The History of a Mother’s Mealtimes

On a recent weeknight, I listened to a mystery on audio while preparing dinner. I peeled garlic for marinara sauce, breaded tilapia and placed it in the oven, sautéed more garlic with the bok choy, boiled water for gluten free pasta and my stepson, Clay’s, ravioli, washed lettuce and spinach for tossed salad, and chopped shallot and even more garlic for vinaigrette.

“I’ve been so hungry today,” Clay says as he sat down to eat. As I usually do, I put on a jazz playlist and lit a few candles to accompany our meal. Even on an ordinary weeknight, the music and soft light turns the mundane into memorable.

We talk about his school day, how his finger is feeling as it heals after an unfortunate accident in chemistry, and discuss possibilities for meals he could take with him this week for dinner during musical rehearsal.

My daughter, Ella, is in musical rehearsals at her school several nights a week as well. As I washed pots and cleaned the stove and counters and table, I made up a plate for her in case she is hungry when I bring her home. I respond to a text from my husband, Alan, who lets me know he loves me and asks how my day has been. And I think about my adult life in mealtimes.

When my son, Judah, was a newborn, like most mothers, I ate when he slept and meals were not at regular times. At six months and onward, I prepared and fed him whatever I was eating, meals were regularly timed and eaten together. At least I attempted to; he was an extremely fussy eater. We had the love of pasta & sauce, bread, and anything with chocolate in common, so in all his aversions, we always had common ground.

When Ella was born four years later, I carried on with mealtimes at regular times. Their father worked long hours, so it was only the kids and I most nights. The days melted into one another with me thinking they would never end. Well, I knew that wasn’t so, but it felt that way. My kids would always be small, and needy, and I would be the center of their universe.

And suddenly they were high school and middle school ages. They no longer came downstairs when I called them for dinner; I ate on my own many nights. At sixteen, my son got a job at a local grocery store and was away from home several nights a week.

Then another abrupt change came a few years ago, with my divorce. Suddenly I ate alone or with Alan, and only rarely with my kids. I didn’t even have to cook every night, as Alan is a good cook and enjoys it.

Fast forward to today, and I eat with my daughter, now in tenth grade, twice a week, when she’s not rehearsing musicals, with her friends, or with her dad. My son comes over maybe once a month. He works varying hours, almost full-time, and is in a band. Alan and I eat together two to four times per week, on nights he’s not working. So I’m more often on my own or with his son that’s still at home.

Some nights I love the solitude of eating on my own, with a book or my iPad next to my plate. Other nights solitude turns a tad lonely as I mull over my decisions that have separated my mealtimes from my kids’ a few years early.

But more often these days, I think of each mealtime as unique, as one of a fleeting seasonal collection that can change at anytime. Each meal, no matter how ordinary, how unremarkable the food on the plate, or how dull the conversation, is still a gift that should be savored.