When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I just start making dinner. You know how everywhere you turn, popular advice outlines how to be a better meal planner? Yeah, well, I’m the opposite of that. And not only am I NOT a meal planner, I’m kind of an anti-planner. I don’t make out menus weeks in advance. In fact, I rarely think about dinner at all until dinner making time. Granted, I’ve had a lot of housewifing years to cultivate both basic cook skills and a certain level of kitchen flippancy, and I depend on having pantry staples on hand, plus fresh produce. But the key, for me, is to just start. If I stand around thinking about it too long, it’ll never get done and we’ll be doomed to takeout (a rare cop-out, especially due to the limited number of takeout food options in our small town. I’d trade a lot of valuable somethings to be near Indian food again).
I chop an onion, and see what happens next. While I’m chopping, I mentally run through my kitchen inventory. What do I have that I need to use up? What have I not made in a while? What am I in the mood for? By the time my eyes are watering, I usually have an idea. Last night, I remembered that near-empty quart of blackstrap molasses in the cupboard. It had gotten so thick and unpourable, the last inch or so was stuck in the container. It would need hot water added to liquify and pour out. And do you know what I could use watery molasses for? Barbecue sauce. So I made up a big pot of barbecue red lentils, which starts, as most things do, with an onion.
Dinner was ready just as the husband arrived home, which wasn’t until 7. I hate eating dinner that late, but not as much as he hates coming home that late, especially after a twelve hour workday and over two hours of commuting time. We had the lentils over polenta with green beans on the side. With the advent of digital photography and blogging came this idea, I think, that dinner is always beautiful and interesting and served on eccentrically mismatched china atop a vintage tablecloth. At my house, it’s often as boring as plain steamed green beans on, yes, vintage but chipped up dishes and no tablecloth. Another thing to wash? No thanks.
And it wasn’t like a brilliant revelation or anything, but we were all sitting there eating dinner, and I thought This Is It. Full bellies and simple, wholesome food and all five (FIVE!) of us and the husband singing I’ve Been Working On The Railroad between bites because the baby loves it so and me randomly wondering out loud what I could spray on sidewalk chalk drawings to make them last a little longer, and then the husband singing his answer, so as to keep the baby happy, and me laughing because I didn’t really expect an answer (which was hairspray, by the way, that fella has an answer for everything), and the boy dancing like he does and the teenager telling me, “for the record, mom, I wholeheartedly approve of your choice of husbands”. And it hit me: This is it.
We didn’t know how to be married, how to have the kind of family we wanted to have, the husband and I. But we just did it. And we’ve had a number of what you could call Big Life Stressors over the years and not only is our little family still intact, but we laugh a lot and like each other. I’m sure I have something to do with it, team effort, you know. But I give a lot of credit to that husband of mine. My kids don’t know how lucky they are to have a good dad. Good isn’t even the word. Present, engaged, completely involved. He didn’t have an example of that sort of father but he became one anyway. He wanted to be a good dad and so he is one. Like that. And sometimes the simplest snapshots of our life remind me that we’re doing it right.
And that’s what we’ll keep doing. I’ll keep chopping onions and he’ll keep working a million hours a week and still find time for his family, too. We’ll do what we need to do no matter if we’ve never done it before, if we haven’t a clue. I feel dreadful about next week, about the baby’s surgery. It’s a necessary but dreadful thing. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to be with him for a week in the hospital, how to make sure my other kids are fine, how to keep myself fed and rested and healthy. I don’t have any idea at all.
So I’m not going to think about it. I’m just going to do it.