In my local newspaper, a couple of math geeks pooled together to buy an ad spot every Sunday. Once a week, I crack open that newspaper to see their ‘Einstein’ riddle—you know, the type of riddle where you have five people and all these requirements to figure out who everyone is? Those riddles. Anyway, the first time I saw their riddle, I cracked it in like five minutes. Not because I’m *pushes up glasses* super smart or anything—but because I live that riddle every evening.
I have five children. Chad, Chelsey, Charlie, Chace, and Chelle. Confusing? Good. My ex-husband was the one who named them.
Each child has their own specific tastes and allergies. Chesley is vegan. Chad only eats meat on Monday and Friday. Charlie is allergic to anything that starts with a ‘P’. Chelle won’t eat anything sweet or spicy. Chace eats at seven, two hours after football practice ends. Charlie only eats dinner at eight thirty when her favorite tv show is on. Chesley refuses to have dinner in the same room as anyone eating meat or else she’ll screech ‘murder’ and throw raspberry jam at them like it’s blood--I wish it was blood, it would be easier to get out of Chad’s clothes.
And so on and so on and so it gets worse.
About a month after me and my husband split, when I gained full rights, each kid went up to me and gave me a mini casserole dishes with their names on them and said these exact words to me every time, “can you make my dinner in here from now on?”
I know you’re sarcastically thinking ‘oh the horror!’ by now, but the thing about those dishes is, with five of them in the cupboards, it pushes my big casserole dish to very back. It just sits there in the darkness now, collecting dust.
And so, somehow in the five months since my husband left, the six of us developed a new routine of ‘I make dinner, you take dinner and eat it in your room like a cave goblin’.
“I’m not a cave goblin,” Chelle argues as she holds her bedroom open with one hand, her full mini casserole dish in the other--a sole fork already wedged in and prepped for munching.
I shrug. “I’m just saying, all that time bending over your computer and you’ll have a hunched back in no time.”
She rolls her eyes and closes the door and I can hear her streaming Divas with Dimples on the other side. I don’t even have the time to listen to the theme song before I hear, “MURDERER!” from downstairs. It’s quickly followed by a splat! of raspberry jam against the cupboards-it sounded organic.
“Chelsey!” I roar as I thud down the stairs. “You better be throwing the cheap jam from Lidl!”’
I stare blankly at the jam-coat cupboards as Chad tackles his sister and his casserole dish spills across the floor. Without batting an eye, I step over them, grab the sink’s faucet, and spray them both.
“Mom!” Chad cries as he scrambles off his sister, madly wiping water from his eyes. “What did you do that for!”
“If you’re gonna act like animal’s I’m gonna treat you like animals,” I reply coolly.
“Mom!” Chelsey screeches. “This is cashmere! You have to buy me a new one!”
“Chesley, I bought you that sweater and birthed you, I know you’re lying.”
She huffs and storms out of the kitchen, but before whispering ‘animal murderer’ in Chad’s ear as she left.
“Get back here, Chelsey! You still have to clean up the jam you threw!”
She gives me a glimpse of her middle finger as she turns the corner, so I say to Chad. “Could you be a darling, go down to the fuse box in the basement, and turn off the electricity in your sister’s room for me? I don’t like the crickets down there.”
With a bucket-tooth grin, Chad gives me a salute and sprints down to the basement. “And when you get back up, clean up the dinner you spilled!”
I sigh and glance at the floor. The beef has dust bunnies in it. No way this meal was salvageable. As I roll up my sleeves to go chop more onions for a second dinner, I feel a tiny hand tug on my shirt. “Mom, there’s peas in this,” Charlie says to me. “I’m allergic to peas.”
“Charlie, sweetie, that’s edamame. Not peas.”
His face sours. “Sound gross.”
“Dying of starvation is gross--go eat your dinner.”
Still pouting, he retreats upstairs to the room he shared with Chace. At least they would eat together--accept for Chace not eating dinner at home today because he’s having dinner with the team to celebrate going to stakes.
I sigh again and hold out my arm in the thin hallway connecting the upstairs stairs and basement stairs to snag Chad as he tries to run away from cleaning up his beef casserole. He groans. “Oh come on! Chelsey didn’t clean up her jam!”
“Chelsey also won’t be able to see the inside of her room for the rest of the night, you want to as well?”
Chad grumbles and grabs a sponge.
The doorbell rings. “Hang on, I’ll get it.”
I open the door to find my tipsy, rich best friend holding a half-drunk bottle of wine. “Yeahhhh!” Lindsey slurs. “Heard you’re finally filing for divorce! Let’s toast! Maybe hit the bar to celebrate!”
I can feel Chad peaking at the bottle from the kitchen. My ears turn red and smash my hand in her face, forcing her outside the door. I quietly close it behind us. “What is wrong with you?! You can’t bring alcohol to a house full of kids!”
“Chin up, mi amor,” she slurs and places a hand on my shoulder.
Great, I think. She’s in the Spanish-love phase. That wasn’t the first bottle.
“I called a baby-sitter, we can have a girls’ night!” She cries.
“Baby-sitter? Chad’s almost eighteen, he doesn’t need a baby-sitter.”
“Great, so ditch the ‘sit’ and we’ll go out anyway.”
“Look, tonight just… isn’t a good night.”
“Mooommmm!!! The power’s out!!!!” Chelsey shrieks.
“That’s why,” I answer as I rush back inside to meet a red-faced Chelsey.
“Why is the power out in my room!”
“Why is there still raspberry jam on the cupboards!”
“Why do you keep buying murdered animals!”
My eyes twitch. “Why do you insist on being so difficult?!”
“I’m difficult!” She exclaims. “I’m not the one who drove Dad off! God, you ruin everything! Our lives and the lives of innocent animals!”
With that, she stomps back into her pitch-black room as I stand there. Dumbstruck.
Chad also heads upstairs as Lindsey creeps in through the front door. “That’s rough, mi amor.”
I run my hands through my greying hair. “Lindsey, you have five seconds to sober up or get your drunk ass out of my house. I can’t deal with a sixth child tonight.”
She straightens up immediately. “Sorry.”
“Can you… can you believe she said that?” I ask. “I mean, do you really think I caused Henry to leave?”
“No, I’m pretty sure it was the serious illegal gambling debt he racked up. Which,” she pointed out, “you didn’t even know existed.”
I slouch against the fridge. “Come on, Sharon, you can’t honestly blame yourself here.”
“The kids seem to.” I frantically wave my hands in the air. “And they don’t even talk to me about, you know! They don’t talk to me about anything anymore.” I pause. “We don’t talk at all.” I swerve to face her. “We used to talk all the time during dinner, but…”
Lindsey’s eyes soften. “Being a single mother is tough. Take a swig. You’ll feel better.” And she hands me the wine bottle.
I take the rose and dump it down the sink in one swift move. “Alcohol isn’t going to cure this.”
“And band-aids don’t cure cuts but they do make it feel a hell of a lot better!”
After taking a defeat breath, Lindsey admitted defeat. “Fine, let’s just clean the cupboard before the jam stains.”
“No, Chelsey still has to clean it.”
“Honey, I heard the way that door slammed shut. She’s not coming out of there until tomorrow.”
As I cleaned the cupboard, I noticed that some of the jam had slipped inside. When I opened it up to clean, I noticed my big casserole dish sitting in the corner. A dot of jam touched its edge.
I took it out and ran water over it in the sink, letting more than just the jam rinse off. Months of dust flooded down the drain. By the time I was down, the dish was sparkling like it was brand new.
“You okay there?” Lindsey asks.
“Yeah, just fine,” I answer absentmindedly.
The next evening, around seven, the smell of dinner wafts up to my starving children above. One by one, I hear their feet lumbering down the stairs--even Chesley couldn’t resist. They file into the kitchen, open the oven for their mini casserole dishes, annnddd… find them.
Because there’s only one dish and it’s on the dining table.
Cautious, they trail out of the kitchen to the dining room to find my big casserole dish separated into six sections with tinfoil.
“Sit,” I say. “It’s time for dinner.”
Chesley scoffs. “Are you serious?”
I say nothing, but wait at the head of the table. Charlie scrambles down next to me. “Are you sure it’s okay?” He pokes his section with a fork.
“Yes, Charlie, I mean sure that your section is perfectly untouched.”
Chace saunters up to the table and tries to take the entire casserole dish back to his room--only to find it superglued to the table. “Mom, I have homework to do. I’m busy.”
“You can do it at the table.”
He takes his seat, defeated.
“Mom, what about Divas with Dimples?” Chelle begins.
I hand her an iPad with the entire season already downloaded. She eagerly takes it and sits down next to Charlie. Chad follows suit and now only Chesley is left standing with her arms crossed and lips pursed. “This is ridiculous.”
“This is vegetarian,” I counter.
“Vegetarian?” She repeats, curious.
“Not vegan, Charlie’s still growing and can’t live off that kind of diet, so vegetarian with your favorite tofu.”
She takes a step closer, but doesn’t sit yet.
“Chesley, why don’t you sit down. I know you have some things you wanna talk about--and some things you wanna eat.”
“What’s there to talk about!”
“Chelsey, come eat dinner,” I coax. “Come eat dinner with your family. I know you don’t like Dad leaving, but we’re still here for you.”
She takes the empty seat across from me. “I’m only doing this because it’s my favorite.”
I sigh and smile. Everyone’s here. Sure, it’s stressful and half of my kids aren’t even paying attention to the meal, but I at least made it to the table.
I’ll work on the rest tomorrow, but for right now, I frickin’ starving.