It's okay to sit and hold your little ones, watch them sleep, or just enjoy their presence. It's okay to put our work aside and play a game with our kids. It's okay to leave the dishes soaking and go take a walk at sunset together. Sometimes, it feels like we need that permission. This world has gotten complicated, and websites that were supposed to be for connecting with friends or finding ideas for parties now leave our minds full of “shoulds.” “I should fix fancier meals,” “I should redecorate,” or “I should make all our furniture out of shipping pallets.”
Obviously, the work is still there and it must be done eventually. The balance is figuring out how to get the essentials done, fix real food for your family, and actually have time to enjoy your family. I’ve recently drifted back into the habit of putting my kids to bed before I cleaned up the kitchen. Tense and irritated at how long they were taking to get to bed, I'd grow more and more exasperated, knowing that when they FINALLY got to bed I'd be stuck with the entire kitchen and dining area to clean up by myself. This week I'm working on breaking that routine, again. They’re old enough to help--well, all but my little girl: she tries to sweep and just makes a bigger mess. I'm starting again with the boys helping me clean up after dinner, even if dinner is later than I'd like. They're all doing something, even if it's taking the little one to the other room to read, and I feel less like a “cleaning lady.” It's also giving me permission to enjoy putting them to bed, because I'm not so burdened by the mess I know is waiting in the kitchen.
Tonight, I served rice and vegetables for dinner. Plain rice and a pan of mixed vegetables. Not a bit fancy. I put butter, pink salt, nutritional yeast, and other seasonings on the counter next to the pan, and we all seasoned our rice to taste. Simple.
Rice is real food. It's one of the simplest, most inexpensive real food items at the grocery store. I usually choose brown rice, but it takes longer to cook when I’m in a hurry, so I try to have some white rice on hand, too. And I now happily enjoy the convenience of frozen vegetables. I used to feel like all my vegetables needed to be fresh from the produce section, which of course meant I had to wash and cut everything myself. But frozen vegetables are allowed to ripen on the plant, which means they get their full nutrient content. They're typically picked, washed, and frozen soon after harvest, which means they're retaining that nutrient content. A lot of items in your produce department have to be picked weeks before they get to you, which means they have to be picked early so they don't go bad before they get to the store.
I'm certainly not against fresh vegetables, and farmer’s market season is a great time to buy fresh, local vegetables that were picked ripe.
I used to feel guilty about dinners like this, like I somehow failed, that I didn't really “cook.” But I taught a childbirth class tonight, my children came in from playing outside and had stories to tell me, so was I really supposed to be pouring over recipes or hurriedly trying to put together a complicated concoction? We sat together, seasoned our rice and vegetables and enjoyed each other.
After all, it's because I love my family that I want to keep them healthy and do the best I can for them. Since I love them, I want to be present with them and enjoy them, not just be working around them.
I do “really cook” sometimes, but not all the time. It happens less often these days, with a barely-three-year-old underfoot and classes to teach. But the fact that my oldest is now taller than I is a constant visual reminder that soon enough that sweet three-year-old will be grown, too. Maybe she will help me cook, and we can come up with some gourmet meals together, but for now we might have some more simple nights of rice and veggies.