“Anders, if you blow bubbles into your milk again, I’m taking away your cup,” I snap.
Ellis rubs chili into her hair. As I turn my back to grab a washcloth, she dumps the rest of her bowl on the floor. The dog almost knocks me over as he pushes past my legs to clean up the scene—at least someone is having fun. The baby cries in the bouncy seat, his chest covered in spit-up. My head throbs as I drop to my knees (how fitting) to deal with the mess under the highchair.
“Mom, I need a plate,” says Anders.
“Why?” I say from the floor as I mop up chili with a paper towel.
“Because my chili is getting everywhere.”
A quick look up reveals that he’s right. The tray of his highchair and front of his shirt are splattered with red chili like a beef-laden Jackson Pollock painting. I take a deep breath and hand him a plate from the drawer.
“No, I don’t want the green plate! I need the piiiiink one!”
Ignoring him, I squeeze my eyes closed and tip my head back to release the growing tension in my neck. Another glance at the clock tells me Kyle is late, again. Bedtime can’t come soon enough.
I wipe spit-up and melted cheese from my work pants. There wasn’t time to change when we got home.
As I refill milk cups, my elbow accidentally knocks the stack of dirty containers from today’s daycare lunches to the floor. Ellis hurls a handful of chili at the wall, and Anders stops wailing long enough to cackle hysterically.
I bang my fist on the counter. “Where is your father?!”
I used to love dinner time. Before babies, our table was a sacred space.
When Kyle and I first got married, we ate Hamburger Helper and Bertolli frozen skillet meals for six months straight. He was working long hours at the dairy and I was commuting three hours a day to my job at a college in the city. It was all we could do to dump a bag of frozen vegetables and chicken into a pan at the end of the day and call it dinner.
Eventually I moved away from the freezer section and learned the art of cooking. A glass of red wine by my side, I crushed garlic cloves into tomato sauce, minced red onions for pineapple salsa, and roasted sweet potatoes until they caramelized. I found my footing as a cook as we settled into the rhythm of a life together.
In the midst of a busy season, sitting at the table (or occasionally standing at the kitchen counter) was the one place we came together.
Today, dinner is a frazzled rush after long days at work and daycare, full of spilled milk, high volumes, and sheer chaos. The needs from our three small people are endless. I’m up and down—always on my feet—filling glasses, wiping spills, rinsing daycare dishes, breaking up fights, loading the dishwasher, and cutting fruit. I vacillate between hot flashes of temper and distracted attention.
Kyle is preoccupied too, eyes darting to his phone every time there’s a call or text from one of his farm employees. We all know that he could be called away at any moment. His body is here but his mind is not.
Our conversations follow a staccato beat, starting and stopping and losing their way. Instead of wine-warm lovers, we settle into our positions as co-cruise directors. “Did you find his library book?” “Can you cut her meat?” “Don’t forget you have a dentist appointment tomorrow.” Against the onslaught of constant kid interruptions, we give up on telling stories or finding true connection until later (or never).
Somehow the place that used to bring us together highlights how far we are apart.
Read more about falling apart and coming together in my essay this week on
Coffee + Crumbs.