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?
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.