menopause before they write their breakout novel or start a business. Often, it’s after the childbearing years we have greater personal freedom to do a different sort of planting.

And only a fool thinks she’s not a hot mama after some turn of the calendar date. It’s her passion to plant and nurture something; a vision to bring to fruition.

My husband, the man who snapped my photo because I’m a hot mama, shares the deepest of passions with me – our three children.  You might say they were our original garden experiments. I definitely proved fertility having three within a three year span. We fixed that with a little procedure called a vasectomy, else I’d be 50 and with goodness knows how many children.

Three was good, for us. No matter what kind of hot mama he thinks you are and no matter your passions for him and for life and all its possibilities, the decision to have children is personal and belongs to you. Like white noise, I can still hear the rush of words from others advising us early in our marriage on procreation. Have two, have one, have five. I’ve always created my own garden space and I don’t listen to those who dictate rows. We had our family on our own terms.

What’s rather odd at this point in life, is how often we get asked if we are grandparents. No, is the answer. Next, many will press to know when. I want to roll my eyes, and explain I’m a hot mama looking for a place with a garden and space to write stories because that’s what propels me in life. I’m not up in my grown children’s space, doling out procreation advice. Not my place. Not my time. In fact, I’m happy with my grands in Kansas (grand nieces and nephews). If I want children in my life at this stage, there’s plenty of children needing mentors, foster care or a reader at the library.

My children are not required to fulfill my life. That task falls to me. And the affection my husband has for me and me for him can be expressed outside expectations of family status. In fact, I greatly enjoy having grown up conversations with my children, and experiencing the passions in their lives – dance, drumming, D&D, cooking, gardening, fly-fishing, hiking, making wine, swilling micro-beers.

Yet, my three millennials live with societal pressure because they are fertile. Two are in long-term relationships and one has been married long enough to defy the laws of marriage by not producing offspring. It’s like they all have loamy earth gardens, but to society they are not planting. However, this is inaccurate. Each one of them is fertile with a vision for what they are doing in life, and like all of us they are defining who they are along the way. Parenting is a choice: theirs.

Not all fertile women, or hot mamas, are defined by motherhood. Nor are men are left out of the equation of choice.

So I take this time in my life to reflect. I smile fondly at the memories that tug at my heart and mind like the little hands that used to tug at mine, “Mama come see…”

We saw “flutterbyes” on dandelions, pirouettes on point shoes, successful rides on two-wheel bikes.  We saw minnows in many mountain streams and often my trio would hold up a piece of white quartz and say, “Look, Mama, a crystal.” I’d explain it was quartz, the mother rock. One day my eldest did find a crystal as big around as a cucumber. I can still recall our shared excitement. She became a geologist and is now a science writer and has a big title: Director of Research News.

Our children caught our passions, and developed their own.  They inspire me to continue to seek expression of feeling like a hot mama.

My greatest show of affection for my family or any loved one is cooking. Cook it like mama. My son took that on and my daughters request it of their partners.  We always loved sharing meals and when my career as a food writer and marketer blossomed, we all enjoyed kitchen experiments. When I couldn’t garden, I cooked. Preparing meals became an extension of that nurturing passion.

One Mother’s Day, I worked a six-day week to cover a food event and I was too tired by Saturday to bring home groceries. Besides, I knew the next day gave me license to eat out for breakfast with my kids and have dinner out with my husband after his shift. I’d restock our kitchen the next day. What I didn’t count on was the show of affection my son wanted to give. I woke up to an eight-year old boy standing with a tea-tray by my bed. It was the best he could do with short supplies. Breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day was a bowl of dry corn flakes and a cold can of beer.

As the kids grew older, our Thanksgiving turkeys grew bolder. I discovered brining when they were teens and by the time they left for college they were returning to expectations of mama’s drunken turkey. We all spread out across different time zones, but anytime we got together we shared grand meals. I’d have saved bites of my garden in jams or cold storage, and they’d bring the wine.

My husband doesn’t play games with us, though. He often leaves the kitchen but stays in listening distance. After they had gone to bed, he would step out on the porch and puff his pipe. I’d grab a jacket and join him, smiling because my kids were home. Smiling because I lost every game I played and still had fun when my son-in-law beat us all. Smiling to have this quiet moment with my the father of my children, looking at the stars.

Moments when he puts his arm around my shoulders and says, “You’re one hot mama.” It’s an affection that evolves but remains.

Feeling like a hot mama
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