Monkey enthusiastically bashes a plastic sippy cup against the high chair tray, again and again, until it slips out of his grip and flies through the air, narrowly missing the serving dish on the table. A toddler fork clatters onto the floor, collateral damage in Bean’s tirade against pasta that is the wrong shape.
As long as I continue to shovel food into his mouth, Monkey shouts with excitement. Once the bowl is empty, he shouts in frustration until I’ve mashed up some more of the food off of my own plate and can resume shoveling it into his mouth. Bean complains and refuses to eat. The pasta is the wrong shape. It is too hot, and then it is too cold. The peppers are orange, and he would prefer red. He isn’t hungry. He wants to play.
As the noise level escalates, so does my irritation. Both boys are shouting now. My shoulders tense and my breathing becomes shallow. I catch D’s eye across the dinner table and see my irritation mirrored there. At that moment, Monkey yanks his spoon out of my hand and it drops to the floor, splattering tomato sauce onto my feet. I look up at D again, our eyes meeting. And we laugh. We laugh until I am breathless and D is wiping a tear from his eyes, and Bean is demanding to know what’s funny and Monkey is bemused. And then we laugh some more.
Once upon a time, in our pre-kids life, dinner time was peaceful. It was a chance to unwind and reconnect after a busy day apart. We could talk, or we could be silent. We could enjoy a complicated meal or a simple sandwich. We could relax.
Now, dinner time is non-stop motion. One of us is always up. There are bowls to refill, spills to mop up, forks to retrieve. Something is always missing from the table. Bean wants the construction placemat, not the alphabet one. Monkey’s dropped his cup. Bean has to go to the potty. Monkey needs more food. We are telling stories, asking questions, reminding about manners, persuading a stubborn toddler to eat his food, convincing him to remain at the table just a little longer. By the time I take my first bite of food, it is often cold.
The connection that used to be part of the evening meal can be hard to find, night after night in the chaotic dinner time grind. But in these sudden moments of synchronicity, when we catch each other’s eye and surrender to the mayhem, I feel more connected to my husband than in any memory from our pre-kid, peaceful life. Because this is the life we’ve created, the family we’ve built, together. Yes, life with small ones can be maddening, and we don’t have to enjoy every moment. But we can make the choice to let go of our expectations, to give in and hang on for the ride together.
I’ve heard it said that the season of small kids is one of the toughest for a marriage. I believe it. I feel it. And I look across the dinner table at my husband, and I’m grateful to have him as my partner.