Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Little Pride Goes a Long Way

As a parent, I am forever expressing pride in my children: to them, to my parents, to my coworkers, to anyone who stands still long enough to hear stories of their unmatched brilliance. What I do not do often, and should, is express pride in my husband.

The marital relationship does not necessarily lend itself to the constant stream of glowing acknowledgements that are omnipresent in the child-parent conversation. I praise my kids for assembling puzzles, clearing dinner dishes, and holding a bottle independently, and I feel a surge of pride every time they do these things. I think it would border on patronizing if I praised Chef Matt every time he used his fork at the dinner table.

But even though I do not feel a burst of pride for his every minor accomplishment, I think it is important that he knows I am proud of him, too. All of us need to know that our lives and work are appreciated, and that we give someone cause to boast a little to someone else.

This week, Matt cooked a spread of appetizers for an event at my work. It was small, perhaps 30 people, and held in a museum classroom with little pomp or circumstance. But as he always does when food is involved, he delivered, with care and class and creativity.

He arranged brie and manchego alongside blueberries and golden raisins. He seared and chilled strips of filet, and sandwiched them between crostinis and horseradish cream. He spread spicy cream cheese over homemade crackers, and topped them with roasted peppers and thinly sliced apples.

It was a beautiful spread. He worked with such precision, and projected such professionalism in his chef's whites.

And I was very proud. I could see my colleagues and their guests enjoying and exclaiming and going back for more, and I wanted to walk around to everyone, tap them on the shoulders, and say, "Isn't that delicious? My husband made it."

I am gushing a little here, but honestly, when was the last time someone told you that they were really proud of you? We do not hear it as often as we might have as children, when we were formulating skills and self-esteem. I argue that we need it just as much as adults, that it validates our hard work, which often goes unnoticed, and gives our self-worth a boost.

I charge you all, then, to express pride more often to the people you love who are not your kids. It will make their day. I will start it off: Honey, I am proud of you. You make awesome food.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I'll Give You a Million Dollars if You Eat that Broccoli

Before I became a parent, I had lofty expectations for myself as a mother. Many of said expectations did not simply go out the window; rather, they were tossed hastily at a closed window because I did not have time to open it.

“My children will not watch TV until they are at least two.”  Except that Dora the Explorer is the greatest house-cleaning-time babysitter. “My children will never sleep in bed with us.” Except that at 2:00 a.m., after the baby has been up at 11:00, 12:00 and 1:00, this is the best idea ever. “My children will not be bribed or threatened at the table.” Except that actually happens every single day.

Trying to get my kids to eat is a marathon wrapped in an ulcer. Between the preschooler, who takes 45 minutes to eat two bites of chicken, and the toddler, who shovels with one hand and smears in his hair with the other, I am amazed that they get anything in their bellies at all.

Paranoid visions of sickly children with low iron because they never consumed any green vegetables have driven me to desperate behaviors. If there are any treats in the house, I bribe. “Look, honey, a cookie! Only three more bites of asparagus!” Suddenly, eating those greens is a mission conducted by unrecognizably motivated kids. Cookie is consumed, but then, so are the greens.

Threats I like even less. But (here comes the justification) my sanity is at stake. I threaten bedtime, loss of toys and privileges, calling of Santa Claus, and the one the preschooler hates most: the kitchen timer. Most of the time, they eat, but when I have to follow through with the threats, I think I can confidently say that I am up for Meanest Mommy Ever Award.

I am a different mother than I thought I would be. I did not know how wonderful and challenging it would be. I certainly did not know how something as simple and relaxing as dinnertime could put me so quickly on the road to Crazytown, where I can be rescued only by the un-lofty dangling of cookies and kitchen timers.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Long Live the Dinner Table

A teacher friend of mine told me recently that almost universally, her most well-adjusted students have two things in common: they talk about current events at home, and they eat regular meals around the dinner table.

I can see the logic of both of those, but especially the dinner table. Growing up, we ate dinner at the table just about every night, with conversation and no TV. It was non-negotiable, and I was under the impression that all families ate that way.

This is not to say that those who ate on TV trays in the family room are any less well-adjusted, or that simply shoveling food while in the same proximity as your family members makes you a better human being.

What it does do is open up an opportunity to talk to your loved ones, and in this time of snatched moments between sleep and shower, or quick recaps just before bed, I think we could all use a little more time to converse. If you think about it, when we want to catch up with our friends, what do we generally do? We eat. Sometimes at restaurants, sometimes in our homes, but whatever the setting, we circle up, grab a plate of food, and talk.

The same theory applies at home. Certainly we can still talk while sitting together on the couch, but there is something comfortable about looking across the table at someone, asking about their day between forkfuls. Right now, of course, there is nothing of the idyllic dining room scene that I envision. At our current table, dinner is a forty-five-minute affair with a toddler who likes to watch food swim in his milk and a preschooler who does not actually eat, but rather, chews her cud.

But someday, when Chef Matt is home for dinner more often, and the kids are a little bigger, I hope that we will gather around our worn dining room table and catch up over a hot dish. Even when they are teenagers and do not want to look at me, much less talk to me, at least I can look around that table and see all my favorite people, assuring them that this will make them well-adjusted and someday they will thank me for it.

And since it is likely long overdue ... thanks, Mom and Dad.