Bon Appetit

In some Native American cultures, a person may be given a new name based on the completion of a significant act or the achievement of a certain milestone. Well, since becoming a stay at home mom, I’ve undergone my own renaming ceremony of sorts. “Ceremony” is actually too strong a word for it since there was no formal rite to re-christen me. Instead, it was a slow evolution from the old “Jane” to the new me.

My new name, you ask? “Changes Many Diapers?” Or, “Drinks Many Beers?” Perhaps “She of Many Gray Hairs?” or “Woman of Empty Wallet?” Ha ha ha, I could go on with these all day! “Grinds Her Teeth at Night?” Or, “She of Sagging Bosom?” Or maybe “Woman of No Employable Skills?” I know!!! What about “She Who Pees with Door Open So That Her Children Will Not Freak Out?” Seriously, ALL DAY! I am cracking myself up. I’ll stop now and go back to my point: all sadly appropriate and accurate, but no. Call me “What’s For Dinner?” As in Chris telephones me from work and greets me with, “Hi, What’s For Dinner?” Sarah runs into the house after school, sees me and calls out “What’s For Dinner?” Even little Katie has started to utter, “What’s For Dinner?” whenever she sees me. I guess there are worse things they could call me (see beginning of this paragraph).

My whole day culminates in the execution of a successful dinner. Getting a varied, nutritious, and satisfying meal for a 43-year old male on a perpetual diet, a 6-year old girl with a sensitive gag reflex, and a 2-year old girl whose dinner is more likely to wind up on the floor, in her chair, in her hair, up her nose, in her ears, or anywhere else but inside her mouth is a thankless task. Why just last week, I believe I was regaled with such glowing accolades as “This is gonna make me puke” from Sarah (complete with gagging and retching) and “I don’t like this yucky noodle” from Katie (followed by her flinging the plate across the kitchen table, onto the floor) for my efforts. And that’s just during dinner. Let’s review all that actually went into preparing the meal, shall we?

First of all, I’ve already covered the joy that is going to Target to procure the groceries in preparation for the meal. This is only after searching through almost all of epicurious.com for dinners that will please both grown ups and children. Now, during the actual cooking of the meal, I am under extreme duress. Sometimes, very very rarely, my daughters will sit down and color together. And then, the angels sing on high, the clouds part, trumpets trill a triumphant tune, and I am in heaven- cooking in peace! Hallelujah and praise the sweet baby Jesus!!!!! More often than not though, my girls are either scrawling graffiti on our walls with Sharpies or attempting to qualify for 2nd degree manslaughter by pushing each other off the stairs. Or, I find myself deglazing my pan with this going on beside me:

Does Thomas Keller have to work under such conditions? I think not.

Ok, so miraculously, I somehow get dinner cooked, the table set, and everything is ready for my husband to walk in the door, welcomed by the delicious aromas arising from our stove. I barely have time to say hello before he sprints upstairs to change out of his work clothes and to get the beasts, um, I mean girls, washed up for their meal. A quick prayer at the dinner table, during which I am yelling at the girls not to pick at their food, and we are ready to dig in!!! But instead of digging in, the girls push and poke at their food around with their forks and fingers. They sniff and say, “What is this?” as if I have presented them with a pile of day old of Alpo instead of a lovingly, albeit frantically, prepared home cooked meal. And no matter what the answer is (braised short ribs, oven roasted salmon, cotton candy with sugar gravy on top), the judgement is immediate and swift: “I don’t like that.” Some cajoling, bribery, and threats ensue, and then, they finally take a bite.

With that first bite, you never know what is going to happen. In an ideal world, a slow smile will spread across their face and eyes aglow, they will proclaim, “I LIKE THIS!” and eat with gusto and appreciation. Usually though, it’s slow and steady chewing as though they were gnawing on Grade D horse flesh in a Russian gulag, their expressions stony and resigned. Five minutes of this (seven, if we are lucky) and dinner is OVER, at least for our girls. Katie is jumping out of her chair, running circles around our kitchen table, yelling that she wants to take off her pants. Sarah, after 3 bites, is complaining that her stomach hurts and that she could not possibly eat another bite….but by the way, what’s for dessert?

A sad approximation of me and Chris at dinner. "No...time...to...talk...must...eat...more...food.".

All the while, Chris and I are shoveling our food as if we are finalists in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. We cannot inhale our food fast enough. The only pauses in our relentless chewing is the gulping of huge quantities of wine to dull the pain. As for dinner conversation, I can’t remember a conversation we finished in its entirety during a family dinner in our kitchen since mid 2006. Besides, it is difficult to maintain a civilized discourse when your dining companions are spitting up boluses of partially chewed flank steak back onto their plates and utensils are more likely to be used as weapons of mass destruction than actual tools for food consumption.

And while we encourage our girls to, for the love of God, leave the table and play after they are done with their dinners so that at least the two of us can eat our meals in peace, sadists that they are, Sarah and Katie love to hang out with us instead. And I literally mean, “Hang.” Katie will try to crawl into my lap, crying, “UPPY UPPY UPPY!!!!” And Sarah, not to be outdone, wants her fair share of attention as well and wails, “NO FAIR!” when we protest to her 50-pound body laying prostrate across our laps.

Our bellies only half full, Chris and I sadly put down our forks in defeat, and it’s time to clean up. An hour’s effort to cook the meal results in about 10 minutes of actual “dinner time.” It’s almost a welcome relief to clean up and start the dishes because it means we won’t have to endure this again for another 24 hours, when the cycle begins anew, and old “What’s For Dinner?” cooks again.

A rare crowd pleaser....chicken and dumplings made from scratch, thank you very much. Winner winner chicken dinner!

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Old Yeller

Well, here we are almost through with the second month of the new year. As I take stock of my 2012 resolutions, my biggest failing so far has been the one where I promised to be calm and patient. Yeah….that’s not working out so well. How do other moms do it? I’ve seen some moms just stand by with a vacant space cadet look in their eyes while their children lay prostrate on the ground, gnashing their teeth. Are they having an out of body experience? On massive amount of Valium? Practicing some alternative form of discipline that I am not aware of? What is their secret?!

By the end of the day, our house strongly resembles the monkey house at the Central Park Zoo. Our girls are bouncing off the walls and stealing pieces of

Just another afternoon at the Reicherts

food one minute and then, fangs bared, screeching at some perceived injustice the next. And the last thing my simian children are interested in is listening to their underpaid zookeeper mother. I make a request in a normal tone of voice. No response from the kiddos. I make it again. Zilch. And again. Nada. And finally, I cannot take it anymore and I have to yell at my children to behave, listen, stop fighting, put away their toys, be quiet, stop picking their nose, stop putting their hands down their pants, or just plain FOCUS!

I can’t ever remember a time when my own mother ever yelled at me. Sure, we had our battles but she chose a more subtle form of reproach. One furrowed brow and a world-weary sigh was enough for me to melt in a puddle of guilt, regret, and shame. My mother is very good at silently expressing her disapproval; she’s Asian, you know. If I was especially bad, she’d mutter something about coming all the way over from Korea to give us a better life and this is how we repay her. Very effective. This magical maternal Asiatic gift must skip generations because all my withering looks get me are a shrug, eyeroll, and a “What-ev.” I don’t even get the courtesy of a full “Whatever.”

So I yell. Not everyday, not all the time, but enough. But instead of making me feel better, it makes me feel worse. Like I am failing as a mother, that my children’s first memories of me will not be me singing them to sleep or baking cookies together but, rather, something similar to this:

Thus, in the spirit of this Lenten season, I am going to give up yelling at my kids. Our girls can swing from the rafters, flinging masticated food at my face and I will not flinch. Instead, I will count to 10, take a swig of my Sauvignon Blanc, and speak to my monkey children in an even but firm tone of voice. Hopefully, by the end of these 40 days, I will emerge as a better person and parent. And, even more importantly, I hope that my sweet girls will not co-author a tell-all book about their own Mommie Dearest….because frankly, I shudder to think who would play me in the Lifetime tv movie.

Them Pearly Whites, Part Deux

Last Thursday, Sarah had her dentist appointment to fill her second cavity.  Since her initial diagnosis, I have been maniacally preparing Sarah for what was to come.  I spent most of the early part of last week acting as coach, cheerleader, and doomsday prophet.  Here’s what my schizophrenic parenting style sounded like:

Coach Mommy: Ok, Sarah.  First, the dentist will put a mask on you to relax you and then, it is your job to let the dentist get to work.  You will sit there and be still- that’s all you have to do. Keep your mouth open and your tongue out of the way.  Let’s practice– mouth open, tongue down for 30 seconds.  Ready?  GO!  (Yes, we actually practiced this at bedtime, still as statues, and timed ourselves.)

Cheerleader Mommy:  Sarah, you are SO brave!  You are the bravest girl I know!  You will be the best ever at getting a cavity filled!  I know you can do it!  You are AWESOME!  YAY SARAH!  (Then I did a back handspring and a hurkey– just kidding.)

Doomsday Prophet Mommy:  Sarah, if you do not let the dentist do her job at the dentist office, we will have to get your filling at a HOSPITAL– you know, where all the really sick people go.   And do you know what they will do at the hospital?  The doctor there will put a really big needle right in your arm to make you fall completely asleep.  You won’t know what’s going on at all and mom can’t even be in the room with you. You will be completely ALONE with a REALLY REALLY big needle in your arm.  Is that what you want?  To be all alone…<dramatic pause>….with a big needle….<another pause>…..sticking out of your arm??! (I’m pretty sure she cried herself to sleep that night.)

Well, I am ecstatic to report that my multi-pronged approach to prepare Sarah for the big day, along with a liberal dose of bribery, worked.  Sarah was a champ and we walked out of the appointment 45 minutes later with a bill shy of $300, which was less than 10% of the cost of her first cavity.  Yes!!!!  (I almost did do a hurkey when I got the bill.)  Sarah is now the proud owner of a Beta fish named Star, and informed me that for her next filling, she’d really like an American Girl McKenna doll (I told you, the girl likes to plan).  And as an added bonus, I got to see Sarah on laughing gas.  Do they sell this stuff at Costco because all the Reichert girls could really use some hits during our post-nap whine/wine fest….