The table is set: dinner plates, salad plates, knives, forks, spoon, and two wine glasses. It’s been a long week so we decide to make dinner a special occasion. I am standing in the kitchen waiting to take the lasagna, that I made from scratch, out of the oven. My husband is sitting at the table talking to the three year old about his day. The baby is at the head of the table in his highchair picking at some cheerios. The dogs are sleeping under the table, dreaming that someone might drop a scrap of food. The boys laugh. The timer on the oven starts to beep. I place the bubbling lasagna in the center of the table and take my seat.
That looks yummy, Mommy.
Thank you for cooking dinner, Darling.
Ma ma ma ma.
I serve everyone a heaping slice of lasagna and some garlic bread and we dig in. The three year old talks animatedly in between bites about a game he wants to play after dinner. Something about a train. His daddy smiles and him and then at me. The baby plays with a lasagna noodle and then crams the whole thing in his mouth. He’s messy, but happy.
We all eat our meals at a comfortable speed. No one is yelling. Everyone is happy. It is the perfect family dinner that we’ve always imagined. We toast our beautiful family. Aren’t we great parents?
Actually, I haven’t had time to cook dinner this evening because the baby has been teething and refused to be put down all day. He is currently yelling at the top of his lungs in his walker. Snot is pouring out of his nose and down his face. When I try to wipe it with a tissue he bites me. The three year old is still wearing yesterday’s pajamas and is standing on the train table refusing to come to the table to eat.
My husband and I are having left over Chinese food, burritos, and macaroni. It was grocery day and we needed to make some space. The three year old is insisting that he will only eat oranges for dinner, and only if I feed them to him one slice at a time as he runs past the table without stopping. I do this without arguing, because at least he’s eating.
The baby slams into my foot with his walker and raises his sticky, snot covered arms, indicating that he would like to be held. Again. I place him in my lap and he immediately grabs my fork off my plate and hurls it to the ground. I push the plate to the center of the table where he can’t reach it, but now I have to eat from a distance. The dogs move in, knowing I don’t stand a chance of coming out of this without wearing half my fried rice. They’re not wrong.
I finish my food at lightning speed and hand the baby off to my husband so I can chase the three year old with some orange slices. Daddy puts the baby in his highchair to feed him some pureed sweet potatoes. The moment his diaper-clad bottom touched the seat he cried. Out he came. Daddy tried again. Same response. Back into the walker then. So now, Daddy is chasing the baby around with a spoonful of sweet potato and I am chasing the three year old with an orange slice. We cross paths and roll our eyes at one another.
One of the dogs is licking the baby’s face while the other has stealthily climbed onto the three year old’s chair and is now standing on the table eating the rest of my dinner. At least someone is enjoying it.
Three oranges later, the three year old says he’s full. I give him a multivitamin and call it quits. The baby eats five bites of sweet potato before spraying the last bite in Daddy’s face. Guess we’re having family bath time again tonight.
We drag our exhausted, defeated bodies up the stairs to start the bedtime routines. The children are perky again. The baby is smearing his sweet potato and snot covered hands along the wall on the way up the stairs. The three year old is no longer wearing pants. I’m not sure when that happened. My husband’s hair is sticking up in several places, held there by sweet potato. He looks like he’s seen a ghost.
I suppose we both have: the ghost of the family dinner ideal that we once thought possible. Maybe when the children are older. For now we have lowered our expectations considerably. Dinner is about keeping the troops alive. Don’t talk, just shovel. If we have accomplished that, it’s been a good night. We save the wine for after they go to bed.