dinner

The Dinner Table

It’s nothing new to say that dinners with toddlers can be frustrating. See this post and this post and this post and this post and this post.

But sometimes (dare I say, lately, often) it can be lovely. I grew up eating as a family around the table, and since our children have been in highchairs, we’ve tried to do the same. We try to use cloth napkins more so than not. Sophie insists on napkin holders more so than not. I’ve long given the kids glass glasses. At dinner, we all use real plates. In fact, I think I’m ready to clear out the plastic plates altogether.

The last two times I’ve had dinner with my dear friend Linda at her house she’s lit candles. How many taper candles have been lit for meals throughout the years—throughout time? I love the simplicity of them, yet the way they say “This is important.” So I was delighted to find two candlesticks at an estate sale in Fort Thomas for $10 last week.

So while the rest of the house is often covered in toys and the laundry has piled up and I’m behind on freelance work and the beds haven’t been made (for several days), I try to make dinner nice.

Even if the meal is bunnies with cheese accompanied by mixed veggies.

“The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. It’s got five or six people, new show every night, same players. Good ensemble; the people have worked together a lot.” —Michael J. Fox

We Can’t Have Green Beans Every Night

I made Ina Garten’s roasted Brussels sprouts to go with dinner tonight. “The reviews said they’re like candy!” I said.

Four (four!) thumbs down.

I rather liked them.

“We kids feared many things in those days—werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday School—but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts.” —Dave Barry

New Year’s Resolutions

I make wishy-washy New Year’s resolutions. To write them down would simply be overwhelming. There’s so much I want do do but mostly, I just want to do better.

But if I were to write them down, “do better with my blog” would top the list. Gosh I was terrible last year. I love to make excuses so here’s one: I get behind, and I don’t know how to catch up. Example: I haven’t posted about Halloween, so how can I post about New Year’s?

As my mom has told me several times, it doesn’t matter.

So here’s my New Year’s post. Halloween will likely be a month from now.

Today:

I restarted (for the fourth time) my Loseit.com goal. I am a cliché. And starving.

Around 10am I convinced Sophie to climb into bed with me while Owen and James ran around the house shooting these Plane toy things at breakable things. It was snowy and windy and cold and we curled up together under my down comforter and my new raw wool blanket (a perfect Christmas present) and Sophie chatted on and on and on about “Garfield and Friends” (yes, the TV show from the late 1980s, she’s obsessed) and I listened and nodded and laughed and slightly dozed and as much as I love Christmas and all its decadence the decadence of just sitting in bed mid-morning doing nothing was, well, decadent.

I made a lunch that no one ate and one that Owen cried most of the way through because it wasn’t cinnamon-sugar toast, which is what he wanted.

We spent 40 minutes getting dressed to spend 20 minutes out in the snow.

It was gorgeous outside.

We built the world’s worst snowman. We were out of carrots (the reindeer ate them). I tried celery for a nose but it was much too big. So I used found vegetation. “It’s a bit lumpy,” Sophie said regarding the snowman’s smile.

We played.

Once inside I made hot chocolate. We were out of milk, so it wasn’t the cocoa-sugar-milk-vanilla-stovetop kind my mom always made us, but the instant powdery kind made with a kettle of hot water, which Sophie told me several times “wasn’t nearly as good.” But I threw in a ton of marshmallows, which helped.

Then I sat outside the half bath for more than an hour with hot tea, waiting. (Details aren’t necessary except to say we’re still potty training.)

I made dinner with hands that smelled like clementines. Dusk fell and the snowflakes fell slower but bigger—they were beautiful. I wished for George Winston in the background but Team Umizoomi won.

Andy was late (traffic) and cold. I fled upstairs to do freelance work for three hours while he played board games and insisted on bedtimes.

I ended the evening by finishing “Les émotifs anonymes,” (a lovely film), eating popcorn and drinking tea.

And now I’m back in bed, under my down comforter and raw wool blanket, listening to icy snow hit our drafty, old windows that rattle in the wind but are so fitting to the house we never want to change.

And even though it’s just a moment, a day, a month, I’m happy for new beginnings—for a chance to restart goals, improve upon one’s self—to try again.

“I made no resolutions for the new year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” —Anaïs Nin

Tonight.

This picture was taken at 5:22pm. Sophie woke them up at 6pm. They immediately started crying. We whispered softly to them. Scratched their backs. Dinner was already on the table, on their plates, parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, their favorite drinks in their favorite cups.

They started screaming.

And then kept screaming until 6:55pm.

Whenever I asked James what was wrong (which, obviously, was that I woke him up) he just screamed at me. Owen, at least, tried to talk although it didn’t make sense. I think he was dreaming and his dream was clashing with reality, which was just making him more angry.

Eventually, after a long story about a curvy track involving his Legos, he told me he wanted watermelon and carrots for dinner.

This was, actually, a somewhat reasonable request but I had already made dinner. And our rule is this: You must, at the very least, try a bite before requesting something else.

I reminded him of this rule.

He just screamed some more.

Finally (imagine a lot of time passing here) he decided to try a piece if I carried him to the table and if I fed it to him.

Whatever.

I did.

(It had been 55 minutes.)

Owen: “I don’t like it.”

Me: “So you want watermelon and carrots?”

Owen: “Yes.”

As I was spooning out the watermelon onto a plate …

Owen: “Wouldn’t it be funny if I ate all my pasta with my watermelon and carrots because I like it?”

I paused. And silently screamed inside my head.

Me: “Yes, Owen. Very funny.”

He ate some more. He ate his watermelon, his baby carrots and his pasta. James, who had been eating as well, got up and came over to where I was sitting, which, at this point, was on the couch.

James: “How many bites do I have to eat to get dessert?”

Me: “All of them. Your whole plate.”

He flipped out.

Me: “Fine. Ten bites.”

(Remember, 55 minutes.)

Owen: “How many bites do I have to eat?”

James: “Ten.”

Owen, sobbing again: “But I want to eat the whole of it!”

Me: “What?”

Owen, still sobbing: “But I want to eat the whole of it!”

At this point Sophie came down the stairs, wearing only her underwear.

Sophie: “Do you know what I really want? What I really want is … why could I only have five of those stars?”

Me: “Because you’ve had plenty of treats today. That’s plenty for dessert.”

James: “DID I EAT ENOUGH FOR DESSERT?”

Owen: “Did I eat enough for dessert?”

Sophie: “I want more stars!”

“Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.” —P.J. O’Rourke

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

2-1/2

Tonight Sophie and I went to get haircuts. At 6:42pm I received an e-mail on my phone with the subject line: “Dinner is going well.” I opened it and saw this:

And at 6:48pm I received another e-mail with the subject line: “Even better now.” And then there was this:

We’re having a rough week.

“Temper tantrums, however fun they may be to throw, rarely solve whatever problem is causing them.” —Lemony Snicket

Owen’s Into Knock Knock Jokes These Days

At dinner.

Owen: “Knock knock.”

Me: “Who’s there?”

Owen: “Joke.”

Sophie: “Did Owen just say, ‘Knock knock who’s there joke?'”

Me: “Yes.”

Sophie, laughing: “That’s funny.”

“Family jokes, through rightly cursed by strangers, are the bond that keeps most families alive.” —Stella Benson

Summer Happiness

dinner alfresco

Sophie solo kite flying for the first time

apple picking

throwing bad apples in the cornfield

teaching the art of swinging a baseball bat

James to Pop Pop: “Hat, please.”

He wore it for the entire game.

“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.” —George R.R. Martin

Simple

It had been a trying day. It was one of those days in which the tiniest bump or the smallest “no” or the wrong song prompted tears. Every diaper was a “seriously? again?” diaper. No one ate well. No one napped well. A toy no one was playing with became the toy everyone wanted to play with the minute someone picked it up. There was whining. Barking. Screaming. It was too cold to go outside. I was frustrated. And exhausted. I think we all were.

I messaged Andy asking him what time he was going to be home so I could have dinner ready. The kids start melting down around 5:30pm. Andy is usually home by 6pm. If dinner is much later than 6pm, I truly believe the kids believe the world is ending. It’s as if the slightest hunger pains turn them into little crazy people but if I give them a snack, they won’t eat dinner and then they won’t sleep well at night. So we shoot for six o’clock dinners. And Andy responded and said he’d be home at 6pm.

So I made dinner. I held (a crying) Owen the entire time–except when opening and shutting the oven door. James either clung to my leg or rolled around the floor, screaming. Sophie continually begged for “more TV” and “gummies,” both of which I kept saying “no” to.

At 6pm, dinner was done, dished out and on the table. Everything for the boys was cut. They had whole milk in their sippy cups. Sophie had the items she liked cut cut and the items she didn’t like cut not cut on her favorite plate. One percent milk was in her favorite glass. I had made up plates for Andy and me, and poured drinks for each of us. We were ready to eat.

No Andy.

Now, before I go on, I know that he works very hard at his job. I know you can’t expect someone to be home right at 6pm when they say 6pm—sometimes you’re late getting out of the office, sometimes there’s traffic, sometimes you have to stop at the gas station, sometimes your favorite song is playing on the radio when you pull into the driveway and you have to sit there and listen to the entire thing—I get that.

But at this point Owen had thrown his entire plate on the floor and was standing up in his highchair, even though I had strapped him in. James was dripping his milk (seriously, why make a sippy cup if it’s going to drip when turned over?) all over Tucker and laughing. Sophie was upset because at preschool she learned that she shouldn’t eat her snack until everyone had their snack and therefore us eating before Daddy got home was simply not polite. Tucker was barking, either because milk was being dribbled all over him or because I hadn’t had time to feed him dinner yet. And then, I looked at the microwave. 6:00pm changed to 6:01pm.

I was furious. He said he’d be home 6pm and it was now past 6pm. Where was he? (By the way, you are now entering my brain.)

6:02: OK, things happen. Probably just a little bit of traffic. I’m sure he’ll walk in the door any moment.

6:03: If he even stopped for gas I’m going to be so mad. Does he not know how difficult things get around here at this time of night? For once could he just wake up early and get gas before going to work? If I want to shower that’s what I have to do—wake up before anyone else wakes up so I can clean myself, something he gets to do oh so luxuriously every morning while I’m dealing with three hungry kids and a hungry dog and the coffee, which he gets to enjoy so leisurely on his way to work. Does he have any idea how I drink my coffee? Half the time I don’t even know where the mug is because I continually put it down to pick someone up or stop a fight or read a book or change a diaper. My coffee is always cold. I mean, seriously, when is the last time he’s had cold coffee?

6:04: Speaking of cold, I’m sure his dinner is cold by now. I probably should put foil over it or put it in the oven or something. That’s what a good housewife would do. Dear God there I go again with “housewife.” I don’t want to be a “good housewife” or a “desperate housewife” or a “real housewife”. I studied journalism in college, not housewifery. I should be worried about deadlines not CRAP!!! I have an article due TOMORROW! After today, after all of this I’m going to be up until the middle of the night working because I can’t start my work until he gets home and seriously, where the hell is he???

6:05: Maybe he’s not coming home. Maybe it’s all just too much for him, too. This is bad. Very, very bad.

6:06: Of course he’s coming home. It’s bath night. He knows I can’t handle bath night on my own even though he loves to point out that he has no problem bathing all three on his own. He was probably just talking to someone he works with about something he read on Reddit and lost track of time and isn’t that nice, that he gets to talk to grown people about things he gets to read during his spare time. This is not fair! This is simply not fair.

At 6:07 I heard the front door open. Tucker immediately bounded toward the door and all three kids started gleefully yelling “Daddy! Daddy’s home! Daddy!” Normally this almost makes me melt with joy but on this day, I was furious. Now that the kids were so joyful he would have no idea of the kind of day I had, thinking I was just exaggerating. So I was mad. And ready for a fight. My entire body was tense with anger.

He had the nerve to show up with a dozen white roses.

Not only that, he also picked up some more children’s Tylenol, without my asking. He remembered we were out, knew the boys weren’t feeling well and teething, and so he stopped by the store on the way home so the boys—and we—could have a better night’s sleep.

It was the line. In the grocery. It was long. That was why he was late.

I was so flustered. I was still mad but, looking at the roses, I realized it wasn’t him I was mad at. Not for being seven minutes late. I was mad at the day. Mad that no one was happy and mad that I felt like I had failed my kids that day, because they weren’t happy. I needed to release my frustration not at him, I realized, or even on him, but by him. I could certainly tell him about my day. Vent about it. But he didn’t deserve to be punished for it. He did nothing. Except show up a few minutes late, because he was buying medicine for our kids and roses for me.

I don’t know how he knew but he did. I smelled the roses and although still frustrated, still exhausted, I calmed. They instantly calmed me.

“Where did you get the flowers, Mommy?” Sophie asked.

“Daddy gave them to me,” I said. “Aren’t they pretty?”

“They’re beeeaaauuutiful,” she said.

And they were.

They’re in a vase, slightly wilted now, next to the antique clock my parents gave to us on our wedding day. The statistics aren’t so great for couples with multiples. And things aren’t necessarily carefree for us right now. We have three children under 4. We both work during the day—and it’s work I love, caring for my children. I’m grateful I’m able to do it—even if it does make me a housewife. But we also both freelance at night. And pick up toys at night and do laundry at night and scrub toilets at night and take out the garbage at night because there’s no other time to do it. Just like every other parent of toddlers I know. And it’s exhausting. But short-lived.

The skin on Sophie’s wrists and ankles are peeping out of her shirts and pants. James matched colors correctly the other day. Owen has started to talk in sentences. My husband, who in our early dating years rarely surprised me, showed up with a dozen roses. And instead of taking out my bad day on him, as I was ready—and am prone—to do, I kissed him.

We all grow.

And as long as we keep picking up that little brass key and winding our wedding clock, the hands will continue to go around and around, with a tick tick tick I find so comforting now—in fact, without it, I think our house is too quiet. Just as I imagine my dinner table will seem, 20 years from now. But with a little work, and a lot of love, I believe there will still be someone sitting across from me, in part, thanks to the simplicity of roses and in part, thanks to the simplicity of some things being left unsaid.

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“I worship this tenacity
And the beautiful struggle we’re in
Love will not elude us
Love is simple.” —K.D. Lang/David Piltch

A Handmade Table Runner

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While ripping off Sophie’s latest easel painting in order to pull down some fresh paper, my mom suggested using it as a table runner. It’s perfect. The table is a cheap Ikea pine number with deep scratches on it (Tucker). The painting covers much of the surface nicely and serves as a fun conversation piece.

“Sophie, what’s that?” (pointing to a scribble).

“A flower.”

“And what’s that?” (pointing to a nearly identical scribble).

“A rainbow.”

“And that?” (pointing to yet another scribble).

“A kookalock.”

“The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet.” —Judith Martin