Sitting down to share food together. This simple, beautiful, essential act was the thing that defined my relationship with Darry in all of the years that we were together before children. It is how we found and nurtured our most important relationships with our dearest friends. Nearly 10 years, this twice daily act (always breakfast, always dinner) grounded us, kept us healthy and in the moment for the duration of each delicious meal.
We are working so hard to keep that foundation present now that we have three children. It was challenging but manageable when Serafina arrived. Every day of her first two years was reliably book-ended by a hot meal at the start and finish of each day with both of us next to her. In the mornings, she would nibble on our eggs. In the evenings, she would often crawl into my lap and gobble up a bit of whatever we were eating. She was a remarkably tidy eater, even in her baby phase, and the post-bedtime cleanup was minimal. In this way, she was a weirdo and she fooled us.
Needless to say, mealtime these days is not the luxurious, deliberate and often artful act that it once was. We are still eating twice daily, always breakfast and always lunch, with all of the children together. We are still preparing hot meals, miraculously made from mostly whole foods. But the time spent seated at the table is now a total fucking circus that generates up to an hour of cleanup after every meal.
When it’s time to eat, Serafina gets a head start on everyone else and often vanishes mid-meal to collect toys from another room, make mischief somewhere, demand that she is tired and ready for bed, etc. The twins cease their clockwork pre-meal whining (they are very conditioned) while finally stationed in their chairs — always with food already placed on their trays so they don’t attempt a premature escape. (At 9 months, Mairead started standing up in her chair and it was terrifying.) Darry and I shuttle all the necessary accoutrements to the table, attempt to sit down, both of us with one eye on the children as they start to inhale food. And then, instead of eating, one of us is continuously tearing up and throwing more and more food to the babies, who are consuming it faster than we can keep up. Meanwhile, the other is trying to keep Serafina engaged and present, and making sure she eats at least a couple of bites of the more important parts of the meal.
When we are done, usually 15 to 20 minutes later, the space around the table is a crime scene of food waste, suggesting that the twins did not actually ingest anything we gave them and that, instead, 100 percent of the tiny pieces we lovingly ripped up and tossed to them, were redirected to the floor. The babies themselves are covered in food, with bits of stuff somehow penetrating their onesies and digging in deep into their cloth diapers. (These will spill later on the bathroom floor, when they are stripped for a tubby.)
I know many families have their kids nibble on their own kid food separately and wait until after bedtime to eat in a more relaxed way themselves. I appreciate that, but I honestly don’t know how those parents can wait so long to eat dinner or when, if at all, they eat breakfast. Darry and I are also very conditioned and always very hungry.
But we are hoping the investment we are making at our mealtime circus now will nurture the same love and graciousness Darry and I have with each other, and the same love and gratitude for food. I like to fantasize about years from now, when the girls count on their time with us in the morning and the evening as a space to share how they’re feeling about the day ahead and about the day behind them. I also like to fantasize about them cooking entire meals for us, many years from now. And I am proud of us for persevering and committing to the hard work required to procure good food, to prepare it and to share it, religiously, around the table as a family.