This wound up being a fairly full weekend. We celebrated my daughter’s 8th birthday as a family on Friday night. My parents came from New Jersey, and we did her requested meal for dinner, ice cream cake, and presents. I thought we were in good shape on celebrations, as I had gone in to her class to read on Friday afternoon (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), and also arranged for a party for 18 children (we invited the whole class) at Chuck E. Cheese on Sunday, which she knew was coming up. Alas, in the course of this, we had not purchased marshmallow fluff, which she had decided might taste good on ice cream cake. Not that she had ever tried such a thing before, but at some point in the past she had requested it. And it was not there. So there were violent sobs. Welcome to parenting.
We recovered shortly, though, as she filled her new photo album with pictures taken with her new Polaroid-style camera. This is a pretty fun gift for modern kids who have no sense of film and development. She has posed us all for pictures in various groups, and left a few blank spots for photos of the new baby. Hopefully the camera is still functional in January!
On Saturday morning, my husband and 10-year-old son left for the Cub Scout camping trip. I often accompany our scout, since I like camping, but I’d begged off because of my pregnant body’s desire not to sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground. I think they had a good time, though now my son is quite excited to do an indoor camping trip this winter which, unfortunately, may be right around the time of the baby’s birth. If it’s after, my husband can go, but if it’s right before, I’m not sure I’m going to want him away for the night, given my 2-hours-from-start-to-finish labor last time. We shall see.
The rest of us did various activities: karate, a birthday party. Then I took the three kids in my care out for dinner Saturday night at Maggiano’s Little Italy (another birthday request). This felt shockingly doable. I guess once five kids are on the horizon, dealing with three seems like nothing. I brought extra paper and crayons and everyone was happy.
On Sunday morning, I woke up to run on the treadmill. Upon arriving downstairs, I discovered my 4-year-old had already arisen, and gotten himself logged on to our home computer to watch cartoons (which meant typing the password! He knows it, but he isn’t exactly literate yet). He had even grabbed a few squeeze applesauce packets from the pantry for breakfast. He had never done this on his own before; he’s always woken me up to deal with him in the morning. It’s a little strange to think that he’s now decided he’s grown-up enough to find his own morning entertainment and sustenance. I guess I am happy for the extra sleep, though we will be very careful about setting the door alarm and such.
I knew I needed to get all three kids ready for church, earlier than normal because they’d need to come to choir rehearsal with me. But after running, I decided to set an alarm on my phone and sit with my cup of coffee and a book for the 10 minutes before we absolutely needed to start getting ready. It was quite nice. I’m trying to get better about using little pockets of downtime to sit and relax like that, rather than losing this me-time in the midst of transitions and everything else. We still made it on time.
I took the three to church, and then we welcomed the campers home. I saw my husband for about 2 minutes in passing before he took the 4-year-old to soccer. I read on the porch for a bit (nice!) and then corralled the big kids, and picked up one of my daughter’s friends to head over to Chuck E. Cheese, which she had decided was The Place to celebrate a birthday.
I have to say, it was not bad. They do a lot of birthdays, and the kids could all just play on the games with their unlimited play passes. My husband mostly watched the 4-year-old (who he brought from soccer) so I chatted with other parents and worked with the party host to keep things on track. We had pizza and cake and my daughter got to experience the ticket blaster booth, which was quite possibly the highlight of her entire life. I think this may even have made up for the marshmallow fluff incident. Then it was home to open presents and get everyone to bed, or at least try. An 8-year-old birthday party may overexcite some people, and my husband was still up dealing with our daughter, who kept popping out of her room, at 10:45 p.m., when I collapsed (ahead of some travel this morning…)
So that was the weekend. Now…meal prep. Multiple people sent me the article that ran in The Week about the mental load of cooking. Author Zoe Fenson notes that she is a passionate home cook, but as part of handling that responsibility, she knows that cooking is not just about turning on a heat source to change the physical chemistry of some food item. There’s the menu planning — itself an exercise in knowing people’s preferences, and being knowledgeable enough of nutrition to occasionally serve vegetables — and the grocery shopping. This involves keeping a mental inventory of what is in the house and what is not. We don’t have a word for this mental work. It’s all subsumed in the word “cooking.” But what happened is that when she had an intense work deadline, and her husband invited a friend over for dinner, he insisted he was happy to do the cooking. She showed up at home a bit before the friend got there and her husband asked, innocently enough, what they had in the fridge. To him, cooking just meant putting together stuff (that miraculously appears in the kitchen) and turning on the heat source. She assumed he was going to do the work of planning a dinner for company, with all that entailed. A fight ensued; she writes that they were speaking different languages.
Longtime readers of this blog know that someone writes an article like this every few months for somewhere, at which point it goes viral and people work themselves into a rage about it. Which can be fun! But in any case, what’s most practical for anyone facing this situation to do is exactly what it sounds like this couple ultimately did. They had a discussion about what work is involved in running a household, so everyone knows what the work is, and it can be more equitably distributed based on preference and schedules in a way that leaves everyone relatively satisfied. Someone who is a passionate home cook probably should do more of the cooking, though it’s good for the other party to know what is involved, This is partly to appreciate it and also, should party A get hit by a bus, to ensure that party B isn’t eating out of cans for the next six months.
I would just add to this that I do think it is easy to be blind to other people’s contributions in general. This is not always a male or female issue. It’s a human issue. When we don’t personally do something, we tend to think it’s not that big a deal. This is why a co-worker will ask you for a “quick favor” that is not quick at all. This is why our passionate home cook’s male partner did not know what went into meal planning and preparation. However, it is also possible that he does something that she has little knowledge of. I have been known to say something like “hey, there are a few lights in the basement that are out” or “the toilet by my office is making a funny noise” or “we need more money in our checking account to cover the quarterly taxes.” And then going about my life trusting that the light bulb and plumbing fairies and whoever maintains a relatively liquid position in part of our investments that earns more than cash to optimize our returns, but can be used as cash when necessary, will work their magic.
Is meal planning and inventory management on your plate (so to speak!) at your house?