Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Grind

I write this blog for Kailey and Alden so that they can read it when they are older and learn more about who they were when they were younger.  Memory is such a fickle thing, and I know my own memories of childhood are so distorted through my prism as an adult.  And, of course, there are just so many things I don't remember because so very much happens in a lifetime.  So, I try to keep this blog up to date so they have a record of the going ons of their early years.  And, of course, I keep it for me -- I love re-reading this blog and remembering all the funny things they've said and all the sweet moments and vacations and adventures we've had together.

But, sometimes, I read this and wonder if they'll have their own distorted view of childhood -- since I tend to only write about the highlights, the funny moments, the sweetness of life.  Because, those are the things that I want to capture.  Those are the things worth remembering and holding onto.  But, I also know in writing this I am creating my own distortions of reality by focusing just on the good things.

I don't write a lot about the harder things or the drudgery.  Like dinner.  Dinners have come to be the bane of my existence.  I long for the days before kids when dinner simply didn't matter.  We worked until whatever hour we wanted to work and then grabbed something to eat.  Maybe we went out.  It's so nice to eat out as a twosome.  There is nothing nice about eating out with a toddler at most any place besides Round Table or some other sort of chain where no one thinks twice about the kid in the corner who is throwing food and shouting at the top of his lungs. 

Because eating out is expensive and not fun, it means nearly all of our meals are eaten at home.  I get tired of meal planning and use all sorts of tricks to avoid it.  We have a meal service that delivers two recipes and ingredients for the recipes -- taking all the thinking out of meal planning, which I love. I'd much rather just make something that was already determined by someone else.  But, Kai whines every time she sees a Blue Apron recipe card.  And this is true even though she often tries the meal, once prepared, and relents that it "isn't so bad."  But, still, the whining persists. 

Alden is more willing to try most foods -- but also is hit or miss day to day.  And, the 30 - 45 minutes while I am trying to make food at night are a total nightmare.  Alden just wants to be held and cuddled.  Or, he wants to eat right away and not wait for dinner to be prepared.  Either way, he follows us around the kitchen crying and clawing at us and asking to be held or for a snack.  By the time dinner is on the table, he is often at his wits end.  Sometimes he calms himself enough to eat.  Other times we eat listening to him scream while trying to keep him from throwing food. 

At the same time, we spend the actual eating period (of about 20 minutes) cajoling Kailey to eat while she hunches over in her chair complaining about the food and picking around the things she doesn't like. 

I had these visions before children of lovely family mealtimes when we would all sit around a table, enjoying a wide variety of foods and engaging in conversations about politics, our day, school, and other current affairs.  The reality of a hurried rush to get food on the table after a busy and stressful day at work all while dealing with a screaming toddler, trying to get Kai to do her evening chores, rushing her to set the table, and then, finally, sitting down to a meal no one wants anymore is far form the vision I had once upon a time.

Eric said yesterday as we were going through the night time grind -- "it's amazing how they can just WIPE you in one hour flat." 

Someday, when they are both older, I hope we have the mealtimes I once envisioned.  But, at this point, meals - and especially dinner - are just annoying.  Breakfast isn't so bad because it's the beginning of the day when everyone is fresh.  But, more importantly, we only have about 3 - 4 things that we do for breakfast and they largely get to choose what they eat in the morning.  They'll have oatmeal, toast and oranges 5 days in a row.  For some reason, it doesn't bother me in the least to serve them the same breakfast day after day.  And, they love it. 

But, for dinner, we try to mix it up. It feels like mac and cheese every day -- while avoiding all the drama of mealtimes, for sure -- is not advisable.  Maybe I'm wrong about this.  But, we keep pushing to keep dinners diverse.  Last night I made sweet potato "noodles" (using a spiralizer) in a brown butter sage sauce.  It was yummy.  It tasted like butter.  What's not to like?  But, the kids picked at it and yelled.  We gave them rice too -- which, is the most annoying food in the world to clean up off a hardwood floor after someone has pitched his entire bowl over board (that person shall remain nameless, but I bet you can guess who it was... it wasn't Eric.  Or me.  Or Kailey). 

We do resort to the basics with some frequency just to avoid the nighttime grind.  Pizza, plain noodles with parm, mac and cheese, ramen, sushi, bbq chicken.  There are things that make the nights easy (or at least easier).  But, I don't want them to grow up only eating a few things.  So, there are many nights when we make salmon, steak, fried rice, stir fry, quiches, pasta with real sauce full of vegetables or meat, fish tacos, enchiladas, etc -- and, inevitably, those nights are nothing but a grind.

That is a big part of parenting.  It's the thing you cannot prepare for or really understand before being a parent.  Because, it's not the single event that wears you down.  It's the daily grind.  Doing it over and over.  And being willing to accept that grind, the daily struggle, for the larger good.  We go through the nighttime dinner drama day after day because it's good for them, even if it shortens your life span considerably (I'm kidding).  It would be so much easier to just throw in the towel and order pizza every night.  I mean, Costco is right down the street and they are practically giving the pizza and rotisserie chicken away.  It would be much easier to just feed them what they want every night.

But, our job is not to just take the path of least resistance.  It's to help them try new things, develop good manners, be adventurous, grateful, and curious -- and, some of that starts with dinner time.  So, we continue the nightly grind of dinner and the daily grind of getting Kailey to do her chores, and teaching Alden to clean up after himself.  This is a big chunk of our days.  I look at things that Kailey writes about us at school, and am amused that she writes about me being a good cook and good at taking care of them.  It's evidence that she does appreciate, on some level, the effort that goes into the nightly meal fiasco.  And, I know, that over time it will pay off and we will have the meals I imagined (well, I guess I don't know that for sure, but I have to believe that we will get there because otherwise I will relent and give into the ease of evening meals of ice cream and ramen).

Especially as we continue to grow our own food and teach them to take pride in both the growing and cultivation of our food and then the preparation of that food -- I think they will begin to appreciate a wider variety of foods. And, maybe, Alden will grow out of toddlerhood (that seems inevitable) and not become the picky eater his sister is -- and we'll get to peaceful mealtimes sooner than later.  But, really, I'm not holding my breath.

But, man oh man, I hate meal time planning and execution at the moment.  It's not a fun way to cap off a stressful day.  But, we do it nearly every night anyway knowing that in doing so, we are helping to shape the adults they will inevitably become.

Until then, there is always lunch.

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