As a mother to sons, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Fortunately, I enjoy cooking, and often turn to baking for comfort and relaxation, or open up a cookbook to inspire creativity. Feeding kids and watching them grow is one of my life’s greatest gifts, and I am right in the middle of it these days. All four boys have healthy appetites, and over the last 5 years, at any given time, at least one of them has been in that stage where I feel like I can watch him growing in front of my eyes. I swear he is taller when he stands up after dinner than he was when he sat down. And it only takes him 7 minutes to eat.
Their table manners, however, are a different story. I know they are capable of nice manners, as long as they have a suitable incentive, which apparently I’m not. We use what we call the “hot chick test” to determine appropriate standards relating to personal hygiene and table manners. For instance, “hot chicks” like it when you shower and wash your hair, and “hot chicks” like it when you eat with a fork and wipe your mouth on a napkin. Which predictably begs the question, “Hey Mom, hahahah… how would you know what hot chicks like?”
As a former hot chick, I’m just saying… Slurping is not sexy.
A few years ago one of our sons had a darling girlfriend, and all of us were smitten with her. Whenever she came over to the house, all four boys would brush their teeth, chew with their mouths closed and say “Please” and “Thank you.” I really miss that girl.
One of the challenges Tim and I faced in blending our families was deciding where to live — his house, her house or a different house altogether? This issue was fraught with emotion. Not one of us wanted to move. The little boys had never lived in any other home. The big boys had, but they were too young to remember. Ultimately, we decided that the “little” boys and I would move into Tim and the “big” boys’ house.
Etiquette in general was a prominent source of family tension when Tim and I first got married. After three years of living like bachelors, the young men were reluctant to compromise their freedom by, for example, wearing pants while playing on the xBox, resulting in the lament, “She’s ruining everything!” Apparently, belching and scratching while half-naked is the preferred mode of existence for single men worldwide, or at least this is the fantasy that impressionable young men develop based on television sit-coms. Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of the fraternity house mentality, using sleeves and pant legs to wipe noses and hands. But then again, I’m the She ruining everything.
Also a subject creating considerable anxiety was the matter of the actual dining room table. Tim had a beautiful, antique table, about two feet wide and six feet long. The “anorexic table” would have been more fitting as a side table to display family photographs. As a dining room table, however, it barely accommodates a family of four. For a family of six, it is simply untenable. The first major change I made (other than, you know, moving in with two kids) was to replace it with a round table. This maneuver also fell squarely into the category of “She’s Ruining Everything!”
And yet, the She had made sacrifices of her own. “But,” several of my friends asked, “What about your kitchen?”
I had spent eight years planning and saving for the kitchen remodel in my first home, and when it was finally completed, Ina Garten could have filmed her Barefoot Contessa show in my new kitchen. We had two ovens (one gas, one electric), top of the line appliances, ample cabinets and an island that was so large we called it the “continent.” The kitchen I cook in now has beautiful light and is well-suited to setting out the catering. It is not, however, ideal for cooking for a family of six; it has exactly four square feet of quality working counter space and no pantry.
Giving up my dream kitchen is a testament to how much I love my husband. It wasn’t an easy transition, but now when I am missing my former kitchen and feeling sorry for myself, I look out the window and order takeout. And you know what? It’s not that bad. We have added a make-shift pantry in the garage, and it is good enough.
With both college boys home over the holiday weekend, I’ve been working overtime in my relatively small but beautifully-lit kitchen. I suffer a short-lived pang of pantry envy, but even so manage to turn out a fair quantity of comfort food in the course of two days: the obligatory batch of welcome home chocolate chip cookies, meatloaf with rosemary roasted potatoes, pulled pork sandwiches, lentil soup, and scrambled eggs with everything. Thank goodness Grandma did the lion’s share of the cooking for the actual Thanksgiving dinner. I was charged simply with bringing my puppy pack of boys, along with a couple apple pies, which I make from scratch, including the crust. After a morning of football at the park, the boys showered and napped, while I baked. I left the hot apple pies on a cooling rack and went to get dressed for dinner at Grandma’s. Within ten minutes, my defective hunting dog had wrestled one of those pies off the counter.
Stupid dog. I can only hope he burnt his tongue.
And stupid me. I had forgotten that the scoundrel had done the same exact thing last year. He seems to have a weakness for cinnamon. In my defense, this is only his second Thanksgiving. As I think about it, the homemade option might be overrated. Note to self: Next year, take a nap after the family football game, and tell everybody the dog ate the apple pies.
The Friday evening after Thanksgiving, I didn’t cook at all. Instead, we feasted almost entirely on leftovers, courtesy of Grandma. If I’m not careful, I might get used to not cooking. I did whip up some sautéed spinach, because I can’t help myself from inflicting my vegetable idiosyncrasy on the family. But just as I have relaxed about certain matters of etiquette, the young men likewise seem to tolerate me (and greens) with a bit more patience. Any time I can coax all six of us around our dining room table, I mentally congratulate myself. Even if their elbows are resting on the table, or they are feeding their carrots to the dog. After dinner, a couple of us linger at the table to play a few rounds of Bananagrams. These are exactly the moments and memories I had hoped to create, as I draw the kids to the kitchen, sautéing onions or measuring out flour and sugar, adding a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of faith.
Earlier that afternoon I had subjected my lively brood to the annual family photo shoot, and this is the first year that not a single one of them complained. (With the exception of my husband.) Over the course of the last five years, we have accumulated more than a few beautiful photos of our blended family, which we now keep along one wall in the dining room. The anorexic table, in fact, provides the perfect place to display our family pictures.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And family time in the kitchen.