Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunday Dinner for the Type-A List Maker: Part Three

I've been looking forward to Spring Break for some time now, but unlike most people-- especially college students-- I've been looking forward to this week as a time to catch up on work.  (I know.  I'm old and boring.  And I'm going with it.)  Looking at the calendar last week, I realized that I had three days for "work" during my Spring Break.  Being a type-A list maker, I made a list of everything I wanted to accomplish in my three work days.

Day 1
Complete all school-related work.  (I'll spare you the sub-list.)

Day 2  
1.  Write backlog of blog reports for upcoming week(s).
2.  Get massage using Groupon that sweet husband bought me as a surprise several weeks ago.
3.  Meet new book-designer friend for coffee.

Day 3
Write something new.

I hadn't figured out what the something new was going to be yet, but when I checked e-mail this morning, I discovered a message that sent my week's plan (or at least my morning's plan) out the window.

My friend Kate sent me a link to an article by Sally Sampson called Don't Have Time to Cook DInner?  Really?  It's a response to an article by NY Times dining editor Pete Wells from the series Cooking with Dexter, about his plans and occasional attempts to cook dinner for his sons.  I encourage you to read both articles, but the bottom line is this.  Most people, certainly most food writers, agree that it's important to eat dinner with your family most days of the week.  People disagree on how-- and how often-- this is possible or if it's possible at all.  In our media-saturated world in which people regularly work until 6 pm... 7 pm... and beyond... how do we get everyone to sit down for a family dinner?

We struggle with this issue in my family on a daily basis.  In fact, just a few minutes ago I was wondering what my family was going to have for dinner this evening.  Then I remembered that we have leftover mac and cheese and country ham in the refrigerator.  This past Saturday night after the dinner dishes were washed and the children were in bed, my husband decided to start cooking.  He made a very fancy mac and cheese casserole and left it sitting, unbaked, in the refrigerator awaiting Sunday dinner.  I'm well aware that Sunday dinner is traditionally a midday meal, but we hosted book club this past Sunday afternoon and we all ate so much country ham, corn bread, and cucumber salad that we weren't really hungry 2 hours later when supper time time rolled around.  So we saved the unbaked mac and cheese for Monday night and it was delicious.
Daddy's special mac and cheese on Monday night, 2011.

At first my oldest daughter said it didn't LOOK like mac and cheese and that she wasn't going to eat it.  In spite of the fact that most food experts seem to agree that parents shouldn't launch power-struggles over food, I told my daughter that she would indeed TRY daddy's mac and cheese because he'd spent a great deal of time making it for her.  I went even further and told her that even if she didn't like the mac and cheese she was going to thank Daddy for making her such a thoughtful meal.  Then I gave her my "I mean business" look.

We had this conversation out of daddy's ear-shot because my husband is one of the many people who get home too late to eat dinner with his family during the week.  Our girls insist that they feel an overwhelming sense of hunger-- the kind they insist will KILL THEM-- if they don't get to eat by 5:30 pm.  I don't know many people who are able to make it home from work by that time these days.  So we have devised a compromise.  The girls eat their dinner early and go play for a while.  When my husband gets home from work, we adults eat our dinner while the children enjoy dessert.   Our dessert isn't usually very exciting-- sometimes it's just fruit for one girl and a few marshmallows for the other.  Sometimes it's two bowls of drippy vanilla ice cream.  And every once in a while we make homemade brownies or oatmeal raisin cookies (my personal favorite).  Although we have different foods on our plates, it still feels like a family meal.  We eat, we talk, we laugh.  And sometimes we complain.

I was grateful that my husband didn't hear our daughter complain about the meal he'd worked so hard to prepare for her.  I listened to my oldest daughter complain about my cooking on a regular basis and I knew it didn't feel good.  Even more importantly, this wasn't just any old meal that my daughter was complaining about.    It was a meal that my husband had planned in advance with two specific goals.  1.  To prepare his daughters a meal that he thought they'd really love.  2.  To make my life easier on a busy day by making something that could just be popped into the oven.  These were both such worthy goals that I couldn't bear for my husband to know that his thoughtfulness was met with such resistance.

Our daughters tried the mac and cheese with suspicion, but after one bite their attitude changed completely.  They wolfed down the small amount of mac and cheese I'd placed in the center of each of their plates and before I could turn around from washing the dishes, both of our daughters were begging for more of "daddy's mac and cheese".  I almost cried.  It wasn't even my labor that I feared would be going to waste, but somehow it made me even happier to know that my husband's efforts were now so surprisingly paying off.

The girls were eating and they were happy and even more importantly they knew that daddy had done something wonderful for them-- even though he wasn't here to share in the joy of it all.  It was so amazing that I ran to get my camera and take a picture of the sweet scene.  I hate to be a tease, but the resulting photograph feels very personal and I've decided not to post it here.  I'm sure to anyone else it's just a cute picture of two smiling children waving forks over their empty plates, but to me this photograph is wildly revealing. So for now at least, you'll just have to imagine it.  Rest assured, it will be going in our family photo album.

I tell this story to encourage you to make time for dinner, even if you do it in an unconventional way.  The payoff is well worth it.  And thanks to my husband, I now know what I'll be writing about on Friday.  But for now, I'd better get back to grading midterms.