Every now and then a Daily Mail article, or a chef (usually male) will write about the decline in families cooking and eating together and this lapse will inevitably be linked to increased rates in divorce, childhood obesity, cancer and gun crime. I deplore these articles. I have always believed in family mealtimes, in proper cooked food, eaten in the absence of TV, phones or music, where we can talk about our day. The thing is, this idyll depends on a parent being present and able to cook a proper home cooked meal. I haven’t been negligent in these matters. The father of my children was a teacher and as I sat pondering a blue stripe on a stick, one of the pro-parenthood ideas in my mind was, “He’s a teacher, he finishes early and has school holidays off”. I dutifully spent hours teaching him how to cook, but it was all pronounced too much effort and chicken nuggets, oven chips and baked beans won the day when I was late home from work.
But I persist in this fantasy and latterly L and now C are the chefs. We are on holiday this week, so I can be the chef every night. I am therefore a “proper mother”. I ordered Sainsburys delivery three weeks ago, planning nightly meals and desserts, along with accompanying vegetables and fruit. I cook alone, even though L would gladly help. Just you know, to help. Not keep an eye on the olive oil or butter. Just to help.
I call out that dinner is ready. I plate meals and allocate them to places on the table. I turn my back for a second and L has swapped hers with someone else in the hope of a smaller portion. K enters the kitchen and her eyes scan the ceiling for insects. We seem to be hosting The Last Flies in the Whole of Scotland Convention and I have spent evenings demonstrating a range of slaughter techniques. But as I opened a door to air the kitchen as I was so hot, a gnat snuck in and is on the wall. THWACK! My murder weapon of choice, a rolled up Observer magazine takes it out. We commence eating. L picks up each sauté potato and takes it to the edge of her plate, in a life saving technique, away from the pesto and wine sauce that lies on her plate. She cuts out the potato and leaves the skin with it’s tell tale glisten of olive oil. I tell her to dip the potato in the sauce; it is delicious. She looks sourly at me.
K continues to scan the ceiling. Another gnat returns and she runs in alarm. I chase it, with the rolled up magazine. We resume. It comes back and this time appears to dart under the table. I have finished my meal by this time, ever the fast eater, so I kneel under the table, magazine in hand and tell K to sit back down. I am ready, kneeling under the table, with my insect terminating baton raised, while three other people eat on. Family mealtimes eh? They’re what holds everything together….