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

The Ocean in a Jar

When we arrived at our Ocean Isle beach house, my sister, Katy, gave each of the kids a Mason jar to fill with sand and shells. She decorated the lids of the jars and each jar had a tag around it that said, for example, “Owen’s First Beach Trip, Ocean Isle 2011.” I loved them. She is so creative like that.


Early August, while the boys were napping, Sophie and I decided to make all three ocean jars (the boys, sand, breakable jars and fragile shells do not mix—so we decided to make theirs for them, and then put them up high in their bedroom to enjoy from afar, until they’re older). First, we dumped all the shells on the kitchen table.


Next, Sophie filled the jars with sand.


Then she picked out the shells she wanted for each jar, and put them in. Although I wanted to, I stopped myself from telling her how much sand, which shells I thought were prettiest, and where and how I thought they should be placed. Rather, I let Sophie make them completely on her own. As such, she filled them so full with sand. And then she simply threw any old shells in, not caring if they were upside down or right side up. Some, she even buried. But they are hers. And her brothers. And she loves them. And I’ve always told myself that if my children want to color outside the lines, I will let them.

You can see the finished ocean jars above. Also, this is what our kitchen table looks like on a daily basis—a basket overflowing with art supplies, rolled craft paper, Alphie, a plastic bowl full of paint, a glass of water with Queen Anne’s Lace in it, a glass bowl with two Impatiens in it (Sophie loves to pick flowers and give them to us as gifts), the ocean jars and a big glass bowl filled with the extra shells.

I love a beautifully decorated table. If I had the money, I’d have a vase overflowing with fresh flowers on my dining room table always. And I’d throw dinner parties, often, ones that allowed me to do clever things with place settings and the centerpiece. But lately, I’ve been finding just as much joy in a hand-turned wooden bowl filled with clementines (which Sophie eats at least four of daily, now that she can peel them herself) on our formal dining room table. And I absolutely love the mess of our kitchen table. Especially because it’s not a mess of bills or freelance work or dirty dishes. Rather, it’s a mess of art and creativity and play. And I may not have believed this about me five years ago but these days, I’d pick a tiny glass bowl with two floating Impatiens in it, picked by the daughter I love, over a big bouquet any day.

Thank you, Aunt Katy, for the ocean jars. We had so much fun finding the shells and making the jars, and they’re a keepsake I know the kids will love, always.

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” —Anne Morrow Lindbergh