For example, tonight I couldn't grill steaks as I'd planned for dinner, unless I started early and on the dot, because Julian needed to be done and ready to go at 7pm. This time constraint on Monday nights is increasingly frustrating as it stays light later -- sometimes I want to do something else on Monday nights besides scramble to get the kids fed in time to be somewhere. I know this is the norm in Silicon Valley kids' lives, but I just can't abide by it.
So having messed up the kids' dinner, I heated leftovers for Julian, which he scarfed down in minutes. After Dave took him to counseling, I started to work on the grilled steak dinner I'd had in mind. And this turned into an unexpected, surprisingly wonderful time with Gabriel and Katrina.
I showed Gabriel how to light the grill (whose electronic ignition is on the fritz and you have to use a lighter), he got a pot for noodles ready to boil, he floret-ed some broccoli, and got the pot for noodles ready to boil. Katrina wanted a job, so I let her sprinkle balsamic vinegar over some red onion slices I'd made. Both kids roared with laughter when this latter grilling attempt went down in flames (note to self: slice onions thicker!), but I played it up gladly. Katrina set the table, and Gabriel was agreeable with one minor task after another.
At one point, Katrina said something like, "Mommy, this is SO fun I don't ever want it to end!" She said again and again, "We're making dinner together, RIGHT?!" She also brought up several times another mistake of mine, unrelated, just to see my reaction, "Remember when you accidentally drove to Carson City?!" I always make a huge deal of this and say "HEEYYYY! Stop making fun of me!" and boy do they laugh.
Katrina wouldn't actually eat the steak that she "helped" cook, and in fact, her basic food consumption was same old usual nicky pits she subjects us to every night. But I was so struck by how happy she was about the process. Was it that Gabriel was involved? Was it because it was a nice manageable triad, instead of the usual chaos of 3 kids and two increasingly irritate parents? Or was it that for once, I was happily involving them, instead of barking out annoyed instructions about homework?
In any case, I had a great time with them, explaining how to time cooking tasks, giving them jobs and instructions, quizzes, and (half-)joking that now one of them can do something better than Dad. Poor Dad takes a lot of good-humored ribbing in abstentia in these situations, but always in a light spirit and the lesson being that they'll grow up knowing how to handle themselves in a kitchen, unlike most men of my generation. I also explained to Gabriel that Dad not knowing how to grill stuff isn't his fault, but he will grow up learning how to make French Toast and Macaroni and Cheese and banana bread -- and use a grill.
Unfortunately our family-bonding antics meant a late dinner, and got everyone to bed too late. Never good on a school night, and we pay dearly. But my memory of Katrina's obvious joy at the family cooperative, and Gabriel's roaring laughter when I completely messed up the grilled onions are completely worth it.
(Shh, the real reason we ran so late is that Katrina and I snuck in a little gardening late this afternoon....I couldn't help it, these native irises just had to be added to my new native garden....and what fun to do with your independent little girl who so often wants nothing to do with you!)