Without kids, dinner was a relaxed affair, often involving wine and adult conversation with my husband about our respective work days.
With kids, dinner has become a race against time, a potential battlefield for all kinds of preschooler issues and the single most stressful point in my day.
Dinner time at our house usually goes something like this:
5 p.m. - Witching hour begins. Previously happy-go-lucky baby suddenly becomes whiny and clingy, refusing to be put down. Begin dinner preparations with the baby on my left hip, while also attempting to keep her away from all sharp/burning/potentially hazardous kitchen objects. This is a task that surely requires at least another hand.
5:15 p.m. - Realize that if I attempt to put dinner together entirely one-handed, it will take all night. Try to put baby down. Baby cries and climbs back up my legs. Eventually force baby into high chair and throw some finger food on her tray. Keep working on dinner.
5:25 p.m. - Baby decides she doesn't like whatever I have put on her tray and wants something else. Looking me straight in the eyes, she slowly and deliberately starts chucking her food on the floor.
5:30 p.m. - Husband and three-year-old arrive home. Three-year-old runs into the kitchen and, seeing that the baby is eating, immediately decides she's hungry too. Naturally, she wants whatever the baby's eating—even if it's something that shouldn't appeal to a three-year-old. Send her off to wash her hands.
5:45 p.m. - Dinner is on the table, and we all sit down to eat. Three-year-old wants a different fork, a different spoon, ketchup. Complains that she doesn't like [insert any food here], even though she shoveled it in like it was going out of style two nights ago. Asks for milk. We tell her she has to eat some dinner first.
Baby, who's done eating and is bored with the lack of attention, takes
whatever is stickiest on her tray and fists it into her hair.
Give the three-year-old milk, which she immediately spills all over the table and floor. Clean it up and get more.
5:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. - Three-year-old is doing everything but eating. She talks, sings, turns around in her chair and puts her feet up on the table.
"Feet DOWN, please."
"I don't want to!"
"I'm not going to ask you again."
"I don't want to!"
"Okay, then go to your corner until you're ready to listen."
Three-year-old goes to the dining room corner, crying and screaming, "I WANT TO EAT MY DINNER! I WANT TO EAT MY DINNER!"
Eventually, she calms down and comes back to the table. Everyone but her is done eating. We remind her that if she doesn't eat enough dinner, there's no dessert.
"But I WANT dessert!"
"Then eat your dinner!"
We negotiate exactly how much she needs to eat. While arguing, she spills her milk again. Clean it up again.
Meanwhile, baby is crawling around underneath the kitchen table, occasionally eating dropped bits of food that she finds there.
6:30 p.m. - We decide to call it. Three-year-old says she's not finished. We tell her she's had lots of time to eat. No dessert because she wasn't well-behaved and didn't eat enough.
"BUT I WANT DESSERT!"
Three-year-old goes off to cry and sulk in the corner again while we clean up the kitchen, which looks like we've had a holiday picnic on the floor. Baby has now embarked on a path of destruction in the family room.
By the time the three-year-old gets over the egregious insult of no dessert, we squeeze in a few minutes of play time, then it's pretty much bedtime.
I don't understand why dinner time is such a struggle. Why doesn't my precocious and verbal three-year-old learn that if she just does what she's supposed to, when we ask her to, dinner will be over, and she'll get dessert and lots of time to play? Why is it so often a battle of wills?
When I go back to work, I'm thinking maybe I'll just leave the pantry doors open and let them fend for themselves, zoo-style. That's got to be easier.