I started to cook for a very basic reason: I love to eat. But eating with a family is never simple. It can be stressful. As a kid, I can remember how chaos reigned over my brothers and sisters at the dinner table each evening, until my father’s feet thumped up the back stairs of our suburban home. As soon as I heard his footsteps, I would straighten my fork, tuck my napkin, and wipe that smirk off my face. He ruled the home and had little tolerance for any kind of disorder.
My household is a little different. There are no back stairs to our apartment, and like many modern dads, I don’t consider myself king and I don’t consider my children subjects, objects, or things to be seen and not heard. They are individuals. People who deserve a voice.
If anything, parents these days run the risk of going too far in the other direction. There’s precious little separation between the child and the parent. A generation ago, the concept of helicopter parenting didn't exist. When I left for university, I didn’t speak to my parents once between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe once, but not every other day.
I was reminded the other night how great the distance is between the child and the parent. We were at the table for Sunday night dinner. I wanted a nice, sweet moment when we would all be together, but Nina and Pinta were having a hard time sitting in their seats. I told Nina to stop squirming in her chair. Pinta, who is three-years old, thought this was hilarious. She burst out laughing. “Squirming, squirming, squirming” she exclaimed. Of course, they were then moving around even faster than before I said anything.
Eating (and cooking) for me right now is even more complicated. We are under enormous stress in our lives because we need to find a new place to live. When I should be cooking (and even when I should be working), I'm running around looking at frightening Brooklyn rentals. If it isn't the price that is scary, it's the cracks in the bathroom tile. This search doesn't make my life any easier.
The humorist Robert Benchley gives instructions on how to eat in the following short film, from 1939. The role of the father has changed substantially since his time, but the underlying dynamic is the same--you really need to relax. Maybe this will help.