I found myself in an email exchange, earlier today, wherein a faraway friend and I began planning a hypothetical movie date. Did we discuss which flick we were dying to see? Compare the relative merits of stadium seating vs. a more traditional moviehouse? Drool over our favorite actors/actresses? Go ahead and indulge our inner geeks to pick apart the mechanics of our favorite special effects?
We mailed back and forth about the popcorn. And the Junior Mints, and Twizzlers, and I shared a charming tale from my youth involving those little wax bottles you chew up to get at the milliliter of rancid kool-aid ensconced within.
(In case you wonder: the correct camp is LOTS O BUTTER. Any other answer, and don’t even bother coming to the movies with me.)
I rarely take my children to the theatre to see a film, but we do have “movie night” every couple of weeks. The kids aren’t too concerned about what DVD is on tap. They want to know who gets to put the popcorn in the microwave, who gets to push the buttons, do they get their own bowls, and can they have MORE? This comes from sharing DNA with me.
Popcorn is just… special. And what I remember about my forays to the theatre, more often than not, is what I snacked on while I was there.
When I was a kid, we didn’t eat together as a family. Yes, occasionally we went out to a restaurant (together) and we usually ate together when my grandparents came to visit or we went to see them, but it was not the norm. I was probably in middle school before I realized this wasn’t the way everyone did it.
As I grew up, I thought what I was missing was the food itself; we ate a lot of “convenience” food and take-out, which is fun the first sixty gazillion times, you know; but I always looked forward to the visits from my grandmother when spaghetti sauce would simmer all day on the stove or some other homemade–utterly mundane, most likely–meal would appear on the table. My cooking talents were pretty much limited to Kraft macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, so a break from my standard fare was always welcome.
There was a mentoring program in my town where young people could sign up to learn a skill from an adult in a one-to-one setting. I might’ve been 8 or 9 when I asked my parents to sign me up to learn to cook. Once a week I spent dinnertime with a sweet young woman who lived in a co-op on the local university campus. I didn’t really learn to cook anything, myself, but I was her willing assistant in the kitchen. I was captivated by the spectacle that was a dozen or so people sitting down to eat together. The students were all very kind to me–one taught me some card tricks, I remember–and I remember finding the filo dough on the day we made spanikopita only slightly more mysterious than the easy cameraderie of a multiple-course meal that was a social event.
When I became an adult, I taught myself to cook. If you can read, you can cook. Right? Pretty much. I like to cook and I like to eat. Within the scope of my budget, I can pretty much fix whatever I feel like having, because I either know how to make it or I can find a recipe. And so I figured I had found a way to feed myself everything I would ever require.
When I became a parent, I of course insisted that we eat dinner (if not necessarily breakfast and/or lunch) as a family. Because I had come around to a place where I thought that was important for family unity.
(Why YES, I certainly AM an expert on family unity… why do you ask? Nevermind. No, better yet: shut up.)
Well, sometimes I’m too tired to cook a meal that represents all the food groups. Sometimes I’m too tired to cook, period. Sometimes I’m not ready to eat when the kids need to eat. Sometimes it’s just easier to let them eat macaroni in front of the television.
But the threads of our little family are a little bit frayed along the edges, already. I try to do the family dinner thing as often as possible. I still think it’s important.
Of course, the reality of feeding small children is the same for mothers everywhere: they never like the same foods, they have the refined table manners of retarded water buffalo, and just before they come to the table, they fill their underwear with ants.
I had planned a nice dinner for Mother’s Day which I ended up not serving (for a variety of reasons). No matter; we would have it tonight. I cooked the pork chops late last night so that I could just reheat them, tonight. Add salad, potatoes, applesauce, bread-n-butter, and generous cups of milk. Voila! The children washed up and came to the table.
If Chickadee sees three or more different types of food on the plate, she deems the meal to be requiring of a rousing rendition of the grace song. So we held hands and sang, us three, and I hoped no enthusiastic elbows would send a cup of milk flying. We made it through to the end with no catastrophes. Then we settled down to eat and talk about our days.
For about fifteen seconds.
After that, Chickadee teetered from side to side on her chair while waving her fork around and chattering with her mouth full. Pretty! Monkey whined that there were no croutons on his salad. Monkey licked all of the butter off his bread. Monkey poked at his food with his finger and became incensed when the investigating digit touched some very evil and horrifying SAUCE. Sauce is the agent of FOOD MIXING, and therefore the devil’s henchman. At this point, I launched into a very helpful rumination about how if I were not interested in my fingers actually touching my food, rather than, say, poking my fingers into my food–where they might JUST HAPPEN to perhaps TOUCH THE FOOD–I might fashion myself an instrument specifically for the purpose of interacting with the food but leaving my hands clean. Such a device would be marvelous, I posited. Oh! That’s right! Someone already invented that; I remember now. It’s called a FORK. And there’s one RIGHT THERE next to your plate, son.
Chickadee thought this was so funny, through some combination of snorting and spitting, a slice of radish became airborne. It was impressive, actually.
Monkey sized me up for a moment. He’s getting older, you know. It creeps up on me, sometimes, that he’s a bona fide KID now. He’d listened to my speech; he knew I was teasing him. He was miffed. He could pitch a fit, but that was likely to land him in trouble. Still, this couldn’t go unchecked. He had to respond.
I can’t remember if I mentioned that I cut Monkey’s hair this weekend. The weather is turning warmer and so I opted for his traditional summer not-quite-a-buzz. (Stay with me, I promise this is germaine.) So he’s sitting there, all wide-eyed and freshly shorn and just–okay, I KNOW, I’m biased, but he’s quite adorable–so cute, and slowly the inclination to strangle him is rising within me. Monkey is a picky eater (always has been) and I have struggled to keep food from becoming a battle in our house. But as he grows older, Monkey has realized that the quickest way to get out of eating dinner is to act like the Tasmanian Devil at the table; I will quickly tire and excuse him, and he doesn’t have to eat whatever it is he doesn’t want.
So he regarded me, silently, for a few moments. Then he said, “A fork? Oh! A fork!” and he began to move towards the fork in an exaggerated herky-jerky way. Punctuated with noises that I can only attempt to transcribe as “Hnnn nnn hnnn nnnn nnnn!”
Chickadee and I started at him, agape. Seemingly oblivious, he launched the rest of his body into the twitch-limb routine. Do you have any idea what that’s like? Let me help.
First, here’s a picture I snapped of Monkey drawing, after his haircut. Just so you know what he looks like. Now picture THAT, becoming possessed of the spirit of Rainman AND doing the funky robot. “Hnnn nnn hnnn nnnn nnnn!”
“Monkey, stop that. I mean it. Stop. That. St–” It started with a small giggle I couldn’t quite choke back. How I got from there to laughing so hard I thought I was going to wet my pants in .6 seconds…? It’s sort of a blur. The harder I laughed, the faster my small simian robot flailed.
Eventually, we all settled down again. Appropriate bargains were struck; bail was set at two bites of pork and half his salad. Chickadee was charged with both chewing and swallowing before asking the next question in her litany.
It’s not like they were the best pork chops I ever made, or anything. Heck, Monkey didn’t even like them. Still, I think they’ll remember them.
I know I will.