After waking up from my Sunday afternoon nap, I went downstairs to cook dinner. Brandon had been up at 2 that morning for an airport run pick up the third colleague this summer, so I left him sleeping. I walked quietly so that the children wouldn't hear me, looking forward to some time all alone on a quiet Sunday afternoon. No children to hurry off to bed, no specific dinner time to air for, just me and the kitchen, cooking.
After ten or fifteen minutes, Edwin, who had seen me creeping downstairs, strolled into the kitchen. Always eager to spend some alone time with Mom, he asked me what he could do to help. He's getting to the age that loves helping, if it's their own idea. His favorite job is cracking eggs - every Saturday morning he abandons cartoons to come see if I need help cracking eggs - and his second favorite is washing knives. He loves feeling the possibility of harm sliding through his fingers, covered in soap and water, without harming him.
I set him to washing green beans. Our vines have been reasonably prolific this summer (next year I'm going to adjust watering and fertilizer), and we had a bag in the refrigerator waiting to be cut up, blanched, and sauteed with onions, butter, and olive oil. A few minutes later, Sophia drifted in. I put her on green bean duty, too. Kathleen walked in last. "I don't want to be stuck doing dishes all alone like last week. So I'm here to help." A few minutes later all were seated at the table with a knife, a cutting board, and a pile of green beans in front of them.
Edwin was the only one who hadn't done green beans before, so the piles got taken care of pretty quickly. Each child had their own way. Edwin carefully chopped each bean into pieces before placing them in a pile on the left of his cutting board. Kathleen grabbed four or five at a time, hacked away, and dumped them into the glass bowl sitting on the table. Sophia cut the tops off all of her green beans, lined all of them up, and then chopped through all of them before dumping them in the bowl.
I worked on the chicken pot pie, rolling out the pie crusts. I hate rolling out pie crusts.
After the green beans were done, they came to me for their next tasks. Kathleen and Sophia made lemonade while Edwin set the table. Then everyone unloaded the dishwasher, with a few pauses to watch me make chocolate whipped cream (looks like mud, they exclaimed delightedly) and mix up an angel food cake (what if we called this clouds? We could say we were having clouds and mud for dessert). Then we all started in on the dishes.
When the pot pie was bubbling, the beans browning, and the lemonade waiting on the table, I sent them upstairs to fetch their brother, their sister, and their father. I kept cleaning up the kitchen.
I used to beg for the children to leave me alone while cooking, shooing them away to play with their toys, take a bath, or in really desperate situations, watch something on the computer. All I ever wanted was to cook dinner all alone without fights, messes, or 'helpers' wanting to taste everything I made.
After the girls were old enough to enjoy each others' company, they finally did run off and took Edwin with them, leaving me with only Joseph to keep me company. This lasted for six months or a year before I realized that I needed to teach the girls how to cook, and so I made them come back to me.
But this time, they're actually helpful. I can give Sophia a recipe and she'll turn out cornbread muffins while I'm working on black bean soup. Kathleen can make most of bulgur lentil pilaf entirely on her own. Edwin can cut up cucumbers and tomatoes without much help. And after dinner we can all get the dishes done in about twenty minutes - most nights without any fights or whining.
Sometimes I'm loathe to give up my private thinking, or sometimes listening, time, but I know that I won't regret it when all is said and done. I'll have plenty of private time later, I remind myself, and now is the time I have to teach my children and listen to what they have to say. Hopefully when they start having interesting things to say, they'll be used to talking to me and I can listen in to their inner thoughts. Sometimes moms are the worst voyeurs out there.
But even now I enjoy the occasional flashes of insight and I really appreciate the help. Brandon often isn't home for dinner, so it's nice to have some help cleaning up dinner and getting everyone ready for bed.
We have started singing time lessons with my cousin's wife, a former chorus teacher. The children and I sang 'Fried Ham,' one of our new songs in Southern, British, Baby, Underwater, Three Year-Old and Swedish Chef versions while clearing the counters, putting away dishes, and sweeping floors together. We all laughed at the end, enjoying the pleasure of working and singing together. I've spent years imagining that moment where we could all work together, enjoying each other's company. I've so badly wanted a family that, when they had a choice, wanted to spend time together just because they liked it. We don't like each other all day every day, but we do like each other some days, even when we're doing dishes.
That's a good start, so I'll take it. Especially if I get a clean kitchen at the end.