I recently calculated how many dinners I have prepared for my three children, who are ages 15, 13, and 9. My best estimate is 5,000. When I cook, I also do their dishes and clean up the kitchen, so I’ve also done that at least 5,000 times. (Although sometimes the kids do bring their dishes to the sink.) If you count the breakfasts and lunches I’I’ve whipped up and cleaned up, we’re getting up to 15,000 meals.
So two recent conversations with the men in my life left me – there’s no kind way to say this – speechless. Which doesn’t happen often.
Both men went to business school with me. One is my husband of 17 years. The other has been a close friend since the first day of B-school. We went to a fine business school where all three of us were studious, ambitious, smarty pants MBA seekers. We’ve all had quite nice careers post business school. We have impressive offices, cool travel stories, and coin in the bank, although my promotions, impressive stories, and piles of dough tail off after about eight years when I moved to part-time work so that I could take care of my kids full-time.
My best friend has four kids. He recently got divorced after a dozen years of marriage to a stay-at-home mom. He travels internationally for long stretches, and his absences took their toll.
One of the interesting things about divorce is that post-split dads have to take care of their kids by themselves, sometimes full-time but at least occasionally. This experience can be quite illuminating.
My friend “had” his kids for a week over Christmas vacation. He was telling me all the lovely anecdotes about their holidays when he paused, conspiratorially, to confess that during all subsequent vacations-with-kids, he planned to hire a maid to come in for several hours each day.
“Leslie, you would NOT believe how much time I spent in the kitchen! Three meals a day for four kids? And I had to clean up too! I must have spent three to four hours a day in the kitchen! A day! Can you believe it?”
He sounded amazed.
I was amazed, too.
Not by the time he’d spent cooking and cleaning. Instead, I was stunned by the fact that my friend, a smart, sensitive, overall outstanding human being who has advised me brilliantly and sympathetically on work and personal matters over the decades, had not realized how hard his wife had been working for all those years taking care of all those kids while he was at the office and racking up all those frequent flyer miles.
How could a smart man be so dumb?
But then my own rooster came home to roost.
About six months ago, after observing that my kids are now old enough to cut their own meat and brush their own teeth, I decided to reclaim one evening a week for myself to do some volunteer work. I picked Sunday nights, because it was the one night I knew my husband would be home to help. I figured it might be a nice change for him and the kids to have their alone time, one night a week, without me.
At first, my husband was enthusiastic. He had long pooh-poohed my dinners of fish sticks and frozen peas, so he enthusiastically planned elaborate, healthier dinners of all fresh, organic, homemade ingredients. Pork tenderloin! Brisket! Roasted potatoes with rosemary and sea salt! Maybe he was even showing off, a bit. I didn’t take it personally. I was just glad to get out of the house.
But a few months into the new Sunday night sanity routine, I came home to one spitting-angry, frustrated husband. He had on an apron. His hair was sticking up in weird places. The house was eerily quiet, as if all three kids had been sent to their rooms hours before.
“I have been cooking and cleaning since the second you left!” he practically shouted as I walked in. I still had on my coat. “Do you know how many pots and pans I’ve cleaned? Look at my hands!”
Sure enough, his fingers were soapy and wrinkled. Dishpan hands if I ever saw them (which I have). Cooking lovely organic meals from scratch does create a lot of dirty pans – which is one of the reasons I like frozen chicken tenders.
But he wasn’t done.
“And you don’t even say thank you! I cooked, I cleaned, I stopped the kids from killing each other! And you don’t even appreciate it!”
Again, my reaction was pure word-stopping amazement. Because in my decade and a half of 5,000 dinners, my darling husband has never once come through the door at night saying “Thank you, dear wife, for cooking, cleaning, and stopping the kids from killing each other while I was away.” Even when he was away for six, seven nights in a row on his very important business trips replete with fancy restaurant waiters and even fancier hotel room maids.
What amazes me most is that my husband, like my friend, never stopped to think how children get fed or how kitchens get cleaned. Kids just get fed and become clean by the time the men get home. Magically. Ditto for doctors appointments when kids fall sick, help finishing division homework, rides to and from volleyball practice, and a series of gravely important and difficult human socialization skills too numerous to list here.
And even now, I’m not sure my husband knows that I’m ahead of him in the dinner department.
Conservative estimate about 5000: 26.