Published on Kveller.com 1/31/13. Illustration by Julia T. Malakoff
As my children trickle home from school and their tummies begin to rumble, I can hear the question before it even begins to leave their mouths. With authority that they think is their birthright, they ask me, “What are we having for dinner?” Oh, how I have grown to strongly dislike this inquiry. When the question begins to form, it is not just on the lips of one child but the lips of four little mouths whining in unison. It’s a rhetorical question for sure and experience has taught me that there is no correct answer that will satisfy all eight ears.
I’ve noticed lately that as soon as I sense “the question” forming on my children’s mouths, I find myself inwardly growling, a trait I must have picked up from Ginger, our spicy little cat. I’ve heard Ginger, make a similar noise when she gets caught with her paws prying open a bag of potato chips in the kitchen pantry. Since Ginger habitually stalks the pantry, this growl is quite commonplace. But, it is not quite commonplace for me to adopt. So with lips sealed, I swallow my growls. However, the ringing cadence of the question makes the hair on my arms begin to ruffle and my spine tightens while my eyes grow wide. Breathe, I remind myself; divert all attention from dinner and smile. With a motherly sigh, I wash, slice and peel an apple and serve it with chunks of cheese to temporarily delay any more inquiries about the future of dinner. The children’s mouths packed with healthy food are momentarily pacified. Only Ginger restlessly prowls under their feet hoping for a chance to steal their snack.
There was a time when the question of “What are we having for dinner?” did not bother me at all. I tossed it up to curious children, looking forward to their family mealtime. However, as the question developed into a daily ritual and the responses turned sour, I changed my tune. For, even when I would have inspirational moments where I would Google up a recipe and whip up something other than fish sticks, mac and cheese, or hot dogs, I hesitated to reveal the dinner menu for I knew that it would be accompanied by a “really mom!” or a “yuck…I am not eating that!” Even the five year old’s cute but taboo exclamation of “what the heck” began to make me grimace. Something was needed to change all of our attitudes.
One afternoon, I decided to experiment. I figured that if it’s a restaurant venue my children were seeking, then a restaurant setting, with menu in tow, was what they would get. I publicly posted on the refrigerator’s white board a menu for all eyes to see. As soon as the first little mouth formed a “Wha…” sound, I turned and pointed to the menu. “Oh,” the child replied and actually walked away. Sadly, this tactic only worked for half of the children, for the youngest was not yet reading. But half the mouths quieted was half a victory.
It’s not just the repetition of this question that frustrates me. It’s the accompanying idea that all of my children strongly feel that it is my job and my job alone to come up with a creative meal each night. Yes, meal planning is in my job description as a stay at home mom, however, it’s in their job description as well. Since my children have been toddlers, I have not only invited them to cook with me but trained them to help out in the kitchen as well. Usually on the weekends, I can entice one of the kids to join me in the culinary corner with a baking recipe. Their time during the school week, however, with usual chain of extra-curriculars and homework, is limited. And quite frankly, so is mine. In the last few months, I’ve decided to ignore the whines and not answer the looming question in quite the same way.
Using a creative coping mechanism and alliteration, I have come up with a unique culinary concoction to answer their demanding question and quiet all complaints. My tactic is to refer to my Weekly Whine Menu as seen below. And, if none of these answers suffice, I personally threaten to serve the juiciest child! This, of course, has the added perk of derailing the conversation to who the juiciest child might be.
Thank goodness for Friday evenings, where we consistently serve a traditional Shabbat meal. It is a miracle of miracles that it is the one night that nobody chants the proverbial witching hour question. In fact, it is also the one night that I seem to have help in the kitchen kneading and braiding the challah, coming up with a creative Shabbat dessert and even setting the dining room table. The menu has stayed the same since the birth of my first child. Chicken, veggies, homemade challah and a homemade Shabbat treat
I have to admit that my children, as inquisitive as most children, were wondering what this particular writing piece was to be about. To satisfy their curiosity, I began to read the wacky weekly menu while eight eyes began to roll and eight hands cupped eight little ears. “Ok, ok we get it mom!” They chimed and chirped.
I shouldn’t be too hard on all the mouths occupying the kitchen. There is one little mouth in my house that never seems to mind what I cook for dinner. In fact, this little mouth is quite eager to taste all of my delightful dishes. She is there at my feet, keeping me company as I prepare dinner and she is by my side, perched on a cushiony stool, savoring the smells and eyeing the crumbs as they fall from the table. She knows that if she is a good little kitty, she will be rewarded with the honor of clean up duty…a loyal kitchen cat with an exquisite palette. And if clean up duty doesn’t suffice, there’s always the pantry ready to be stalked.