When my brother and I reached elementary school and beyond, we often behaved poorly at the dinner table. Whining, bickering, complaining- we did it all. “Why can’t mealtime just be pleasant?” our disgruntled mother would lament. Years later, we would mock her (sorry, Mom) for this June Cleaver-ish sentiment, but as with all things parenting, I am starting to understand. I have gotten a taste of my own medicine, and it sucks.
|What’s not to love about family meal time?|
On an evening that had followed the pinnacle of our sleeplessness, I began to gather my ingredients for a casserole I had planned, determined to maintain a vestige of productivity on an otherwise useless day. I located the casserole dish (in the dishwasher of course) and my obliging husband washed it while I began to pull boxes and cans out of the cupboards. As I opened the refrigerator to locate the cheese, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I remembered discussing the fact that I needed some at the grocery store, but I had committed the cardinal parental shopping sin of shopping without a list. I did not return home with the cheese. Macaroni and cheese casserole without the cheese is a colossal failure. I could feel the façade of my composure spiraling out of control. “I don’t feel like making anything,” I choked tearfully to my husband. “I don’t feel like making anything,” I repeated numbly and bolted for the stairs. I do not recall the last time I fled to my bedroom to cry, but that was the only course of action that seemed appropriate.
As many mothers know, even the opportunity to pee, brush one’s teeth, or yes, cry alone in one’s bedroom, is frequently thwarted by our children. My six year old barreled into my bedroom sobbing and threw her arms around me. For some reason this made me cry harder. “Why are you crying Izzy,” I asked, laughing through my tears. “Because you’re crying,” she bawled. Then she began to actually wail, “Boo hoo hoo! Boo hoo hoo!” Well, that was just ridiculous. Crying binge over.
During the following night, on the heels of a miraculously decent night of sleep, I was more prepared. I foolishly uttered the words, “Well, this mealtime seems to be an improvement over last night,” as I worked in the kitchen. I knew those words would come back to haunt me. As I reached for my daughter’s plate in the cupboard, I heard a noisy clatter. Alarmed, I was certain that the baby had somehow fallen out of her high chair, but instead found my older child splayed out on the linoleum, having tripped over the always annoying baby gate. By the look on my husband’s face, I could see that his irritation meter was maxed out, and I knew it was my turn. Mustering up some empathy, I shooed hubby away and cooed and snuggled with Izzy.
I had prepared two of her favorites for dinner- pigs in a blanket and green bean casserole. Culinary artists and nutritionists alike stand in awe of me. You would think that my thoughtful meal planning combined with my act of nurturing would have landed me in Izzy’s good graces for dinner. You would be wrong. To my great consternation, she announced that she didn’t care for her pig in a blanket. As I stuttered in disbelief, she gagged, revealing a mouthful of both pig and blanket. She spit it into the trash as I protested, “What was wrong with it?”
|She used to love Mommy’s gourmet cooking. Ingrate.|
“It’s horrible,” she choked ungratefully. Maintaining a firm grip on my self-control, I set her plate on the counter and ordered her upstairs. “What the f-ck?” I mouthed to my husband and we listened to her clamber up the stairs crying loudly. As Izzy’s plaintive ululations drifted down the stairs, we attempted to enjoy our French’s onion-laden casserole and hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls, every adult’s dream come true. (Ok, I’m trying to pretend like I don’t really enjoy them. Which I do.) Five minutes later, as the protests from upstairs died down, I retrieved Izzy and she joined us again at our dinner table. There are many words I would use to describe family mealtime. Pleasant is not at the top of the list.