When I grew up we had dinner together. Children were called away from homework (television) or calls went out the front door to summon those in the fresh air. Hands were washed, places taken, and dinner began. I don’t know what it was like when we were very young, but I can’t imagine it went as smoothly. At least it doesn’t in our house now.
Usually by 5:30, Child Harbat is ready to boil over. She’s had a full day of kindergarten, an afternoon of play and interaction with my wife, and has long since run out of things to do that don’t involve clinging to your shirt like a briar or whining and flopping around on various pieces of furniture like a dying fish. By the time I get home from work I’m met with several strains of exasperation: my wife, who has Had Enough of the kids; my daughter, who crawls to me with a tear-streaked face after receiving some reprobation for bad behavior; and my son who is growing tired of getting body-slammed by his big sister and is overdue for dinner/clean clothes/bedtime.
So. This means a race to make a healthy dinner that will be enjoyed by all, will use up leftovers or fresh ingredients, and will use a minimum of dishes which I’ll have to clean up afterward. I give my hellos to the family and head into the kitchen to work some alchemy. Since it’s Southern California, it’s still in the 90s here in October which means it’s in the triple digits over a hot stove. When dinner is ready I serve everyone’s plates and sit down with a deep sigh into my chair.
Ready for a calm dinner? No. Child Harbat feels compelled to make some criticism about dinner before she picks up her fork. Like a Michelin Guide review, the harsh words come often and early:
“I don’t like this cheese, it’s lumpy. I wanted a different plate. I don’t like green things. EEWW! WHAT’S ON THIS PIZZA!”
My fuse is dangerously close to the black powder by this point but usually I can respond calmly. But after five minutes of negotiations, before a speck of food has yet to cross my daughter’s lips, I’ve had enough. She must sit sideways in her chair, or with one foot on the floor as if she’s expecting a starter’s pistol to signal the rush to bed. Food is held in one hand during wild gesticulations, promenades around the dining and living rooms, and sudden movements toward her brother, resulting in a cascade of food on the newly-swept floor.
THAT’S IT! DINNER IS RUINED!
I think I know why I can’t help myself from wolfing my food down and trying to leave dinner as fast as possible. I think I’m going to take my brother’s advice and feed the children posho three meals a day, dispensed from a large bucket and feeding tube hung from the ceiling.