Back in the bad old days, when I had a cute little baby and an Internet connection, I got sucked into the usual way of having children, which is that you have to do stuff with them. You have to take them hither and yon. You have to trot them off to the library so they can tear the books off the shelves and burst into tears when you stop them from tearing the pages. You have to dress them up in strange outfits and let them toddle around big, bright noisy rooms—that’s called Dance. You have to have play dates. And then, as they grow up and you add to their number, you realize that you have to provide them with more than all that, whatever all that was, and educate them.
So I’ve been homeschooling for a lot of years now. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the way it is. I’ve learned that I like being with my kids. I like the rhythm and order of learning together and being around each other all day. What I don’t like is all the other stuff—the music lessons, the activities, the running around after everyone’s true dream of happiness. It’s not that any of those things are bad; actually, they’re all fun and interesting. But, and here’s where the universe hates me, they mostly all happen at Night. Or rather, The Evening. Yea, even The Dinner Hour.
So what you do is you wake up in the morning, you muscle your kids through a day of spelling and math and general learning, you feed them breakfast and lunch, you nod to your husband in a friendly way at some point, and then, suddenly, there it is, Four O’Clock, or, worse, Five. And you didn’t plan. (Obviously I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about me, but let’s keep pretending anyway.) You should have thought about the week in an orderly way that considered all the known factors. You should have been on top of it. But let’s not kid around. Most of the time, even if you did have a plan, something terrible would always happen to interrupt it.
So, there you are. It’s Four O’Clock, the hour of everything coming apart at the seams; the hour you realize there is a Bible study, fencing, and nobody has yet managed to practice the piano; the hour you discover that if you don’t get dinner on the table in thirty and a half seconds nobody will have time to eat it.
This has been my life for the last ten years.
I love to cook. I love to fuss around in the kitchen chopping lots of different bits of things and throwing them into my great and beautiful frying pan, splashing vodka liberally over it all as it melds together. (Did you know? Vodka is a wondrous cooking liquid. Whatever strange thing you happen to fling together, vodka will marry it to itself in the most extraordinary way. It’s like magic, or the favor of the gods.) But if you start doing this at Four O’clock with an angry baby attached to your hip, a whining child lying on the floor, an anxious preteen unable to find her sword, a little boy who can’t possibly miss another batting practice, and a stressed husband who has to be back to church in forty-five minutes, you will probably find, as I did, that you can’t any longer go near the kitchen without anger and heart palpitations. I think there’s a medical word for that but I don’t even want to think about it.
And remember, I’m not from here, so all these wretched dinner hours have chafed against my already contrarian, culturally alien sensibilities. Over time I’ve come to not just to be tired of but to resent being shoved around by the tyranny of evening activities. Thus it was that I found myself angrily pulling weeds in my beautiful garden, not able to see past the loneliness of always rushing, resentful over never getting to have a whole conversation because of the next thing always being down my throat, ready to cry, when my husband, who was drinking something cool and delicious, looked up from his Greek New Testament and said, “We should try having lunch.”
“Sure,” I riposted, rubbing dirt in my face thinking to wipe away the tears. “Like we can get away for lunch.”
“Not get away,” he said, “we should have lunch here. Together.”
“What, like with everyone?” I leaned back on my heels and prepared to argue for sanity. “That sounds nuts.”
“No, listen. We stop having dinner. We have lunch, instead, together.”
“No more dinner?” Hope began to dawn.
“No more dinner. Just lunch.”
“Well,” I said, “that sounds very interesting. No More Dinner. That sounds very interesting.”
We started the next week. I went alone to ALDI, list in hand, and considered what kinds of interesting items might be worthy of Lunch. Baked Chicken. Pork Chops with Mushrooms and a splash of cream and the aforementioned vodka. White Fish Lightly Simmered in Béchamel. I could go on and on.
Within a week we were calling it Luncheon. As the summer wended its warm way through our lives, every Sunday evening, lying back on the couch, covered in cookbooks and bits of paper, I would ask, “What shall I cook for Luncheon this week?” My familial throng would smile upon me and suggest outrageous possibilities. Latkes. Frittata. Delicate Lamb Meatballs with Tzadziki and Flatbread. I could go on and on.
It was the golden dream of stress-free living. But it was also summer, so I was nervous about starting school, about being shoved out of the kitchen by stress and anxiety. Many conversations were undertaken to sort out how I could do all the school and still stop everything in the middle of the day for this blissful moment. But by that point, we were sold; there was no going back. It had become our new rhythm.
Now I wake up to the sounds of all the children helping themselves to breakfast—cereal and toast—and banging away on the piano. I write and work out and descend into the chaos in a reasonably quiet frame of mind. I administer spelling tests, I read and am read to, I admonish the occasionally indigent child to apply more attention and focus to the subject at hand, and then, as the clock approaches noon, I arise with an air of gracious majesty and enter my proper domain, the kitchen. And there, in quietness and peace, I cook something.
Yesterday, because I knew I needed to be about my business in a timely way, I pulled a capacious pot from the soothing cool of my fridge, placed it lovingly on my stove, and turned on the heat. Inside was half a pork roast, cubed and succulent, and half a head of cabbage, chopped and mellowed with chickpeas. Soup, in other words, and golden brown rolls ready to be heated in the oven. The soup came back up to the boil, the bread softened and warmed, and the aromas wafted aloft to the heavens, gathering us all together for Luncheon.
What was essentially a moment of cultural defiance has turned out to be something abundantly gracious and life-giving. No longer rushing from one thrown-together sandwich to the next, from hasty and exhausted conversation to activity, we all sit down and rest a while. We talk about the morning’s work. We chew our food all the way. We have the time to savor, by single moments, the feasting joy of the heavenly kingdom I constantly long for. There is a hymn, in my battered hymnal, that is properly the vision of the person who is not from here, nor from anywhere, but who looks forward to a moment of unharried rest: “The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days; O may thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise. There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come; no more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.”
Readers coming over from Anne’s blog at Patheos, welcome.