Recently, my daughter had a school performance and a cookies-and-juice celebration in her classroom. In between the two events, I wandered over to the school’s two massive lost-and-found bins to see if I could locate a fleece ear warmer she’d lost two weeks after I bought it. I didn’t find the accessory in the overflowing mountain of gloves, hats, library books and lunchboxes, but I did find at least five or six full-on winter coats of varying sizes and styles.
Last I checked, it is still very much winter around these parts, so I was baffled. How are winter coats left behind? Aren’t these children cold? And, more pointedly, who are these parents who don’t notice that their shivering child – all blue-lipped and frostbitten – is walking around in the dead of winter without a coat?!
Oh, was I smug.
Cut to the Monday morning after my judge-fest. My children are leaving for school when one son yells up the stairs to me that his brother has no coat. What, I stammered? How is this possible? Where is it? How’d you forget your coat in the dead of winter? And, more pointedly, my husband and I had been with him all weekend. How’d we not notice that he was coatless?
I’m almost nine years in to this parenting thing, so you’d think I’d know better by now. But apparently, some lessons are constantly being taught.
This one: Judge not, lest your child freeze to death in a hastily located hoodie, and you have to head to the lost-and-found (again) — this time for a dose of humble pie.
Speaking of pie, one of the areas where I struggle the most: weeknight dinners.
Raising a busy family with two working parents is a challenge. I once set a goal to cook meals for the week on the weekends. But our weekends are packed with outings and obligations, so we don’t always get to the grocery store until late on Sunday. If we’re shopping together (squeezing in as much family time as we can), we’ll eat out for dinner. Which means there’s nothing cooked on Monday when we tumble in at 7ish from aftercare pick-up. Thus comes the mad dash every night to get something, anything, on the table whilst fielding homework questions, organizing who’s on first for piano practice or showering, responding to the stray work email or text, and generally trying not to lose it after a day of decision-making and rush, rush, rush from one thing to the next.
And so it’ll come as no surprise that the Davis children are many nights eating boxed pasta and frozen veggies; chicken strips and those 90-second microwavable packets of rice; Taco Tuesday on a Wednesday; or breakfast for supper. Friday, hallelujah, is pizza night. TGIF.
Every couple weeks, like clockwork, the guilt hits me, and I do somersaults to ensure there are Food Pyramid-inspired meals on the table, fresh vegetables, healthy choices. I peel sweet potatoes and cook greens all day, roast a chicken stuffed with herbs. I make homemade mac and cheese – the kind you bake in the oven. I stock up on red leaf lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, ready to chop a little each night for a colorful salad.
And then comes the whining, the picking at plates, the loaded refrigerator of leftovers that will make its way to the trash come Sunday. The chorus of “Can we just have buttered pasta?” eventually wears me down and the next week, it’s back to the box I go.
It’s thankless work and exhausting. And sometimes I just want to give up.
But the other night, I pan seared chicken, steamed green beans and made a pot of some quinoa/wild rice blend that was on sale. The kids tore through it and afterwards – while clearing the table without being asked, no less – my son said, “Thank you, Mommy. Thank you for that yummy and healthy dinner.”
I almost cried.
I’m almost nine years in to this parenting thing, so you’d think I’d have this down by now. But apparently, some lessons need habitual reinforcing.
This one: It seems thankless, but the hard work of feeding children’s bellies – and souls – also feeds you. You’re doing the best you can, and your children see (and appreciate) your effort. But when you feel like you’ve reached the end of the bag of baby carrots, remember – pizza Friday is on its way.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 8-year-old sons, a 7-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.