Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Dinner for One

TerriC via Pixabay
When my daughter left for college four summers ago, I couldn't imagine our life at home without her. That first year, we counted the days until Parents' Weekend as time crawled from August to October. 

That Parents' Weekend was our first and last. Once my daughter got situated at school, developed friendships and became even more independent than she'd already been as an only child, we were no longer invited to such festivities, as they were deemed something only parents of freshmen attended. We missed having the opportunity to see her and the place she called home but, if she was happy, we were too.

Over those years, my husband and I increased our independence as well. Relieved of day-to-day parental responsibilities, we relaxed our schedules. Family dinners at the table gave way to dinner in the family room and, when my husband started going to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work, I stopped cooking on those nights. By the time he came home from the gym, it was too late to deal with a full-fledged meal, so we fended for ourselves. Luckily, I'm married to someone who had no problem with that plan.

Last March, our empty nest was unexpectedly full again. The circumstances were terrible, but the company is wonderful. Still, a little adjusting was in in order as three independent people once again shared space full-time. 

Once we were required to stay home 24-7, I quickly became overwhelmed as switching to online teaching collided with COVID-19 anxiety and the feeling that I ought to be taking on other responsibilities I hadn't had in four years -- most notably putting a full-fledged meal on the table every night. That last one sounds small but it was one vestige of empty nesting I was unwilling to let go of. We were all here, working and taking classes, every day and we're all able-bodied adults with access to a kitchen. 

I made my declaration of dinner independence in late March, announcing which days I'd cook, which days were everyone-for-himself/herself days and, eventually, which days we'd do takeout. No one complained. 

Initially, all I felt was relief. My online classes were all-consuming and the time gained by not having to prep and cook dinner some nights was essential to my sanity. Once the semester ended, though, I began to feel a little guilty. I didn't voice this, of course (what kind of fool do you take me for?), but it lingered. It's always been hard for me to let go of the Donna Reed expectations I set for myself, despite coming of age in the era of the ERA, and those twinges of guilt once again mocked me for not measuring up.

Until they didn't. 

comfreak via Pixabay

Last night was an everyone-for-himself/herself night, one that illustrated the beauty of this plan. I had shrimp, which no one else in my family likes. My daughter had an Indian dish that she likes, but her father and I don't. My husband had takeout chicken from the grocery store that is both too greasy and too salty for me.

And everyone was happy. 

I've grown so accustomed to making mix-and-match meals (something I swore I'd never do, but somehow ended up doing regularly) to accommodate three very different food preferences that I'd overlooked the best part of this plan, the one that finally allows me to kick guilt to the curb.

When it's every man for himself, every man (or woman) can have whatever he (or she) chooses. 

Wow. Talk about a win-win.

When my daughter was small, it was important to me that we set the expectation of family dinner every night, even if schedules sometimes caused us to fall short. We successfully rose to that challenge and have a young adult who actually likes it when we all eat at the table together. She has decent table manners, has been able to hold a conversation with adults since she was in elementary school, and does not balk at the notion of no technology at the table. In fact, she sometimes enforces that last one.

But she's not a small child anymore, and giving her the independence to eat when she's hungry and the responsibility of cooking for herself is not only reasonable, it's healthy. As for my husband, he'd rather eat frozen chicken nuggets he can toss in the microwave than the boneless, skinless chicken I cook for family dinners. And, as the person who gets stuck with the dishes, he gets a break on everyone-for-himself/herself days because we (mostly) clean up after ourselves.

All this time, I thought I was abdicating responsibility. Turns out, I was relinquishing control.

Well, whaddaya know. I had the right idea all along.

No comments:

Post a Comment