This morning, I opened a jar of pasta sauce. I divided it up among three separate containers, kept one aside for tonight’s dinner and placed the other two in our freezer. Right next to a container of chopped tomatoes.
I used to make fresh pasta sauce with those chopped tomatoes. Standing at the stove, simmering tomatoes and spices in a blend that I loved both because of the flavor and because I knew I had made it. I had put more effort into feeding my family than simply opening a jar. I believed they could taste the love right there alongside the oregano and basil.
But today, as I rinsed out the empty jar and placed it in the recycle bin, I did not feel guilty.
As parents, we place a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves. And we allow others to heap more pressure on top. We believe that we’re supposed to cook wholesome meals from scratch, gather for family dinner every night, and never eat in front of the TV. So when we order a pizza and eat in shifts while sprawled out in the living room, our eyes glued to a screen, we feel guilty. We feel we’ve buckled under the pressure. We feel we’ve somehow failed our children.
Today I have a newborn and a preschooler. Though I can’t say for sure, my bet is that their needs will never be more at odds than they are today. My three-year-old needs stability. Routine. She needs calm words and patient parents. She needs a sense of order. My newborn son… well he brought with him a healthy dose of chaos. He defies routine and breaks down our sense of order. He needs food and comfort and love. His needs for attention are urgent and disrupt any sense of calm. Any semblance of routine.
So these days, I make pasta sauce from a jar. And sometimes, we eat our pasta in our living room. And sometimes we watch TV while we eat.
And you know? That is OK.
Because this week, we created memories. My daughter will remember waking up on Christmas morning to find half-eaten cookies and a note from Santa and gifts under the tree and hidden in stockings. She’ll remember the morning I sat her down to cut her hair so it would look ‘just like mommy’s.’ She’ll remember hours of Connect-4 and Hi-Ho Cherry-O and CandyLand. Cuddling on the couch to watch Frosty. Racing through the mall to see who gets there first – Daddy and brother on the elevator or sister and Mommy on the escalator. (ftr – escalator won).
She’ll remember that, when she was young, we sat on the floor and played with her. She’ll feel that, although we’d spend our days apart, we’d make up for it once we all got together.
As parents, we should place pressure on ourselves. We have a lot to live up to for our kids. But we should make sure it’s the right kind of pressure. Not the pressure of organics and top preschool programs, the rush to get into the best dance class or swim lesson. These things are important, yes. But not at the expense of relationships and family. Friends and connections. Memories.
I feel the pressure to be there for our kids. To write a childhood for them that is beautiful and magical and loving. In the end, and in the every-day, that matters so much more than what we eat for dinner or where we eat it.