Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blessed are the Messy Children at Dinner

A few years ago, there was a television commerical that depicted a couple gazing at each other over a quiet, romantic dinner. Then the camera panned out and showed screaming children throwing food and running amok, sandwiching the couple and their amorous moment in a circus of mealtime chaos.

Sometimes, when I glance at my husband across the table, I get lost in a cloudy dream sequence where it is just me and him and a beautiful osso bucco. It is only when a baby sneeze showers rice cereal into my hair that I am jerked back into the reality of dinnertime with children.

I have occasional flashes of our brief life together before children: leisurely meals that took hours to prepare; leaning against a kitchen counter, talking, with a bottomless glass of wine; spontaneous walks to the pub down the street; long evenings at dimly lit restaurants. We ate without curfews or timelines or interruptions, without pauses to cut chicken into chewable pieces or squish bananas into a texture appropriate for a mouth with four teeth. It was an unknowingly selfish time, and I admit that there are days that I long for such quiet, singular meals.

Our house is certainly quiet now, at times, but the silence of sleeping children still pulses with life and the potential for noise, in a way that our two-person home never did. But I know that someday, when our house is once again the living space of just Chef Matt and myself, I will long for the dinners with loud, messy kids. I will recall the merry-go-round of child-feeding -- one parent spoons cereal with the other argues the case for vegetables -- and will certainly miss the sticky fingers and the early victories with silverware and the surprisingly sweet way that babies chew.

I do love occasionally having Matt all to myself, eating without having to cajole or scrub food out of little eyebrows, but a dinner table with laughing, yelling, chattering children is a profound joy that we could never have imagined while sitting alone, in candlelight and stillness. We were missing out, but did not know it yet.

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