A family’s special love

Oh, many of you scoffed when I mentioned planning out our weekly menus, but so far it’s made for a kind of calmness in the afternoon that we haven’t had in a LONG time. I refer to myself as the Dinner Nazi, sometimes—I love the family dinner thing, and I will DEMAND we all eat together so that we can have some Quality Family Time. And it’s totally SHOCKING, I know, but that tends to work out a lot better when I’m not running around like a headless chicken figuring out what we’re actually going to EAT during that special time when we’re bonding.

Besides, a whole lot of tormenting goes on at our table, and it just seems more fair if we have something yummy to eat while that’s going on. Call it a balance, if you will. I mean, the kids will be in therapy for years, but they’ll never be able to complain about what I fed them.

When I planned out the week’s menu on Sunday, before I went grocery shopping, I had planned for us to have some sort of chicken, last night. It turned out that chicken was not on sale, but shrimp was, so I made an executive decision to substitute “some sort of chicken” for “shrimp and penne” for last night’s meal. What I had forgotten, of course, was that I’d been planning to have Otto cook the chicken because yesterday was Chickadee’s first day of swim team and I didn’t want to cook.

I remembered to tell Otto I bought shrimp instead of chicken, but I forgot to ask him to cook. Whoops! But it was fine, because my method for shrimp and penne is only slightly more complicated than boiling water, so we came home from swimming and I cooked and we all sat down to our family meal.

[Because I know someone will ask if I don’t tell you: Boil a box of penne. While it cooks, heat large saucepan with olive oil, three minced cloves of garlic, and the juice of three lemons. Sautee shrimp in this mixture for a couple of minutes until no longer translucent. Drain the pasta and add to the saucepan and mix it all up. Add salt and pepper and a handful of chopped fresh basil. Voila! See how fancy you can be in 10 minutes? And you get EXTRA VIRTUE POINTS if you buy the whole grain pasta, which I do, because I need those points, man.]

So. First, let me tell you about swimming. Chickadee is a strong swimmer but has never been on a team before. And she went right in there and did everything the coach told her to do, which meant that she swam laps for a solid hour without complaint. I mean, I was exhausted just watching her, but she was a total trooper. I couldn’t have been more pleased with her willingness to work hard; by the time she finished up, I was fairly glowing with pride. You may not have picked up on this (say, if you’re a new reader, or blind), but my darling daughter can be sort of a shirker, sometimes. Yet there she was, giving it her all, focused, determined, all of that great stuff.

Naturally she then got out of the pool and immediately LOST HER SHIT because she was exhausted and her hair was wet and AAAAIIIIEEEEE WET HAIR IS A TRAGEDY! And I had neglected to bring a plastic bag for her wet things and AAAAIIIIEEEEEE THAT WAS ANOTHER TRAGEDY. Etc. Lather, rinse, repeat, as she freaked out over absolutely everything. Me, I think it would be a little easier to just say, “Wow, that was quite a workout, and I’m very tired now,” but what do I know. Coming home and having to go take a shower? SO TRAGIC.

By the time we sat down to eat, Chickadee had settled down somewhat, but I was still a little nervous.

So there we are, eating one of the kids’ favorite meals, and Otto asked Chickadee how swimming went. She had a mouthful of pasta and said “Good” except that’s not what it sounded like.

“Boat?” said Otto. “You were in a boat?” Monkey tittered with delight.

“NO!” huffed Chickadee. “I said GOOD. Geez.”

“BOAT!” declared Monkey, “They had to swim IN A BOAT! HAHAHAHA!”

“Maybe they have to swim TO the boat?” mused Otto.

“Maybe they have to PUSH a boat,” I suggested.

Chickadee huffed and threw down her fork and crossed her arms and stared down at her lap in righteous indignation over being so abused. As if this isn’t par for the course in our family. “Stop BEING MEAN TO ME,” she cried.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “We’re just having some fun. We’re not being mean. It’s a joke. Have a sense of humor.”

“It’s NOT FUNNY!” she fumed. Otto and I exchanged glances.

“Okay. We’ll stop,” I said.

“Now you can make fun of ME!” offered Monkey. “I don’t mind!”

Chickadee didn’t even pause in picking up her fork again while she turned to him and said, “You’re ugly.”


“He said I could!” she protested, giggling, while Monkey laughed right along with her.

“I was going to say you’re short and your mother dresses you funny,” I offered.

“Hey, that’s funny, because I was going to say he has long hair and his mother dresses him funny,” said Otto. Chickadee laughed so hard she choked a little.

“YOU DRESS ME FUNNY!” declared Monkey, pointing at his t-shirt to illustrate his point.

At this point I noticed that he had something in his hair. “Monkey, do you have food in your hair? What IS that?” Monkey often has food in his hair. But as this was not a meal to be eaten with fingers, I was a little stumped.

“I HAVE FOOD IN MY HAIR AND MY MOTHER DRESSES ME FUNNY!” he crowed. By now Chickadee was shaking her head, and Otto was beholding the lot of us, probably wondering once again what in the world he’d gotten himself into. “Can I have some MORE SHRIMP?” asked Monkey. “I will try not to put it in my hair.”

“You could put it in your boat!” said Otto.

“BOAT!” agreed Monkey.

Chickadee threw down her fork and started pouting again.

“Oh, stop it,” I said to her, while dishing up another serving for Monkey. “You pout one more time and I’m gong to put some shrimp in YOUR hair.”

She clapped her hands over her head and tried really, really hard not to laugh. Laughing can ruin a good pout, you know.

Yep, there’s absolutely nothing like a family dinner to bring out the best in everyone.


  1. Aimee

    Heh. Shrimp in the hair aside, I want to come have dinner at your house.

  2. Barbara

    Perfect post, Mir – you are such a good writer of your wonderful family’s life. Happily, I can relate to so much of what your write about. The conversation that circles on words is a favorite experience in our family. A legendary conversation in our family, around a campfire on a warm Texas night in February, we got on the Disney Peter Pan line “You can fly!” We must’ve giggled through seventeen different conditions for poor Peter that ended in a word that rhymed with fly. Great family stuff. But you tell it better than most. Thanks.

  3. Jenni

    I wish we had those kind of family meals. Ours are not so much with the fun because once the one child gets tired of our discussion that is usually slightly annoying to her (she’s 9, everything we do is annoying) we don’t have another child to take over and be a good sport.

  4. Katie in MA

    Phew! Just when I thought we were the only family in America who thinks being “mean” to each other is the height of hilarity. It’s all fun and games until someone loses their sense of humor. (Hey, maybe it ended up in their hair. Or their boat.)

  5. Randi

    MWA HA HA HA HA – this is the second funny post I’ve read today and I needed the laugh. Shrimp Penne sounds delicious! Want something different?

    Buy some bay scallops (because they’re the only affordable ones), shrimp, and some imitation crab meat. Sautee them all in a pan with lots of butter (or olive oil, if that’s your thing) with some garlic and any seasoning you want. Pour that over noodles…YUM (I like using butter because butter is our friend!)

  6. Megan

    Sounds terrifyingly familiar – down to the teasing, the YOU’RE SO MEAN and the food in the hair. Fortunately our family male now has a totally shaved head so the food in the hair thing is solved. Now it’s food on the lap. And the floor. And the table. And ootching across into other rooms…

  7. liz

    So what WAS in his hair? Piece of whole grain linguini? Shrimp shell? A boat perhaps?

  8. Karen

    I am convinced that Chickadee and my oldest child are the same person. As I read your post, I had to go to her room to make sure that I hadn’t just made up my oldest child in my mind. You handled all that so well. I will have to start taking notes.

  9. el-e-e

    Oh, I just LOVE a happy dinner table. Thanks for a great story this morning.

  10. Mom of the Brady Bunch

    You know, as I’ve been reading lately about Chickie’s pouts…sounds like the lovely stages of hormonal craziness in the year or so before the lovely time-of-the-month ugly monster shows up. I must say, shrimp must make a lovely sheen in one’s hair. LOL

  11. Leandra

    Wait, what do you mean your kids won’t complain about what you fed them? How did you do that? Bubba has even implemented a thumbs up-thumbs down rating system and he’s not even SIX yet!

  12. BethRD

    I just noticed there’s another BethR on WantNot so from now on I will be BethRD because I am too, too unique to share.

    We are lucky right now at our dinner table because when the 6 year old gets tired of being picked on, we can turn to picking on the baby together, and since she’s too young to know or care it all goes smoothly. (You know the Apples and Bananas song? “He likes to eat, eat, eat, apples and bananas”? Well, we have a version of the song we all sing together that covers what *really* happens to apples and bananas when they’re given to a baby. ‘Nuff said.) I suppose when the baby becomes verbal we’ll have to take to picking on the hamster but it just won’t be the same.

    The hardest thing for me to remember is that not all families interact like this, so sometimes when I attempt to use our form of “affection” on other people’s children I offend them or scare the willies out of them.

  13. Crista

    “Laughing can ruin a good pout, you know.”

    Oh, I know :)

    Hey, I “invented” that recipe a few weeks ago when I didn’t feel like cooking. Threw in some broccoli, too, to make it a one dish meal. Last night, DH asked for it again. Wahoo!

  14. Karen

    My husband has the Mr. Poutypants lately. Do you know how hard it is to get a 59 year old to laugh when all he wants to do is have a pout?

  15. Kelly

    Since you already shared the recipe, can you share your ideas of a week’s worth of meals & Grocery list? I’m always struggling with the plan ahead thing, though its also hard with a one year old who must eat immediately upon getting home from daycare.

  16. Tammy

    LOL @ Otto…are you sure he wasn’t meant for stand up comedy??

  17. Gina

    I have been planning monthly menus for almost 4 years now. I love it. It is freeing that I don’t have the drudgery of going to the grocery store weekly for a large grocery trip. I spend less time in one day than my friends do with their weekly trips. (But it is one long day with 2 kiddos.)

    My husband and I are also Dinner Nazis and we don’t often have a dinner where we are not all four here around the dinner table.

    Your shrimp penne sounds delicious. I am afraid, though, one boy won’t eat shrimp at all and the other thinks “pink” shrimp are not edible….only brown (aka fried) shrimp are yummy. :) Hopefully, they will soon like shrimp. I keep throwing it at them…some of it should stick, right?

  18. Mike Golch

    The Dinner together idea is fast disapearing,thank you foe maintaining it in your home!

  19. Jodi

    I make a similar recipe but use pesto for an even quicker fix.

    I think I was your daughter in an earlier decade. What I must have put my mom through.

  20. Jamie AZ

    If I were to take the time to do so, I think planning meals in advance for the week isn’t a bad idea. But I’m a little more lazy than you. It’s like the people who cooked from Rachael Ray’s 365 cookbook every day for a year, in order. They liked that they didn’t have to think about what to make for dinner each day, nor stress about it, even though they weren’t fond of some of the items or the repetitiveness of certain things.

    I love how you all play at the dinner table!

  21. Mom on the Run

    I have always liked the “your mother dresses you funny” comment. Very effective.

    My three kids do summer swim team. One does winter swim team, as well. It is hard/gruelling, but they improve their times really quickly due to constant practice. I am contemplating joining a swim class for adults. I know how to swim, but would like to improve my breathing.

  22. Mama Bear

    I know you didn’t ask for it, but I’m going to give you my 2 cents worth anyway, it’s your lucky day!
    I have 3 swimmers at my house, during winter season they all swim at once, one is 2 hours a day, and the other two are 2.5 hours a day. I don’t know how it works, but swimming is one sport where you are FAMISHED when you get out of the water. Miss 10 has been known to “lose her shit” after swim practice on a regular basis, and she’s used to this swim stuff. So, here’s my recommendation: Bring along a small snack to eat IMMEDIATELY after getting out of the water. It is the biggest help to this house, even if supper is in less than 30 minutes, feed them! Banana, granola, cheese stick, etc. Because here, just as your house, dinner together is a requirement, and waiting for the last swimmer to arrive home is sometimes more than they can take.

  23. dad

    You should be writing this stuff down.
    Oh yea, you were..have..did. Whatever.

    This is the stuff TV sitcoms are made of.

  24. Flea

    Geez! What is it with grouchy kids and food in their hair!

  25. Amy

    Sounds like the melt-down my daughter had after soccer practice last night because “I didn’t see her run!!”. (But really I did – they run throughout practice!!)

  26. Jenny

    It’s common knowledge in our family that any time my sister and I are at the dinner table together someone is going to end up nearly wetting themselves or possibly choking due to hilarity; even if someone is in an awful mood to begin with. We’re both grown and married and still my mother despairs of eating a meal together calmly and civilly and without someone having to get up at least once to go into the other room to get hold of themselves. But hey, it’s better than the opposite problem, right?

    Hmmmm… I know someone that might be having penne with shrimp tonight.

  27. jennielynn

    Hormones mixed with pre-teen girls is like a day at the amusement park, where there’s nobody but you and your friends there and you never have to wait in line.

    Oh and you’re locked in the park with an axe murderer, who is stalking you all and picking you off one by one. I’m praying for you.

  28. paige

    Hey, if you want to make menu planning even easier, try savingdinner.com.

    I use it and while it’s a paid service, it’s pretty cheap…about 3 bucks a month. Lots of menus, you can change the menu every week or customize one for yourself.

    My most favorite part, though, is that with every menu comes a grocery list, divided into the sections of the typical grocery store.

    And I get no kickbacks for recommending the site.
    Darn it.

  29. Jessica

    At least it wasn’t a welcome back to school lice friend.

  30. Astrogirl426

    “You’re short and your mother dresses you funny” is our favorite non-insult here at the Bunker.

    I figured it out – Bunker Monkey is actually a 9-year old (9, right?) girl! What with the “STOP MAKING FUN OF ME” hyper-sensitivity that runs rampant in these here parts lately. Oh, it’s exhausting.

  31. goteeman

    Never knew dinnertime could be so entertaining… thanks!


  32. Anissa@Hope4Peyton

    We love dinner time together. When we sit down and talk and laugh, it just closes out our day and we reconnect. I love to hear that you torture your kids at the table too..makes it seem more acceptable somehow.

  33. Hecticmom

    We totally make fun of each other at our family dinner TOO!!!

  34. tori

    I don’t eat seafood but otherwise that sounds like a typical dinner at our house. I think that is why I love reading you so much…so many people look at me funny when I try to describe a meal at our house but I think you would get it.

    Your dad cracks me up with his comments, btw.

  35. Therese

    Just who is going to clean up this pudding I just spewed onto my screen, hmmmm???? I thought we were the only family in America who tries to see who we can poke the most fun at while at the table.

  36. LiteralDan

    Oh, how I don’t look forward to living with age 4 times 10 (I know the math doesn’t seem to add up, but it’s New Math).

  37. All Adither

    You know, I can actually understand Chickadee’s point with being dinner amusement. Probably because my family used to tease me and all it did, if I was remotely on the edge, was piss me off even more.

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