We started off as a couple of young college kids who’d said “I do” and moved into a rather unimpressive trailer close to campus. Chris did landscaping and work-study and I worked as a nanny. Our combined checks were as unimpressive as our abode, but hey, it was home. We had each other and that was the big thing. Most days at that time, we shared the first and last meals of the day.
We split the cooking pretty evenly, depending on who felt more up to it. Chris genuinely enjoyed cooking and was good at it. He had worked fast food as a cook while in high school and had liked making new combinations for his coworkers. I remember him making us fried pickles, grilled chicken, taco chicken rice, or chili. If it was my turn we would likely have pasta, hamburger helper, or soup. On the weekends he or I would make breakfast—muffins from a mix or Belgian waffles from scratch. He’d make omelettes for himself, I’d have bacon. It was just the two of us so to offset the problem of too much in the way of leftovers, we often invited friends over. This was an easy fix of course because other poor college students are more than happy to come over for free home-cooked food.
We remained a family of two for over six years. Year five I started working night shift and we fell into a good rhythm with meals. If it was a night I was working and Chris was home, he would make dinner for us. During my days off, I cooked. We were nothing if not a good team. We were well-versed at preparing meals with two adults in mind. Then Abbi came along during year six and of course for several months all she needed was milk. She couldn’t even really start eating much table food until after she was 14-15 months old because at one year she only had 2 teeth! So having Abbi hadn’t changed much in meal prep for adult food.
I was widowed when Abbi was 16 months old and still really just beginning to eat table food. She didn’t eat a whole lot, though—she was a dainty little thing. Suddenly I was left trying to figure out what to do at mealtime. After eight years of preparing meals for two adults, trying to cook for 1.25 people was difficult. I could cook a meal, sure, but my toddler was likely to reject it. Even if she ate it, I was going to be left eating the same thing for a week. It was tricky. It was tough to be motivated to cook in the first place, and then there was that annoyance of too much food, potentially throwing it away later, and the guilt of that. Catch 22.
Three weeks after my husband’s death I was hauling my pregnant self back to work, three 12 hour night shifts per week. I needed to earn some paid time off for maternity leave after all. It was summer which meant my mom and mother-in-law were taking turns keeping my daughter while I worked and slept. Whichever one was there would prepare meals and fold laundry in addition to childcare. Once the school year began, though, I didn’t have another adult around in the home. This meant all the meals fell on me through the week. My daughter had a daytime sitter so I could sleep between shifts and a nighttime sitter while I worked. Is it any surprise that the drive-through window became my friend? Those hectic 3 hours between sleep and clocking in I had to shower, feed the two of us, pack her overnight bag, and drive thirty minutes to her sitter/the hospital.
Our life became so much on the go. After Aurora was born, add the fact that I was now caring for and nursing a newborn, too. Two kids under two years is no joke under the best of circumstances… and mine was definitely not that. Who had time to cook? If there was food on the table that I’d “cooked” it came from the freezer section and was heated up in the microwave. Much of the time, though, my meals came from a drive through. It wasn’t always the horrible fast food stuff—I did order a lot of Panera salads for myself if I had time to sit at a table and eat. I will say a lot of Dairy Queen burgers made their way into my mouth as I drove down the highway to work.
Dishes, too—they are part of the whole eating out equation. Washing dishes was always my least favorite household chore and it goes along with cooking. The beautiful thing about not cooking is that there are fewer dirty dishes to wash. During my marriage I was quite spoiled—the years in which my house did not have a dishwasher Chris took full responsibility for that chore. In the years when we did, we shared the job.
Even now, my children no longer babies, I eat out a lot. Yet it is a complete gamble making a meal for my girls right now, who are 2 and 4. Just because they liked it 5 days ago doesn’t mean they will eat it today. I might have leftovers for a week. It is simpler to just go to a restaurant and get something I know we all like, in appropriate single-servings.
That’s not all there is to it, though. It’s multifaceted. Part of it is, I love ethnic food and it’s simpler to let the Thai, Indian, or Greek restaurant make it for me than try to do it myself. It may not even be food of a different culture, but it might be the joy of eating something that someone else makes so much better than I can pull off myself. For example, my pancakes will never measure up to the ones at IHOP.
Then there’s the fact of the loneliness inherent to widowhood. On days when both the girls are at daycare/school, it can be nice to be out with the people. As an extrovert, even sitting in a restaurant and interacting with a waitress is nice. Having the noise of the other people and seeing them around is helpful. Being out of the quiet empty house is good for me. Personally, human interaction is truly an antidepressant.
I may be seen to eat out, order in, or drive-through more than is prudent. Don’t get me wrong, I am not running myself into the ground financially by doing so. Things would be different if we were a two-parent household—if we could share the load. We’re not. Things would be different if we were a two-parent household and could share the eating. We’re not. Thus since what we’re doing now is working for us, it’s what we’re going to do… and I’m not going to feel bad about it.
“I’ll take a Pad Thai with shrimp at a 10…”