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Scrapping Cooking Time for Playtime
October 30, 2012

Last night, I made lamb chops, mashed potatoes, and our vegetable was a Brussels sprouts salad with sliced apples, walnuts, chèvre, and balsamic vinegar. Tonight, I whipped up some cinnamon-sauteed apples and flipped pancakes. And yet, I'm feeling like I failed Bug two nights in a row.

Like many foodie parents, I feel like a failure if I'm not giving my family 100% home cooked meals every. Single. Day. Since I (allegedly) enjoy cooking, I know that doing up a roast chicken dinner with sauteed okra or hand-rolled meatballs with my own marinara sauce is -- if not easier -- less of a chore for me than for those who truly don't enjoy cooking.

Amazingly, even pasta can feel like a punted dinner regardless of the fact that the pasta includes a tiny dice of butternut squash tossed with minced thyme, caramelized shallots, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. It's a one-pot dinner, served on one bowl, in one mass. It doesn't call for extra salad/side dishes nor for individual servings to be plated on a dinner plate. (Don't even get me started on how low I can feel when I realize I've been cooking the same five things with no real variety or creativity whatsoever.)

However, recent feeling of parental failure stems not from serving one-pot dishes over multi-course meals but from hearing myself say on successive evenings, "Honey, I can't come and play with you right now, I'm cooking dinner." That's when I realized that my obsession over perfect meals is encroaching on what little time we have together for play. (Even if his idea of me playing "with" him is for me to sit next to his train tracks while touching nothing.)

He's already in preschool for some hours of the day, and the other hours are spent running errands and encouraging him to play by himself so I can keep the bathrooms, bedrooms, and laundry from devolving into a HazMat situation.

He's not going to be this age forever. One day -- and it will be soon -- he will stop asking me to come play with him. He won't be calling out from the living room to come and see his newest parking lot. His sense of independence will kick in, homework will build up, and he'll choose to spend more and more time on his own or with his friends. In any case, he will choose to be without me.

"Involve your kid in the kitchen!" I hear some of you encouraging via your computer screens. "Make THAT his play time while you cook!" Yeah, I've tried that, and while he's become extraordinarily fond of rifling through the fridge and narrowly avoiding a trip to the ER when he snatches stuff off my cutting board, he could not be less interested in cooking with me at this point.

So when I put off playing with him because I'm so fixated on following some definition of dinnertime ideal? That sucks. Therefore I've decided that there are going to be more boxed mac and cheese nights with baby carrots and more playing together. Less perfection of one sort and more perfection of another.

I do like to cook, but I love being with him.

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Stephanie Vander Weide Lucianovic