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Chapter Three: In Which I am Humbled

I have historically been scathingly critical of people who provide their families with processed and/or fast food on a regular basis. I have huffed about the ease with which one can come home from work and sautee some chicken breasts while steaming broccoli and making rice, for God’s sakes, or even just make omelettes and wheat toast with some sliced oranges on the side.

How the mighty are fallen. This week (although its only Thursday in “actual time” it is some time in the midst of my 70th year in “Annie Time-” and I’m only 45) I was responsible for the care and feeding of my brother’s two boys, who are 7 and 9. Although I love them dearly, and they were good as gold, this gig required me to sleep at their house, get them to their school, pack their lunches, and mind their schedules while I was doing all of the same things with my kid, at my house across town. On top of this, I am engaged in a massive battle involving potential development near my home, which involves meetings every night, and endless e-mails and phone calls. As an overlay, there is my “regular life” which includes my actual work, friends, mysteriously non-functioning e-mail accounts, spots appearing all over my son’s body, and my mother calling from Florida to ask me to check whether her basement has flooded.

I planned to cook delicious and nutritious dinners all three nights that I had my nephews. Monday was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and salad. Tuesday was pork chops, stuffing and sweet potatoes. Wednesday was spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and garlic bread. These were all complete no-brainers (or so I thought) and involved nothing too funky or potentially “icky.” Here is what actually happened:

Monday, because I was unaccustomed to cooking for 5, and wanted to have enough meat left over for spaghetti sauce, I made a massive (5 pound) meat loaf and mashed potatoes early in the day, knowing that I would not be able to pick up the boys and get them to my house in time to make dinner and get it on the table at a reasonable hour. When I got back with them at 5:00 I put the meatloaf in the oven and cooked it for the usual hour at 375. At 6:00, when we needed to eat so that I could make a 7:00 meeting, the thing was completely raw except for approximately a quarter of an inch of the exterior. I turned the oven up, and started heating the mashed potatoes and corn. We set the table. I looked at the meatloaf and it was still fuschia in the middle. I became mildly hysterical, trying to get ready for my meeting while a mob of little boys swarmed around saying they were “starving” and threatening to eat a bag of potato chips. Rob removed the meatloaf from the oven, sliced it and pan-fried it. I dished up the (now burned) mashed potatoes and the (now cold) corn. The boys asked to make sandwiches out of the meatloaf slices and I discovered that we were out of ketchup. I went to my meeting; they ate slices of bread, slices of meatloaf, cold corn and burnt potatoes.

Tuesday my meeting was at 6:15, which made dinner very tricky. I met the boys after school at 4:00, they did their homework, a blizzard started, I drove them to my house, and it was already after 5:00, I looked at the pork chops, stuffing and sweet potatoes, then I started getting ready for my meeting and asked Rob to take the boys out to dinner. I went to my meeting; they ate nachos.

Wednesday, I hardly even tried. The boys had activities until 5:15, I had a meeting at 7:00, I calculated that if I got them across town by 5:30 I would have exactly one hour to make spaghetti, serve it, eat it, clean it up and go to my meeting. I bought Taco Bell on the way from their house to mine, we ate it and I went to my meeting.

The moral of this story is: until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, don’t make snarky comments about what they feed their families. I am a competent cook, I had all of the necessary ingredients to cook three good dinners, and I screwed up one and punted on two just because I was completely distracted and exhausted.

The other moral: a 5 pound meatloaf apparently takes longer to cook than a 3 pound meatloaf.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

6 responses »

  1. thank you for this thoughtful post – I have slowly begun to realize that most of parenting is a humbling experience and what is easy for one person can be another’s downfall. I volunteer through my parent’s club to bring dinners to families who have new babies, in an effort to help them as they adjust to this new experience – recently, I took dinner to a family who had just had their second child, and her mom was visiting and they had a full time nanny. I brought dinner anyway, because I did not think it was my place to determine for them what was difficult.

    Good for you for helping out with your nephews, and thanks for the tip about a 5lb meatloaf! 😉

    Cheers,

    Reply
  2. Another fun tip: Make the pizza man COME TO YOUR HOUSE and deliver the pepperoni bounty in 30 minutes or less. Seriously, though. Stop beating yourself up. I think even with fast food, we’ve learned if we HAVE to do it, where to go to get the least heinous meal we can find. And some days (and some weeks)…it just happens. Oh well. No harm, no foul.

    Reply
  3. gudrun, thanks for the thanks! I think its great that you support families with new babies by making them a meal; I see that really as more of a gift than an assessment that they are unable to get a meal together. Even if you have a nanny and a visiting grandma, its lovely to have someone care enough to cook for you. On the other topic, when I find out how long one actually cooks a 5 lb. meatloaf, I’ll share…..

    greentuna, you are right about the pizza, but by the Really Bad night (Taco Bell) I didn’t even have time to make that happen if I was to have any dinner. Maybe that’s part of my misunderstanding about how all of this works – maybe the harried mom doesn’t actually get to eat dinner, she just provides it.

    Reply
  4. whoa girl! put away that hair shirt you’re eyeballin’ and realize that
    a) only God is perfect and
    b) even He took a break on the 7th day!
    greentuna’s right……no harm, no foul. and you’ve prolly risen in status to the coolest auntie ever for allowing nachos AND taco bell all in the same week! you have done well grasshopper! no go forth and be gentle with yourself!

    Reply
  5. Wow, Annie, your post pulled me back to all those years ago of being a single mom to my daughter. During those years I customarily worked at least 2 jobs and often times 3 to try and make ends meet and can remember going through the angst of meal preparation, or not. Back in those early years, I was a total vegan but my daughter was born craving meat and ‘taters. Go figure on that one.

    Although I continue to love cooking for my loved ones, I can honestly say that I do not miss in any way, shape, or form, the daily grind of figuring out ‘what’s for dinner.’ I think that’s one reason I love reading your blog and getting to vicariously experience life in a home where actual meal planning happens at least on a mostly regular basis.

    I also really like that you share the human-ness of all endeavors – some days we succeed in our goals and on other days we grow our flexibility. Thanks for a great post. junemoon

    Reply
  6. jayedee, I am just a tiny bit embarrassed to have you catch me whining about looking after 3 kids for 3 days; you must think I’m a total wimp. I like the elevated status thing, though; my husband also let them shoot pool at the restaurant before their food came, which I happen to know they are not generally allowed to do….

    junemoon, I can’t imagine working two jobs and cooking both vegan and non-vegan meals. I just can’t. I do, usually, love the planning of meals and the excitement of trying new things; it just hot eclpised this week and that frightened me a bit because it was “unlike me.” As you point out, though, I am a human and not a machine (or, as jayedee points out, God) and there are just times when I have to scale things back and “go with the flow.”

    Reply

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