We need a way to forgive others, ourselves, and the fact that things don’t turn out the way we expected. Writing our experiences, our fears and our aspirations can clear away the overload of resentment and the stale taste of remorse.
– B.L. Pike in “Write Now: Why You Really Can’t Wait Any Longer”
I ask my son to help with dinner. He snaps and stomps, tells me he’s not going to cook for both of us, he’s only going to make his own snack, and it’s not fair. For once, I conquer the urge to roar back. Instead, my voice is even as it reminds him of his options. He can either make dinner for us both by himself, or he can help me make dinner for us both together.
“Why do I have to do everything around here?” He storms into my room, hauls Biggie the stuffed polar bear off the bed, and thrashes him against the mattress. Noodle comes streaking out, head bowed, ears down.
I empty the dishwasher then check the mail.
This began months ago. At least. Years more likely, and probably well before I even had a child. My own inconsistency and zig-zaggy directionlessness were bound to play themselves out in our after-school routine (or what tries to pass as one). Bug wants a snack when he gets home. What’s a little bite of pudding or a few pieces of pepperoni? That was then. Now “snack” has ballooned into scrambled eggs with toast, pizza, quesadillas. He makes what amounts to a meal for himself, leaves the mess, and quashes any hopes for dinner.
Now that I see how far gone we are, I’ve begun to reel mealtime back in. Understandably, he’s yanking hard. He’s fighting to hang onto his lead, and barring that, snap the line altogether.
Maybe other parents have a clear plan when it comes to these things. It would be great if they shared that map with me. In our home, we ping all over the place, each set of habits and values crashing into the next. I want my son to learn independence — yay for making scrambled eggs unassisted! — and also cultivate thoughtfulness. I want him to play free and wild, and contribute to order and organization. Trust his own tastes and step into unfamiliar territory. Use his voice and his ears.
On any given evening, I’m buffeting my boy with a half dozen incompatible messages.
Tonight, I only know that it’s the perfect moment to reclaim dinnertime. For these few minutes on a rainy evening, we are stuck in each other’s presence. My boy is well past grown enough to give me a hand in the kitchen, so now is as good as a time as any to share the burden as well as the reward.
A few minutes pass in silence. Then Bug drags himself up the hall. He drops Biggie on the kitchen floor and joins me at the counter. He lays tortillas in the pan, pats down cheese, fills glasses, ladles beans. Not a word about our fracas, just scrubbing carrots. Just setting the timer.
We eat together with silverware he has carried to the table. He tells me about his book report on mice and about breaking his first board in karate. “I really appreciate your help making dinner,” I tell him. “It tastes so much better when we cook together. Thank you.” He shrugs and shoves the last triangle of quesadilla in his mouth. I see the smile.
After we finish, we sit close on the couch and leaf through a book together, making notes on a clipboard about nests and habitats. When I go into the kitchen to cobble together brownies for a PTA potluck, he follows and peers into the bowl. “Can I help?”
“Of course.” I hand him the butter and egg. He digs through a drawer for measuring spoons. Planting himself there under the canopy of my arms, he stirs as I scrape the sides, stirs until the brown batter glistens.