The sights, sounds and feels of cooking have always been a significant part of my life. I attribute this to my parents, who valued meal times as a family and who provided my siblings and me with home-cooked meals at least twice a day, five days a week. I long viewed this as normal, but as an adult I realize how rare it is and how special it is to sit down as a family. No TV, no phone calls, no radio, nothing.
Just the family, the food and conversation. It’s a practice that provides a family the opportunity to bond and share with one another, and I’m trying my best to continue this with my loved ones. Only this time around, we enjoy dessert as well. Most days I prepare three meals a day for our household. My 4-year-old son, Danny, usually asks me a thousand questions during the period that I’m cooking, most of which pertain to playing a game or working on a craft with him. My 14-month-old daughter, Leah, toddles around in shoes that are half her size and she babbles and giggles the entire time. It’s precious.
When I’m really lucky, the two of them wrestle with one another or spin together in one of our armchairs while I cook. The latter is my absolute favorite. Once I finish collecting my ingredients and cooking ware, I start my prep work, and Leah takes notice every time. She then climbs into the learning tower and signs please, which really means, “Feed me now, please!” Leah prefers cheese and steamed veggies as an appetizer, so it’s easy enough to tend to her while simultaneously cooking.
The kids are more interested in the process of cooking around midday. It’s then that my son will put on a now-too-tight chef’s costume and the two of them will climb into the learning tower together so they can help and watch more closely. I have a bona fide sous chef and the best mini food critic around.
Danny helps chop, pour, peel and shake, and Leah’s job is to taste test. If she spits out the food, shakes her head and scrunches her nose, I know something needs to change. However, if she devours the amuse-bouche and signs more, I know I’ve hit my mark. Then I can plate and serve.
Every evening after Jen has returned from work, we sit down together to eat dinner with Danny, Leah and my mother-in-law, Margo. This is the only time in the day that we’re all together. To me, it’s a sacred hour with some of the people I love the most. It is happiness and time I treasure.
We discuss our day, and there’s no escaping or hiding. We each have our turn to fire away, and we each have a turn to answer every question posed. And don’t think Leah has no say at mealtime. She states her approval of the meal with loud mmm’s and lip smacks. She also chimes in with her own belly laugh whenever everyone else laughs at a story or joke. Leah is also the first to clear her plate. She’ll tear off her bib, sign all done and babble until she’s clean. Then she babbles and laughs some more. Her joy cannot be contained.
Like for Leah, dinners make me happy. Dinnertime has become our thing. It’s family time, time away from our fast-paced, distraction-filled world. It’s time to just breathe and cherish one another. If you don’t have family time set aside, I challenge you to make some time for you and yours. It unearths happiness, appreciation and growth in your relationship with one another. It allows you to see one another more clearly and allows for actual face time and connection. You may also discover other positive outcomes, too. For me, one of those outcomes is that the cook never has to clean up.