Dinner. Exhausting, Frustrating, Hilarious, Every Night (It Gets Better, Right?) Dinner.

Dinner was late tonight. Andy was at Target with the kids, I was at Trader Joe’s (thankful to be solo on my trip, given the whining I heard in the background when I talked with him on the phone). While at Trader Joe’s, I picked up sushi for dinner on a whim. I don’t know what I was thinking. Sushi was not well-received by our children. Owen hadn’t napped. Sophie was giddy/out-of-sorts because we had ripped all the carpet out of her room (we tend to make rash decisions like this on Sunday afternoons, only to question our sanity around dinnertime). James was getting too much enjoyment out of making an already unhappy Owen more unhappy.

Andy said he needed to take five minutes. His trip to Target with the kids resulted in buying two packs of birthday candles for my birthday on Tuesday simply because the kids couldn’t agree. Apparently both Owen and James wanted to sit in the child seat in the cart (common), so he put them both in the cart’s basket until they could decide, on their own, who would get to sit in the actual seat first. Screaming ensued. People stared. He tried to turn it into a game—answer the question first, you get the seat. This didn’t work. And the entire time Sophie completely ignored the situation, picking out “beautiful things” for my birthday (I am both eager and anxious to unwrap what she found).

So Andy took his break. I had three crazy children losing it at the dinner table over sushi. “Cover your eyes!” I said. “I have a surprise.”

This always works. Even when I don’t know what the surprise is.

I scanned the pantry, desperate. I found food coloring. I turned their milk bright yellow. Andy, done with his five minutes, came downstairs and added some chocolate chips to their bright yellow milk.

They loved it.

For about a minute.

Then they wanted the chocolate chips, at the bottom of their glasses. We said they had to drink their milk. They started plunging their hands in their milk, reaching for the chips, mouths now stained yellow, screaming about the sushi.

When do dinners get easier?

Sitting down as a family is important to me. Occasionally we have winter picnics in the family room, or I do, when Andy’s out for the evening, with a movie on as a treat. But mostly, we’re sitting at our dinner table. And there are tears. Poking. Complaints about the meal. “Did I eat enough for dessert?” over and over and over and exhaustingly over.

We have our moments. Moments when someone does something funny and all five of us laugh, even Andy and me, true belly laughs—not intended to just humor the kids, but real. I love those moments.

Sometimes there’s real conversation. Sophie tells us a story about something that happened at preschool. Owen tells about the trains at the museum at Christmastime (again). James sings us his coconut song (when asked).

And we’re making (small) strides. We’re teaching them to say “May I please be excused” when they’re done. Sophie’s very good at it. James forgets, then, when reminded, runs back to his seat, climbs up and screams “Excused? May excused?” Owen remembers when he sees Sophie do it first.

But the rest of the meal …

What should be the most enjoyable part of the day is often the most challenging.

Am I alone?

I just want happy. By 6pm, I need happy. I need a nightly feast.

“Be not angry or sour at table; whatever may happen put on the cheerful mien, for good humor makes one dish a feast.” —from Gentle Manners, a Shaker book on manners