Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Dinnertime Experiment

This summer has proven to be particularly stressful for a variety of reasons, and I've found myself in the middle of more and more conversations with Tom discussing some ways in which I could manage a break here and there without putting any undue responsibility on him throughout his work day. It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that part of what makes my days feel so impossibly long is that even when Tom's work day is over, mine still continues in the basement playroom as he remains upstairs beginning dinner preparation.

It's a system we've had in place since we were married: I have no particular love nor hatred for cooking, but Tom truly enjoys it, so I've let it be "his thing." Before we had any children, it was a wonderful treat to have my meals almost-always prepared for me (I did volunteer now and then, myself), and when Abby came along, I still preferred my baby-watching duties to planning out and cooking our dinner most nights.

By the time I reached the end of my pregnancy with Michael, and found myself on near-bedrest trying to avoid incessant pre-term contractions, I had ceased to cook altogether. In the chaos and exhaustion that defined Michael's first six months and the budding, then burgeoning, pregnancy (with Mia) that overlapped it, the possibility of attempting it again never even crossed my mind. Even after Mia was born, I spent her first two months trapped downstairs in the playroom for the vast majority of the day, underneath her sleeping form. I only emerged from my basement prison post for mealtimes and those precious hours after everyone was finally asleep.

Lately, however, as Mia has become less and less dependent on me outside of feeding times, my mind has strayed to the sounds of the kitchen that make their way downstairs during the hour or so before dinner.  I've started thinking about how nice it might feel to be up there, instead, especially when the children are at their most difficult. Initially, I would brush the thought aside when I remembered how tired I felt and how it seemed like it would require so much more energy to change track at the end of the day. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that a change was probably exactly what I needed.

So, a few days ago, I mentioned to Tom that I might want to take over a night or two a week. He jumped at the idea, recognizing the benefit that it could potentially have for me. We agreed to try it sometime, but never came up with an exact plan as to when. Thus, it was with some amount of surprise that I looked up at Tom this evening when he asked me, "You ready to go up and start dinner?" For a second, I had to fight that familiar reluctance. I was tired, but comfortable where I was. I didn't really feel in the mood. However, I could see the anticipation in Tom's eyes. I couldn't refuse him.

It was amazing how quickly I became reinvigorated once I set myself to a new task, in a new room, under entirely different circumstances than I usually operate nowadays. Sure, I had to stay on my feet, bend down, reach up, pull out drawers and open cabinets, all of which took energy that I didn't think I had. But, I did all of that without any little hands tugging at my legs or arms. I peeled carrots in silence. I chopped onions without pausing to scan the room. I noted the smell of a warming oven, rather than a recently soiled diaper. I mixed and folded without having to stop and give a time-out. I felt like an independent person in the middle of the day (who knew?), and without a twinge of guilt about it. I was, after all, doing something productive with my breathing time.

I realize, of course, that over the days, weeks, and months my cooking experiences won't feel quite so magical- not once they're more routine. I suspect, however, that the temporary respite they provide will prove to be valuable, even on the occasions that I don't notice it.

Dinnertime experiment: definite success. Oh, and the turkey meatloaf was pretty good, too.

Look out, Tom. I'll definitely be invading the kitchen again sometime soon.