Friday night was a bit frantic. I was responsible for taking J and her BFF to the Learning Fair, and they spent the afternoon augmenting their project with new projects and sub-projects and design ideas. Meanwhile I looked up and realized that I had about half an hour before we had to get going, and I hadn’t started dinner. Actually, I’d looked up at about 3 pm and realized that I’d failed for the day, because the original plan was a slow-cooker meal. But it was too late to get that started. So I had chicken in the fridge from the meal-that-wasn’t, as well as an overabundance of mushrooms. I’d been vaguely craving a dish that I make which involves chicken and a bunch of sauteed mushrooms and artichoke hearts and white wine on pasta. But taking a look at the clock and considering the girls’ dietary preferences, I downgraded sharply to plain old spaghetti with a random assortment of raw vegetables on the side so that I could feel better about basically carbo-loading for an evening in which the most taxing activity would be walking.
Well, physically taxing, I should say, because I was emotionally taxed to my limit. J doesn’t like to be rushed, so I try not to get too high stress. But the result is that my low-key reminders to move it along are ineffective, and then it’s quite obvious when I start ramping up on the stress. I’d wanted to arrive at the school between 5:30 and 5:45, so when it was 5:47 and J complained, “I just feel like you’re rushing me,” I got a little snippy. “I am rushing you, honey, because we should already be at the school right now, and I can’t seem to get you into the car.” Our school is literally a block and a half away, so I hate driving there, but we had a huge whiteboard as well as cups full of liquid, so drive we did. J and I were grousing at each other along the way, while it took the 8-year-old in the car to try to mellow us out, “Well, anyway, isn’t it great that we’re both here together?” she chirped, reminding us that J’d been sick last year. We conceded her point and hustled into the school. The girls had a wonderful time presenting their scientific findings to roaming adults and children, saving their biggest squeals of enthusiasm when former teachers would stop by.
Afterward, the girls and their moms decided some celebratory frozen yogurt was in order. We finally got home a bit before 9 pm, and there was Cute W, sitting on the sofa and eating the last of some breaded chicken that he’d scrounged from the freezer to make a Buffalo chicken salad. He said that he hadn’t found any chicken in the fridge, which I ignored completely, because I knew that there was chicken in the fridge. Here is a secret of marriage: sometimes, it’s just better not to listen. [In Cute W's defense, he was referring to some leftover chicken that we'd finished, but since I'd strategically chosen not to respond and correct, I didn't know that until later. And in my defense, I've located items in the fridge more than once when no one else in the family could find them.]
J, who’d just returned from going out for yogurt, sat next to Cute W, surveyed his plate, and sighed pointedly. Cute W grudgingly offered her some. It was not that he begrudged her the chicken so much that her method of leaning in and putting on the wistful if-only-my-parents-would-feed-me look. “Just ask me,” he said, “And I will give you some chicken.” This was an exercise in futility because I know that she really doesn’t like breaded chicken unless it’s homemade (spoiled by our standards again). So she tasted and stopped and sighed some more. At which point I hauled myself off the sofa and said that I could make her same dang chicken. Why, oh why, can’t my child just say something like, “I’m hungry. Can I please have some food?” For example, she might have mentioned that she wanted fuel-for-her-body food instead of the, let’s face it, mostly recreational frozen yogurt. Actually, in high school I worked at a frozen yogurt joint where the super-enthusiastic new franchise owner declared that frozen yogurt was so nutritionally sound that we could skip a lunch hour entirely and just feast on the vitamin-laden bounty, but even back then I wasn’t buying it. But, anyway, just plain asking is not how J rolls.
Instead, I get this passive-aggressive sighing because she’s just so very hungry, but she doesn’t want to trouble me at all. She can tell that feeding her will make me angry, so. . . it’s okay. . . she’ll just be hungry. . . so very, very hungry. Oh, my gosh. It’s ridiculous. And I have, on multiple occasions, told her that she can’t have any more food because dinner has been served and she had her opportunity to eat, and breakfast will be in another ten hours. But I’d prepared a shoddy meal and then I’d practically nipped at her heels to eat faster, so I was suffering from Mommy Guilt. Which led to me cooking chicken after 9 pm, when I was really quite ready to clock out for the night. And my cat saw me head to the kitchen to cook and decided that this meant that she should have another meal. She meaowwed plaintively. She, too, wanted chicken. She’d really prefer to go out and stalk some chicken of her very own, but there are no chicken coops in this residential area. And thus she, too, is deprived. If only she could have some chicken. But Mom doesn’t love her enough to crack open another can, much less share in J’s bounty.
This is how meals have been lately. Take tonight, Monday, for instance. M’s got soccer from 6:30-8 pm, so I really want to get her fed by 5:30 at the latest so that she has time to digest. But Cute W’s not likely to be home until 6:30 pm, and I’ve got a HIIT class at the Schenectady JCC at 7 pm, and I have to wait to eat afterwards if I have any hope of not throwing up (that Jean works us hard!). That means that I’m on my own and J gets to choose to eat with M or Cute W. And the situation is similar several times each week.
In fact, after our late-night chicken-eating on Friday, I realized that we wouldn’t have M for dinner on Saturday (6th graders have many social engagements), so I went ahead and made one of the family favorites, Mrs. Seals’ chicken–for lunch and made it the main family meal of the day. Because we’ve got to grab the time when we can. I was driving home from gymnastics and birthday present buying when I came up with this brainstorm, and both girls were delighted, scoring me an “I love you, Mom!” from each of them. It’s true: most of my “I love you”s these days are food-related, but I’ll take what I can get.