As 6 PM rolls around, I tell myself that tonight will be different. Tonight I’ll make myself a salad after I get the kids to bed instead of inhaling their table scraps.
But I mess it all up.
Violet leaves a fish stick on her plate, Henry leaves a handful of fries, and I can’t bear to throw them away. So somewhere between the kitchen island and the garbage can, I lose my tiny inner battle, and I end up scraping ketchup into the trash as I chomp away on the remains of their dinner.
“I can’t be alone!” I tell myself. “There must be others!”
Mac-n-cheese, half-eaten chicken nuggets, hunks of pork chop, corn, applesauce, cold noodles, untouched medleys of nuked veggies — does it really have to count if I’m only eating it so it doesn’t go to waste?
Some nights I win out, so at least there’s that. I’ll prep myself the whole time I’m fixing the kids’ dinner, promise myself that I won’t cave. I give the kids this long, ridiculous Leave It to Beaver-style pep talk about finishing what’s on their plates, not so much in an effort to get them to understand the importance of eating right and not wasting food, but because I know deep down in my heart that if they eat the damn stuff, then I can’t eat it too.
The stars align every now and then, and I avoid the whole debacle. I make it over to the trashcan and I flip the last few uneaten forkfuls of ravioli in and I thrust my fist in the air triumphantly. I’m still hungry, mind you, but at least I’m not scarfing down a first-grader’s lukewarm dinner scraps.
But most nights, I lose.
Most nights I stand there in the kitchen light, as my kids get a second wind and start running around and diving off the couch, and I curse myself and question my willpower as another gob of Chef Boyardee slips through my pie hole.
Oh, the strange and twisted glory of food when you’re famished and tired, you know?
If you’ve never been here, if you’ve never stumbled through a long day of work and kids and life and found yourself spinning with evening hanger pangs as you struggle to cook your kids their frozen pot pies while simultaneously changing a blown-out diaper and hollering, “STOP FIGHTING OR I’LL TAKE EVERY LEGO AND SMASH IT WITH THIS CAN OF REFRIED BEANS!” — then perhaps you might be sitting there frowning at what seems to be an utter lack of willpower and self-control on my part.
I get it. There are certain storms you have to live through in order to talk about the rain. However, if you know what I’m saying here, then I suspect that you KNOW WHAT I’M SAYIN’ HERE. Shame has no place in parenting and that’s that. The key to raising children is getting them to survive each day without getting struck by lightning or kidnapped by Martians or eaten by mountain lions. And because of that simple, beautiful truth, the key to keeping them alive is surviving each day yourself.
I’m a single dad. I exercise. I talk to my kids about making good choices, about being kind humans. I read to them at night, on the nights I’m not binge-watching something on Netflix. I make them the best dinners I can manage, even if the best dinner I can possibly muster up is a petrified shingle of frozen turkey whose life was a viral video nightmare from birth to death.
But I try.
That’s all any of us can do. And that’s enough, I think. In the end, they’ll love us more for trying our best than they will for anything else.
And you wanna know something? I’ve never told anyone this before, but sometimes I even throw six extra chicken nuggets on the oven tray. Six nuggets I know my kids will never, ever see. Then I eat them with the extra fries I threw on there as well. And I stand there looking at my beautiful spawn and I smile my big goofy smile as I eat food I bought for them right in front of their sly, grinning faces.
And I feel horrible and wonderful all at once.
Parenting in a nutshell.More On