Before my husband and I had kids, we did not just eat. We would dine. We would grill pork stuffed with feta. I made my own Alfredo sauce with homemade pasta and we could throw together a sick brunch that included crepes and fresh-squeezed orange juice (that was diluted with champagne, of course).
And because I loved cooking and thought I was kind of a foodie, it seemed natural that I would carry on this tradition after having kids with our family dinners. Truth be told, I was fucking delusional. I discovered this after trying to repeat some of those epic meals after I had kids only to find I needed my bed and a good cry upon completion. I still love to bake and cook but not with the same tenacity I used to have. My reality is a bit more like this:
Dinner Prep (aka Hell)
It is 4 in the afternoon, and I am starving. I should start dinner but first let me eat a spoonful of peanut butter with chocolate sauce poured on top so I don’t pass out while chopping vegetables. This is especially delightful when chased with chips. Trying to make dinner with one baby sucking on your toe, while the other one is throwing a tantrum while hanging onto the waistband of your pants as they fall down is a challenge. Then someone always needs their ass wiped. When they get older, they seem to think this is a good time to whip out their homework and throw all of their permission slips at me. Please pass the Tylenol.
I still try to make exquisite dishes and start off the week strong. I guess I enjoy suffering. This never ends well. Perusing the grocery store aisles, I think about rack of lamb with new potatoes and sautéed beet greens. After bringing it home and working my fingers to the bone, I present my masterpiece. Then my kids eat one potato and ask me if the beet greens are made out of slime. As I start to come back to reality, I realize pasta with sauce is a complete meal. Sauce totally counts as a vegetable. Macaroni and cheese should give everyone their dairy requirement for the day. If I keep trying to make epic family dinners that do not include anything that comes out of a box, by Friday evening I won’t even know who I am.
The Dinner Hour
I dream about sitting down to dinner while everyone throws around compliments about the food I am giving them, but we all know how this goes. Good food looks strange to kids. It gets poked and hidden under napkins. Suddenly they have come down with the plague and are not able to eat anything. I find dealing with this behavior pairs nicely with a bottle of red. If hubbs mentions that he liked the way I prepared the chicken better last week, I clutch my fork in the stabbing position.
I like some nice conversation in between telling the kids to chew with their mouths closed and to stop tipping back in their chairs. When I ask what the favorite part of their day was (why do I bother), it is usually answered with something over the top, like, “My favorite part was watching Tommy pick his nose in science class and smearing it on the window.”
This is the moment when everyone suddenly comes back to life. Their plague has miraculously disappeared, and suddenly they will choke down the same dinner that made them throw up in their mouths just a few minutes ago. I usually give them five minutes. If their plates are not clean in five minutes, that dessert does not touch their lips. This is always a nice family bonding moment that includes more wine and tears.
Scraping, rinsing off their plates, and stacking them neatly in the dishwasher goes really well some nights, but others I have no idea what the hell is happening. This is when I like to tell them about the days of yesteryear when I used to stand in my parents’ kitchen as a weak little 8-year-old and have to hand wash every dish. I threaten to make them do that if they can’t load the dishwasher (since I have shown them how to do it 700 times) the correct way, but really, we all know that is not going to happen.
Honestly, I will always make family dinners happen. Because even with all the complaining and hiding squished peas under napkins, dinnertime is still one of those things that just make our family whole. It doesn’t matter what we eat (or don’t eat, or gag over) it is about tuning out everything else and just being together. Yes, dinnertime is a shitshow, but it is our shitshow. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.