Eating meals used to be so simple. You'd fix a romantic dinner for two, or quickly go grab something for yourself to eat while you watched the game. The hardest part about dinner used to be choosing what to eat. Now it's choosing whether to change your children's clothes to the ones that can be thrown away afterward -- or just stripping the kids naked to throw directly into the shower when it's all over.
Don't get me wrong. Mealtime isn't bad when you're a parent; it's just different. Kids change your life in innumerable ways. This change can be good most of the time. The rest of the time, it's... challenging. Mealtime can go either way! Here are nine indisputable truths about kids, parents and dinnertime.
1. You learn to eat one-handed.
When you have a baby, you should get a Ph.D. in doing things one-handed. You find out you didn't really need that other hand anyway. Serving the food with one hand? Easy. Pouring drinks? Simple. Cutting steak? C'mon, give me something difficult. With a little practice, parents can become magicians with that one hand. In between having babies you don't lose this skill, either; it just goes into hibernation and comes out again when it's needed.
2. You wish someone would invent seat belts for the dining room table.
How has someone not thought of this already? We can put a man on the moon but we can't figure out a way to strap a 6-year-old to their dinner chair? Kids act like you make them sit on nails when they are at the dinner table. Partly it's just the 45 times they need to go to the bathroom, but the other times seem to be an involuntary reaction to vegetables, little brothers or both.
3. Finding a Kids Eat Free place is like winning the lottery.
Before kids, I didn't think "Kids Eat Free" coupons were worth the paper they were printed on. Now, I wouldn't trade them for getting "Let It Go" banned in the United States (although it's tempting). The beauty of eating at restaurants that give out these coupons is that not only do kids eat free, but you also don't have to clean up the mess on the floor! This benefit alone automatically triples what the coupon is worth.
4. Chicken nuggets are a food group.
You try to make balanced meals, but honestly, many parents always keep frozen nuggets in their freezer for backup. Nuggets are like the first aid kit of the kitchen. Dinner goes wrong. You have nuggets. Kid's friends stop by unexpectedly? Nuggets to the rescue. Nothing like breaded chicken... um, pork... uh, turkey? It doesn't really matter what that meat is -- if this is the first time your child has eaten more than two bites at a meal in three days, you are not complaining.
5. Dogs are basically vacuum cleaners.
Remember when your dog used to be your prized possession? You would go dog treat shopping, and buy it that special collar. Now the dog is 10 pounds overweight because of the mounds of food the kids feed him. After your children are done with dinner, there might be a whole meal in scraps under that table. Dogs are now more than man's best friend; they are every parent's best cleaning appliance.
6. Who needs napkins when you have sleeves?
No matter how many times you tell kids not to, or how many stacks of napkins you pile in front of their plates, a sleeve always gets used. OK, maybe not at every meal, but every single time you serve fried chicken or spaghetti. When drinking water or eating Saltines, kids will use every napkin in the house to clean themselves up instead.
7. Dirty dishes seem to multiply like rabbits.
Parents, how many times have you looked around after the meal and wondered where all those extra dishes came from? Some of them you don't even recognize as yours. Since when did mac and cheese require you to use 22 plates, 17 bowls and 8 spatulas? You don't know how, it just happens. Like how LEGO bricks transform into deadly weapons that attack parents' bare feet at night, it's unexplainable.
8. It's against the law for a parent to have a "hot" meal.
Remember that scene from the movie A Christmas Story when Ralphie states that his mother hadn't had a hot meal for herself in 15 years? Before you were a parent, you laughed at how far-fetched that line was. You're not laughing now, are you? Between getting all the kids second helpings, extra ketchup and rags for spills -- and cutting up their meat -- your hot meal never stood a chance.
9. Dinner with your kids can be your favorite time of the day.
Even after all of this craziness that we call mealtime, it can still be one of my favorite times of the day. Why? I get to sit down with my family and listen to them talk about their favorite moments and their biggest challenges. This is family time. In our busy culture, we don't get enough of it, and you can't buy an experience like a good family meal. Meals like these are memories that last a lifetime in our family, and I wouldn't trade them for all the quiet, clean, hot meals in the world.