A short story
Cooking for a family of four or more is, I think, a bit of an art. For those who have not yet experienced this kind of art form: imagine those lovely occasions when you have family and/or friends over for a meal. Then imagine doing this every single night. And then imagine babysitting at the same time. Then also imagine that you are a chef in a restaurant because everyone you are cooking for has ordered a different meal, and you are also the waitress and you get plenty of complaints about the quality of the meal. And don’t forget you are babysitting at the same time.
The above description gives you a bit of an idea of what it’s like, but below is a story to really help you truly immerse yourself in this chaotic but beautiful art.
This story is fictional but inspired by true events.
On a very usual afternoon, let’s say a Tuesday (as there are no after school activities on Tuesdays – that’s a whole other work of art), the children of this particular household explode through the front door creating a small but destructive tornado in the hallway. There is pushing, yelling, shuffling, galloping, and dogs jumping and licking. This craziness is then followed by bags, containers (mostly with missing lids), notes and jumpers strewn in all directions. The guests have arrived.
After this storm has passed, I grab a chopping board, sharp knife and an onion and start chopping. Our 8-year-old then comes in very excited about a yo-yo she has purchased from school today. She starts showing me some of the cool tricks she has learnt. It’s great that yoyos have made a bit of comeback, I think to myself. Although, I am sure that relatively soon it will find its place on a shelf that is the museum of short-term interests. It is then that our 2-year-old also comes along and decides this new thing looks very cool. 8 ignores her cries of excitement and keeps showing me. 2 then communicates her needs louder and starts trying to grab desperately at it. 8 responds to this by holding it out of her reach and continues talking. 2 yells even louder to alert her sister to the fact that she would love a look at this fabulous new gadget that is the centre of excitement. 8 is not quite understanding this. I then interrupt and attempt to diffuse the situation by suggesting that 2 have a quick look and then 8 can keep showing me. 8 thinks this is a terrible idea. A loud slam reverberates through the house as she disappears into her room. 2 cries.
I finish chopping the onion, pick 2 up and tell her that I understand her frustration but maybe she can have a look when 8 feels better, if she asks 8 nicely. I grab some other veggies – mushrooms and zucchini – from and the fridge and use the hip swing technique to close the door – a necessity in this art. I grab the frying pan, put it on the stove and turn it on. This is all done one-handed which is another much need skill. I then slide over a dining chair, grab another chopping board and a butter knife so 2 can chop the mushroom. I chop the zucchini.
It is then that our teen makes an appearance. We’ve run out of conditioner and she needs help with her homework. She disappears.
I need to go see 8. It was out of character for her to run off like that, unfair as the whole situation was. I leave 2 with the job of putting all of the vegetables into a bowl and tentatively knock on 8’s door. I open it and avert my gaze from the clothes I have asked her to pick up about one hundred times. We start to talk. I then pause, run back to kitchen and turn off the pan. 2 then follows me back into 8s room and gives her a cuddle. 8 bursts into tears and says today the teacher told her off for something she didn’t do. I make a mental note: try and remember there is always a reason behind behavior. I’m sure I’ll forget this next time there is a whining or screaming event.
It is then that my phone rings. I leave it. We talk, we cuddle, and both girls go and play on the trampoline. I make my way back to the kitchen, turn the stove back on and pour in some oil and the onion. I check my phone. The teen’s math teacher has left a message saying that he hasn’t received her assignment. I add the other veggies, then check the fridge – we’re out of capsicum and pumpkin …oh well. I check my emails – there’s one from GetUp letting me know that there are refugees stuck on Manus Island with nothing; there’s one from Sea Shepherd letting me know the government are supporting the Adani coal mine, which will be an ecological disaster; there’s one from Amnesty International wanting me to sign a petition to let a journalist out of prison – I sign the petition; there’s one about some animal cruelty that I can’t even bare to open; and there’s one from an online course I am doing, reminding me that I only have 2 more weeks to complete the course. I chop some chicken.
Teen comes out: can she pleeeeeaaaaassseeee go to her friend’s going away dinner tonight? She’s not allowed out on weeknights but there always seems to be some reason why she needs to. I tell her about the math’s assignment. She then starts to defend her teenage rights with the ferociousness that only toddlers, teens and lawyers are capable of. I try not to bite back – I am the adult. I bite. We yell. There is the second door slam for the afternoon.
The back door then opens and 2 comes in crying. She’s hurt her foot. I kiss it better and she goes back outside. If only it were always that easy.
I go back to my cooking and put some chicken and butter in a saucepan. I then add garlic and curry paste to the veggies. I go see teen. She is crying. Her best friend is moving interstate and she really wants to go to her dinner. We negotiate. When is her homework due? Thursday. Ok, if she promises to do her homework and help out tomorrow she can go. Thanks mum.
I run and check the stove. As I stir I ponder my parental decision-making and hope I’m doing the right thing – I really feel as if I’m stumbling down this parenting path.
I remember that I need to buy chook food so I put it on a list on my phone. I also add conditioner and what were those other things? I look out the window to watch the girls and realise the washing needs to be brought in. I check the forecast – there’s a 10 percent chance of rain at 9pm. I take the risk.
2 and 8 come inside. They want to do painting. We can’t do painting now, I say, maybe tomorrow. 2 yells and cries. 8 is happy to draw instead, but also lets me know that she is hungry. I cut up apple and banana while trying to console 2 and talk her into drawing. She keeps crying. I check the stove and stir. Maybe I should just get the painting out.
2 then decides she would like some milk. Ok, I say. She insists on pouring it herself. After a bit of negotiation, I pour some into a small jug, so she can do it herself, and she chooses the correct cup (which thank goodness is clean). I go to add some passata to the dinner. We’re out. I spot some pasta sauce and use that instead. I then add curry paste and stir. 8 asks when dinner is ready. Soon, I say.
Teen is going. Bye, I say, be back by 8:30. I add passata to the shopping list and remember I need to order a sausage for 8’s school fundraiser lunch tomorrow. I look over and see 2 has drawn all over the table. I stop what I am doing and run over. I then turn to 8, who is oblivious to all around her, and ask why she didn’t notice?! She storms off. I feel guilty for putting that responsibility on her. I stir the dinner.
2 asks for a lolly. No, I say, after dinner. She cries, yet again. I don’t have it in me for another battle quite so soon after the last one, so I relent. Just one, I say. She grabs one for 8 too and we both go into 8’s room and I apologise. She asks if she can go on her Ipad. I say, I’d rather she went outside to play. Plllllleeeeeasssseee? Ok.
I go and stir dinner and put some water onto boil. I go to the cupboard. We’re out of rice. We need rice! Maybe hubby can grab some on the way home? I pick up my phone and read a message: hubby is going to be a bit late. Ok. I wish I’d check before teen left. Ok. C’mon girls, we need to go for a quick drive to the shop. 8 doesn’t want to. We’ll only be a couple of minutes. She rolls her eyes but gets up and heads to the car. I tell 2 we are going to the shop. Yay! She runs to the front door. I grab the keys but before we make it out the door, 2 decides she needs her pink sunnies. I know it’ll be easier if I just let her, so I say, Ok. I go with her to grab them and we can’t find them. She cries – she really needs to go to bed soon. I quickly go to get my shoes and can’t find them either. 2 stops crying and tells me not to worry, she will help me find them. Terror to sweetheart in 3 seconds.
We find my shoes and head to the car. 2 wants to get in herself. While I am waiting ever so patiently 8 starts telling me about a dream she had last night. 2 stands in her seat and makes a game out of not sitting down. I laugh once, then twice, then say ok, no more games, sit in your seat now so we can go. She keeps standing. My patience and calm are starting to really falter. I snap and force her to sit down. She starts crying and struggling against me. I manage to get her belt on. I feel like the worst parent ever. I run around the car and jump in with 2 crying and 8 still talking about her dream. 8, I say, can you please tell me about it later and put your belt on? A disappointed look spreads across her face as she puts her belt on. We start driving with 2 still crying. I ask 8 if she’d like to finish telling me about her dream now. She says she’s forgotten.
We get to the shop and wait patiently while 2 gets out of the car. When we get into the shop both girls start skipping together and laughing while they try and go as fast as they can. Beautiful. They help me find the rice. An elderly lady stops and admires how nice and polite my children are. I look at them and burst with love and pride. I know I shouldn’t let my head get too big though – I work hard at teaching my kids to be caring model citizens, but I also know that timing can mean a lot. The lady tells me that she has 5 children, 2 sets of twins! I mentally tell myself however hard life seems sometimes, there is always someone doing it harder. That would have been a lot of work I say. She says yes, but she loves kids and wouldn’t change it for the world. Beautiful. We walk towards the cash register. We need so many other things, but I don’t want to take the risk and we need to get home. 2 starts singing and me and 8 gush at how adorable she is. 2 then spots the lollipops and she is being so utterly gorgeous that when she asks ever so politely for one I say ok. They both choose quickly, thank goodness. I pay and get back to the car. When we’re all belted in I check my phone and there’s a message from a friend about catching up tomorrow. I’ll hopefully remember to reply later. 8 tells me that she has the best little sister in the world. I feel so glad – sometimes I think she must resent having a little sister. We get home and have almost made it inside when 2 spots a bee on the ground. I’ve read they need sugar water. Even though I REALLY need to get inside to finish dinner we can’t just ignore it. I give instructions to 8 on how to make sugar water and stay out the front while 2 walks on the garden wall. 8 comes out with an enormous container of sugar water. We put a couple of drops on the ground. The bee drinks it and flies away. We feel good.
Both girls want to stay out the front and ride their bikes. Not right now, I say, I really need to finish dinner. I feel guilty for the hundredth time today. We go inside, and they sit on their Ipads. The guilt piles on even more – we should be outside riding bikes. I turn the stove back on and clean up the sticky mess of sugar and water on the bench. I remember I need to book myself and 8 a dentist appointment. I write myself a reminder. The dogs are hanging around – they haven’t been for a walk today. I add another note to take them to the beach tomorrow. I also add mindfulness and exercise to the list – they’ve been re-added every day for the past six months. You never know, tomorrow may be the day. 2 wants to help with the rice. I put the saucepan, a spoon and a cup on the floor and let her put some scoops in. It goes everywhere. I don’t care. I crunch through it, praise her help and put the saucepan with the remaining rice on the stove. I get out the pappadums. I go to get the naan bread. We’re out. Hubby loves naan. Bum, I was just at the shop! I realise the dishwasher needs unloading and 8’s lunch needs to be made. Teen was supposed to do the dishwasher. I look over and 2 has started occupying herself with a puzzle book. She has pulled out ALL the pieces. I sigh and reluctantly walk over to help her sort them. I notice her matching all the colours up. Constantly learning. I am glad I sit and witness it. She then decides she is bored and walks off. I sit and finish it myself because if I don’t the pieces will get lost.
Dinner is ready!
Hubby walks in the door. Mmmm, smells good, he says.
Yay, daddy is home! I smile as the girls run up to him. I ask if they can please set the table while I serve up. Where’s teen? hubby asks. I explain about her friend’s going away dinner. She’s not allowed out on weekdays, he replies. You always give in to her. Whatever.
2 needs a wee. I go help her then finish serving up. I then pour a big glass of red wine. We all sit down. Is there any naan bread? No, sorry. Everyone enthusiastically digs in – it’s the one meal that every family member enjoys, thank goodness. Me and hubby observe how cute 2 is spooning rice and curry onto her poppadum. It isn’t long before she’s had enough though – it was probably those lolllies she ate earlier. She wanders off to play while the rest of us talk.
So, says hubby, when do you think you’ll go back to work? I take a big sip of wine. He has not quite learned to appreciate the art of cooking dinner for five. Toasties tomorrow night I reckon.