Do I Smell Pudding, or Is That a Whiff of Desperation?

Some of you faithful readers may recall that I’ve mentioned my choral rehearsals, which happen on Tuesday nights.  Yes, I work full-time, have two kids, and sing with a pretty serious choral group, among other things.  Yes, I’m insane.  But we’ve already established that, haven’t we?

Anyway.  Yesterday evening was a gigantic mess, as far as time management went.  J. and I were all set to leave work at 5 p.m. to pick up the boys at school, but one of the Big Bosses called J. into his office for a “quick meeting.”  At 5:15 I could hear J. trying to politely duck out of the conversation — if we don’t leave by 5:15, there’s no way we can be on time for pick-up.  Finally released, J. dashed down the hall to grab me, and we hurried across town (skirting every possible traffic-related absurdity) to arrive at the preschool at 5:29.  Upon greeting the boys, we realized that P. had just gifted us with one of the largest messy diapers we’ve seen in quite some time; L.’s lunchbox was misplaced; and we couldn’t get the two of them wrangled and moving in the same direction to save our lives.

We rolled up to our house at 5:48.  It will come as no surprise to anyone when I say that, with a timeline that demands that I leave the house by 6:35 to get to the rehearsal hall on time, I was feeling pretty pressed to get dinner on the table.

Things only went downhill from there.  See, ordinarily, I’d have a slow cooker going on Tuesdays, so we could just fill our plates and sit down right away.  But for reasons I won’t get into at the moment, my slow cooker was unavailable for use on Monday night, when I would usually fill it up with the next day’s dinner, so I thought: Well, we usually have enough time for something quick.  I’ll just make the shrimp oreganato dish we were going to have later this week; it’s only a 20-minute deal.  Maybe 25.

*Snort.*  Bad move, lesson learned — Murphy’s Law of dinner planning dictates that whenever you rationalize a meal plan choice with the words “We should have enough time,” every possible obstacle must be hurled into your path to make sure that time becomes the only thing you DON’T have.  Screaming kids, yes (P. wanted his cup and couldn’t find it; L. wanted to watch Backyardigans and couldn’t get Daddy’s attention; they both tripped and fell down; Daddy stubbed his toe and was grumpy).  Mountain of dirty lunch containers littering the prep counter, yes (P.’s lunchbox got left at school over the long weekend with containers still in it, which came home last night; J. and I had several containers from our lunch to clean; the boys’ usual lunch debris added to the chaos).  But time, no.

And shrimp for the shrimp pasta…no.

At 5:55, I had a pot of water on the back burner, trying to get it to boil through both blasting heat and some sort of vain Jedi mind trick (YOU WILL BOIL YOU WILL BOIL YOU WILL BOIL IN MIRACULOUSLY SHORT ORDER), and I was shoulder-deep in the freezer, looking for the shrimp.  We often buy frozen, shelled, deveined raw shrimp and thaw them as needed for quick meals; usually they come in a 2-lb. package, so I can get two meals out of one bag.  We just had shrimp a few weeks ago, so I was positive that there was another pound lurking in the freezer.  POSITIVE.

Until I couldn’t find them.  And then, dimly, a little voice in the back of my head spoke: “Um…excuse me?  Sorry to bother you, but — J. came home with a ONE-pound bag of shrimp last time.  You used the whole thing.  You meant to make a note on the meal plan to buy more.  But you forgot.”

Arrrrggggh.  Quick change of course required.  Luckily, the shrimp dish was supposed to be made with a tomato-based sauce, so I recovered by slapping a skillet on the stove and making a 15-minute marinara.  “We’re having spaghetti,” I snarled to J., who was playing goalie, trying to keep P. from hurtling headfirst into the stove.

“Fine,” he snarled back, over P.’s indignant screeching and L.’s calls of “Daddy?  Um, um, Daddy….????”   We were both in lovely form.

Of course, it was fine, and though things were a bit hairy, I did manage to peel myself away from the mayhem at 6:42 and dash out the door.  I even (miraculously) avoided serious traffic and got to rehearsal on time.  Unfortunately, while there, I realized that J. and I had not had the Lunch Packing Conversation — this usually ensues on Tuesday evenings before I leave.  He asks what I want the kids to have in their lunches the next day, I tell him what to pack, and he takes care of it.  Or he gives me a blank look of apprehension, at which point I tell him to just take care of the easy stuff and I’ll make the rest when I get home.  But we failed to converse about the lunches, so when I walked in the door at 10:45 p.m., J. was rooting through the refrigerator somewhat aimlessly.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  “Packing lunches,” he responded.

I started to open my mouth, but I was TIRED.  Dead tired.  And he seemed to have things sort of under control.  So I let it go.  Daddy could pack their lunches without my assistance.  I collapsed on the couch.

This morning, things didn’t start off much better than they ended yesterday, mayhem-wise.  The boys were zooey.  J. was frantically getting ready for a major business event.  I was trying to get L. some late breakfast and get clothes on both kids when I looked at the open lunch boxes on the counter (never a good sign) and realized that they looked…sad.  (Sorry, honey, but it’s the truth.)

Sigh.  Desperately, with 10 minutes to spare before we had to get into the car and off to school drop-off, I started hunting for viable options that could go into the kids’ lunches.  J. wanted to know what was wrong with the lunches he’d packed.  “It’s National School Lunch Week,” I whined (I admit it, yes, I was whining).  “I’ve committed to writing on the blog what goes into their lunches this week.  They can’t have sad lunches.”

Judicious application of the microwave (not ordinarily my favorite tool for cooking the kids’ food, but…) and some wizardry turned leftover canned pumpkin into a quick pumpkin “pudding” with maple syrup, cinnamon, and cloves.  I crumbled graham crackers over the top for crunch (and frankly, presentation — it wasn’t the most attractive thing I’ve ever made).  The concoction went into their lunches along with applesauce, roast chicken, and homemade honey-wheat rolls (L.’s had cheese in the middle for a mini-sandwich; P.’s had cheese alongside).  P. got yogurt.  L. got oranges.

I’m not super-proud of these particular lunches, but that’s reality, and at least they still offer a lean protein, carb, fruit, dairy, and a quasi-vegetable (the pumpkin pudding is probably borderline, but it is just spiced-up pumpkin puree, after all — nothing weird in it).  Since it is National School Lunch Week, I guess experiences like these are instructive; they remind us that there are always options, even when life is extraordinarily hectic.  We don’t have to just fall back on the easiest choice or take the quickest route (which would have been forking over $2 for each kid to have a grilled cheese at school) when it comes to feeding our kids.  Every child deserves to have a lunch that somebody cared about, whether it’s a lunch from home or a cafeteria offering.  And judging from L.’s enthusiastic reaction when he saw his homemade bread and “pudding,” I guess he knows that, if nothing else, I did care.

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