The IDEA is so far from the reality, however. The house is fragrant with, say, a roasted chicken and potatoes. I've prepared two additional veg dishes, steaming carrots before tossing them with a bit of butter and brown sugar, say, and maybe some bright broccoli. Beeswax candles cast a warm glow over the pretty place settings. I call my charming children to the table. I waltz gracefully to the table with a boat of perfectly smooth gravy...
And before I even sit down, some sort of hell breaks loose. Someone slaps someone, tempers flare, or someone refuses to sit and eat. My husband I start to chew with forced calm, which turns to irritation, which generally ends with someone getting a timeout. Things tend to spiral downwards from here. I'm not looking to train my kids to be perfectly behaved little automatons, saying please and thank you and placing a napkin on their lap. I don't pressure anyone to be flawless. I just want to eat what's on my plate without listening to screaming and fighting.
Lately I've caught myself taking these failures of my plans personally. The litany of every martyred mother's thoughts echoes through my mind: "WHY do I bother? I just thought we could have one NICE meal a week, but I guess I was wrong...Is it too much to ask for HARMONY in my home?" Apparently, yes...yes, it is too much to ask.
Thinking about that question a bit deeper leads me to remember that joy and harmony are not created through unreasonable expectations. And let's face it, having any kind of semi-civilised meal with three children under the age of 6 is unreasonable. The most peaceful meals in our house are the ones that I slap on the table, on each child's favourite coloured plate...no tablecloth and no candles. Often, cutlery is optional, or ends up on the floor. Optional, too, is clothing.
Leftover spaghetti washes off skin much easier than out of clothing.
The meal wouldn't be complete without at least one spill, intentional or otherwise.
Violet pouts while Margot tries dipping her plastic cucumber slices in spaghetti,
then cracks up at something her brother did.
The floor, and table, after a meal with my kids.
Consider this lesson learned. When my husband built a fire outside to burn some brush this morning and suggested hotdogs for dinner, I didn't hesitate to say a resounding, "Yes!" I did steam some broccoli to balance out the many-horrible-things-about-hotdogs. Finally, I found what I was seeking: peace and harmony at mealtime...because the kids ate outside by the fire and I ate inside by myself.