It’s not that I ever went hungry, but I was always hungry for more. More of what was forbidden, like my own whole sandwich instead of splitting with my brother, the lure of getting soda instead of water, the thought of going to a sit-down restaurant with all the breadsticks I could eat. Food was a treasured commodity that soon became a fixation in my mind. And although I didn’t recognize it at the time, what I was really hungry for was a meal that was about so much more than just food. Somewhere along the way, a home-cooked meal became a symbol to me of how love should look — hearty, overflowing and warm, like a comforting bowl of mashed potatoes.
When I met my husband, I envisioned a life as a family where fast food would not be a norm, where we would sit down every single night together to a table lined with bounty, where we would give thanks and talk about our day, where fresh, nutritious food would feed our bodies and our hearts. Fast forward a few years and my dream has come true, thanks, primarily, to my husband’s culinary skills. We never miss a family meal together, through night shifts and crazy work schedules and crying babies, our table filled to the brim with homemade jam, sweet corn we planted in our backyard, fresh eggs from the chicken I raise.
All is perfect, except for one teeny, tiny, minor detail:
My children refuse to eat any of it.
Oh sure, one of the four of them might throw down some jam on a buttery roll or take a bite of my husband’s family recipe for Ukrainian paprika chicken and buttery, dumpling-like noodles. But as a general rule, there is not one food we prepare that will cause their eyes to light up in the way mine would have to see such a feast at our table. There is not a single dish that brings out that vision of the happy, picture-perfect family eating dinner together that I once dreamed of.
Instead, our family meals look, disappointingly, quite imperfect. They are peppered with whines (“I don’t like that, Mom!”), pleas for cereal instead of the offered meal and dramatics from a certain 4-year-old that I would actually find quite impressive if they weren’t directed toward gagging over my perfectly roasted herb and lemon chicken.
For so long, I felt a rage well up inside of me at my children’s refusal to appreciate what was being offered to them. Could they not see that I was serving up my love to them in that pan of coffee cake after I had picked the bright rhubarb from our backyard?