I have raised my two sons on my own for half their lives – from the ages of four and six – which is when my wife and I called it quits. Quick calculation: I have made 4,564 bag lunches since becoming a single parent.
My guys seem pretty well balanced in spite of moving every single week for most of their lives. Me? Some might argue the jury is still out. But in the whirling cloud of book bags and backpacks and dirty laundry that is modern divorce, I have always taken comfort in food. No matter what each day threw at me, I packed those lunches.
Five is the magic number – the password I use to hang onto my nightly shred of remaining sanity. Come midnight, when the sounds of brotherly love (cursing, punching, screaming) have faded from my kids’ shared bedroom, I take one last deep breath, do my final check of the day’s emails, and then before the urge to pour a drink, pass out – or both! – overwhelms me, I get to work. PB&J, juice box, apple, pretzels, cookies. Five items per lunch. If I did not have that magic “5” etched into my subconscious as a hashmark, someone would go hungry. And going hungry is the one thing I promised I would never let my kids do.
While keeping food on the table has long been a litmus test of sound parenting, at a deeper level I believe cooking for your children is the ultimate nourishment for your soul. I mean let’s be honest: how many emails and texts did you rifle through today that changed your life? When you flop yourself down in the armchair and reach for the remote, is fulfillment about to spring from the evening news? These days, doubtful.
What I prepare nightly is a revolving door of my kids’ favorites. When I make my younger son Daddy Home-made Mac & Cheese, his joy is palpable and so is mine. His older brother has a more sophisticated palate and when I come home with the ingredients for salt and pepper jalapeno fish, he actually puts down his phone, rolls up his sleeves and joins me for the prep.
Cooking fresh every night is a lot of work and I am well aware that I am an outlier here. Unless you live on the Tibetan plateau, there are 3,000 takeout and delivery options available to pretty much any working parent. But to me that has the air of resignation; one more thing you’ve relegated to Siri. It gets it done, but is there any joy at the end of that road, or is it just another meal checked off the list?
While keeping food on the table has long been a litmus test of sound parenting, at a deeper level I believe cooking for your children is the ultimate nourishment for your soul.
I think my boys would say they look forward to dinner with their dad each night when I have them. It’s not always easy and there have been classic misses (can we NOT discuss the curried roast chicken thighs?). But be it hastily whipped up scrambled eggs, fries, carrots and a garlic bread – or pan-seared salmon, udon noodles with braised bok choy, and a red pepper and garden salad, I feel like I do more than just get food on the table.
For those precious few moments you get your kids each day, you can feed their sense of adventure, expand their culinary horizons, and maybe even in some small way, give them an acceptance of a broader world out there. And get it done in time to load the dishwasher, make the bag lunches, and think about tomorrow’s evening meal.