But before we get to that news, a little wind-up.
About five or six years ago, when Andy and I were still in the toddler trenches — hovering, floor-timing, being awake a full four hours before “starting” our workdays in the office — I asked my coworker Tom, a father of two middle-school aged kids, if I was going to be this tired for the rest of my life. No, he told me. It all turns around at about age 6, when they can make their own breakfast. When you don’t have to wake up with them to pour the juice and toast their bagels. When they can scroll through the DVR offerings and select Sponge Bob for themselves. This was an unimaginable concept to me and one I wasn’t entirely sure was in the cards for us. I had the same thought that I had a few years earlier, when Phoebe hadn’t hit her “pincer grasp” milestone: Am I going to be the one parent in the history of child-rearing that doesn’t figure all this stuff out? (It’s a fine line between exhaustion and paranoia.)
Not long after this conversation I hit a more memorable milestone than the one Tom described. It was one of my Fridays off and I was playing with the girls (who were just about 3 and 4) in Abby’s room. The two of them had locked into a pretend game with their new pirate ship and I had a radical thought: What if I left the room, went downstairs, and started making dinner? That is, what if I trusted the girls — trusted my instinct — and let them play without their helicopter mom around? I turned on Abby’s baby monitor, then went down a floor, two rooms over to start making some meatballs. In my rosey, airbrushed memory (not to be confused with reality) I believe Lucinda Williams was pouring her heart out on the iPod while I did so.
About one hour and one glass of wine later, I went to the bottom of the stairs, cleared my throat and sing-songed, just like my own mother circa 1981, “Giiirrrrls! Dinner’s ready!” I didn’t have a dinner bell, but I might as well have.
This night did not happen again for a while, but it was enough to offer me the promise that normalcy (perhaps even proper sit-down family dinners!) might one day return to our inmate-run asylum.
Why am I telling you this story? Because amidst all the tidy little taco soup and peanut butter noodle recipes you see on this website, I feel it’s my responsibility to remind you periodically that family dinner is not easy. Most of the time, it’s messy. It’s impossible to occupy the pre-schooler while you attempt to make your marinara. It can be too exhausting to even think about what to cook let alone cook it. It takes many milestones, psychological, physiological, gastronomical, to get to a place where it feels like you have figured it out.
All of these milestones will be chronicled in my next book, Dinner: A Love Story, which is to be published in Spring 2012 by Ecco/HarperCollins and edited by the amazing (and amazingly exuberant) Lee Boudreaux. The book, which uses my Dinner Diary as a road map, will be a personal exploration of family dinner, beginning before our kids were born — when Andy and I were teaching ourselves how to cook and when words like Wusthof and coriander started popping up in our conversations in disturbing numbers. It will continue through all the typical milestones (baby number one, baby number two, many jobs, a dog, a blog) as well as many more atypical ones. (Put it this way, Andy and I are already drafting up new letters and contracts.)
There will be new recipes, new strategies, new stories and of course, more pep talks to remind you that you’re all on the right track. Even though it seems like this track seems to be continually looping and reversing, and even if your kids are 8 and 9 and still not making breakfast for themselves.
Stay tuned, and, as always, if you have thoughts about what you want to see in this book or blog, please let me know.