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HEATHER HUYBREGTS: Planning an adult dinner party while juggling kids is no easy feat

"It’s an imperfect science, this 'fine dining'."
"It’s an imperfect science, this 'fine dining'." - 123rf Stock Photo

Have your cake and eat it too?

I love to cook. But I have kids. So meal prep often involves dumping frozen french fries onto a baking sheet and putting PB&J on things.

Nonetheless, last night we had friends over and, together, we planned and prepared (and devoured) a four-course meal, complete with dish-appropriate booze.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the freedom to spend an entire evening with adults (adult-aged people), drinking, laughing - not cooking chicken nuggets. So maybe I was being a little fanciful when envisioning how the big day would unfold...

There would be mid-day mimosas and we would be wearing the crispest of white slacks. At some point, we’d be smelling fresh herbs in what appears to be an Italian countryside. Once back home in our trendy, spotless and impeccably-decorated studio apartment, we’d throw on our favourite vinyl (I don’t even own a record player), fire up the stainless steel gas stove (also does not exist) and create a culinary masterpiece. And, while there was nothing overly idealistic about my plans for us to dance around the kitchen, sampling various delicious sauces on big wooden spoons, and slow-motion laughing with our eyes closed, I knew these visions were subject to change.

What was the potential hurdle, you ask? A two-year-old. And a six-year-old.

I found myself apologizing, incessantly, on behalf of the world’s procreators.

On the eve of my culinary adventure, my husband informed me that he would have to work the next day. I would be on my own with the children. Easy peasy!

The next morning, our kitchen counter was still strewn with dishes and food bits from the night before. The children had muffins (cupcakes) for breakfast while I frantically started scrubbing things. Slowly, the countertops and floors resurfaced and the living space went from smelling like a hamster-cage-in-the-washroom-of-a-condemned-hostel to smelling like a clean-ish human home. Content, I ran upstairs to dress - I was gone for maybe two minutes - and returned to the entire contents of the playroom dumped onto the living room floor. I chose to unsee it and we headed out.

I asked my friend and co-chef, S, to meet me at the playground so I could run the children - yes, like dogs - while we brainstormed. We could barely hear each other. Standing in a sea of swarming, screaming children, S was yelling something about pinot noir at me when the two-year-old got clotheslined by an eight-year-old. A random kid started grilling me with so many questions I wondered who he was working for. My toddler’s nose ran incessantly; thankfully, S surrendered her last tissue, with which I successfully smeared the snot up his face and toward his eye before he ran away.

S does not have kids, so I found myself apologizing, incessantly, on behalf of the world’s procreators.

"Wanna play a fun game? Carry four bottles of wine and attempt to chase and capture a defiant two-year-old who’s zig-zagging his way through the glass labyrinth of a liquor store."
"Wanna play a fun game? Carry four bottles of wine and attempt to chase and capture a defiant two-year-old who’s zig-zagging his way through the glass labyrinth of a liquor store."

Getting the youngsters from the playground to the grocery store was easy; they just first needed to try each of the five seesaws. And the toddler did that adorable thing where he throws his arms in the air and arches his back each time I try to lift him. S watched, helplessly, as we did this delightful, slippery-worm dance all the way back to the car with the toddler shrieking, “I don’t WIKE da wed car!”. My sciatic nerve was zinging with all the back-bending fun.

Safely back in da wed car, the children struck up an impassioned verbal battle about who gets to hold the (totally random) rock. There was the briefest moment of silence when the baby paused to drop a timely deuce.

We made it to the grocery store. In the time it took for me to discover there was no fresh mint, the children had touched all the vegetables and stolen two apples which were well-chewed by the time I realized what was happening. Luckily, we were handed get-out-of-jail-free (free fruit) cards by a lovely woman who gave me “I feel your pain” eyes.

I briefly lost the toddler in the liquor store and found him in the beer cooler, just as he was picking his stolen apple off the floor and continuing to eat it. Wanna play a fun game? Carry four bottles of wine and attempt to chase and capture a defiant two-year-old who’s zig-zagging his way through the glass labyrinth of a liquor store. I was feeling all kinds of warm-and-fuzzy; it may have been a blood-pressure thing, but I’m pretty sure it was just the “magic of motherhood” they talk about. Speaking of which, is the “magic of motherhood” supposed to feel like angina? #askingforafriend

Did I want to lie, face-down, on the cold bathroom floor and weep with gratitude (exhaustion) after the morning? Sure.

I managed to get the kiddos and those precious bottles out of the store and across a busy parking lot to the car. The toddler refused to hold my hand, so I made sure to walk close enough to gently knee some part of him with each step while repeating the word “danger” in my scary-mom voice so he wouldn’t bolt. Which is just as safe. I used to judge parents who had their kids on leashes. Now, I salute them.

A quick trip to Subway (the toddler didn’t touch his sandwich, but he did spend 15 minutes trying to balance an open bottle of apple juice on the crack between the two tables while deadpan staring at two gentlemen who were just trying to enjoy their lunch) and we were home and ready to start the food prep. Did I want to lie, face-down, on the cold bathroom floor and weep with gratitude (exhaustion) after the morning? Sure. But did I? Momentarily. Then: game on.

Eight action-packed hours later, the children were in bed and we were starting the first of our four courses. Black bean soup with sherry. Ok, so we forgot to add the sherry. But it was delicious. As was the roasted beet salad with toasted walnuts and fried goat cheese. We made homemade pasta! And we drank all the wines!

It’s an imperfect science, this “fine dining”. As is this parenting gig. The house did not stay tidy; nowhere close. The soundtrack was less “New York jazz” and more “mommy, mommy, mommy”. But funny how, in hindsight, reality is so much more hilarious and - dare I say? - better than the fantasy.

Perhaps we parents CAN have our cake and eat it too; albeit, cake that has been dropped on the floor and is covered in hair and tiny fingerprints.

Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger, wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, NL. Her column appears biweekly.

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