I love to cook. It’s in my genes. And my jeans—helps fill those guys out. And now that I’m a SAHM, I have no excuse not to have a nice, home-cooked meal on the table every night. Plus, those thirty to forty minutes in the kitchen to prepare dinner are something I cherish.
I select a “kid’s show” for Nate and Sam and slip into the next room, where I can think about something besides Lightning McQueen, trains, trucks, and other modes of transportation. Instead, I can create something, something delicious to provide for my family. Something to prove that even though I just went medieval on their asses, I still love them. Though why I bother I don’t know, because only Tighe and I will actually eat it.
Preparing dinner is peaceful. With the TV on, I start pulling ingredients from the refrigerator. And every single time I try to shut the door—you know, to keep the contents cold and fresh and our electric bill relatively low—Sam’s little body appears beneath me.
I roll my eyes and move back toward the stove as Sam opens the door wider, until it’s resting against the far cabinets. He stands in front, one foot up on the bottom threshold, and he lifts himself up and back down again and again, scanning the shelves. To make it extra annoying, he uses his right thumb to flick the interior light on and off, until our kitchen feels more like a nightclub.
Only the music sucks. Because there is no music, the soundtrack is just Sam standing there, listing the items inside that he can identify. When he’s finished, he inquires about every single condiment stored on the door.
“That’s barbecue sauce, Sam. Close the door, please.”
“That’s balsamic glaze. Please close the door.”
“Yogurt.” I’m starting to wonder why his attention isn’t held by whatever animated nonsense I put on the TV. I glance in to see Nate’s motionless body in a trance on the sofa, drool practically falling from his mouth—like I intended.
“Still barbecue sauce. Oh, wait, that’s a different barbecue sauce. That one has chunks of apple in it. Your dad likes to use it on his eggs, but I imagine it’d be really good on a pork tenderloin.” I like to cook. “Now, get out of here! I think I hear Thomas coming on TV.”
“Oh! Thomas! Choo-choo, all aboard!” He runs away, a little lopsided. Because that’s how toddlers run. I hope. I’m not worried. Yet.
I go to close the refrigerator door as I trip over the stool he had placed in front to extend his view.
But a minute or two later, just as the stove is getting dangerously hot, he’s back. And he brought Nate with him. What the—?
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“No! We’re eating dinner in a little bit.”
“Are we having salmon? I don’t like salmon. And don’t put salad on my plate again. That’s nasty!”
Well, you’re welcome for the nutrition, Nate. And for birthing you. The C-section scar matches my two-piece bathing suit nicely. Ingrate.
“What’s this for, Mom?”
He’s standing on a stool and poring through that really wide utensil drawer, the one with tongs and spatulas and whisks and such.
“That is a sieve. I use it to rinse and drain things, like black beans or vegetables sometimes.” What the hell—might as well make this a learning experience.
“Do you want to help me, Nate?”
“Can we break eggs?”
“Uh, no, not tonight. We’re having pasta. With sausage and peppers.”
“And Sam and I can have chicken nuggets with ketchup.” Not a request, a declaration. “Mom, can I fix the dishwasher?”
“Um, it’s not broken.” I’m distracted at this point. Water is starting to boil and I need to start chopping peppers and the ingredients for a salad. I contemplate making garlic bread, something Nate and Sam will usually actually eat. Otherwise, it’ll probably be a parmesan-cheese-and-milk night for them. Again.
Sam has started pulling pots and pans from the cabinets beneath the stove. He’s removing their lids and spreading them across the floor, and I’m dodging and pivoting like a former D-1 athlete as I make my way to the fridge to grab the spinach.
Nate’s going through my junk drawer to dig out the flowered screwdriver-inside-a-hammer that my mom gave me my freshman year of college. He cuts in front of me and begins hammering the front of the dishwasher.
It’s now 5:51. We eat at six. Running a few minutes behind, but I can do it.
From another cabinet, Nate removes a colander and a large mixing bowl, which he carries over to the dishwasher. Sam sits on the floor and watches him before he walks to the narrow cabinet in the corner and starts removing cutting boards and cookie sheets. That’s thoughtful of him because usually when I stumble on those, I slide across the floor like a skateboarder—faster than I’d ordinarily be able to walk, and since I’m running late anyway…
“Where is Tighe?” I mutter to myself.
I continue to weave in and out of obstacles on the floor while balancing steaming platters—how much food can four people eat?—and replying mindlessly to questions about kitchen appliances and trains.
Soon it’s a few minutes after six, Tighe’s still not home, and dinner is cooling on the table. Since Nate and Sam are occupied, which I count as doing anything besides hanging on my person, I start cleaning the mess in the kitchen. Well, the pots that I’ve used anyway.
The TV echoes from the other room. I guess Wally likes PBS Kids now. Nate is fiddling with the screwdriver and opening and closing the dishwasher. Sam has migrated to a spot at my feet. He’s rummaging through the cleaning supplies under the sink and repeating the lines from knock-knock jokes that he’s memorized.
“Knock-knock! Pizza good guy! Knock-knock! Pizza good guy!”
The actual joke is: ‘Knock-knock. Who’s there? Pizza. Pizza who? Pete’s a pretty good guy!’
The limited humor of the pun is lost on Sam. He just likes pizza. And repetition.
Nate continues to talk about dishwashers. His exact dialogue is lost in my memory because at this point, I'm starting to worry about where Tighe is, thinking about reheating dinner, and trying to watch Sam. Kind of.
“Guys, do you know whose name is actually Pete? Ellie’s boyfriend!”
“Ellie’s boyfriend is a dishwasher?!” Nate only hears what he wants to hear, in the context of his world.
“What? No.” I gasp as I glance down at Sam. “NOO! Sam! No!”
Sam has white granules on his face and is thumbing a neon dishwasher pod. More white granules are piled up on the floor and I can see a hole through the pod’s plastic. Shit.
I thrust my finger into his mouth and start feeling around for some of the soapy poison. I can’t find any, but I start ranting—loudly and informatively—about household poisons and the statistics of how many children die from ingesting those pods every year.
“Mom. What are you doing to Sam?”
Sam, fearful now, has started to cry. I hug him and apologize, reminding him—because I’ve told him a million times—that he can’t eat anything under the sink.
“Is Sam dying?”
“No, he’s okay, he didn’t swallow any, but this is why we have to keep this cabinet closed.”
“Good! Because he’s the best brother I ever had! I love him! I love him so much!”
“Love him much!” Sam repeats, and we all embrace.
Tighe comes home. Late, but Nate and Sam and I don’t care because we’re all alive. Plus, the dishwasher is fixed. Just like it was before.