Why I Make My Children’s Favorite Meal When They Are Being Awful

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Anne Wolfe Postic)

The other day, I got phone calls from two out of three of my children’s schools. I’ve already violated their privacy enough, so I won’t divulge the content of those phone calls, other than to say no one had broken the law, but no one had won a prize, either. I was annoyed. More than annoyed, mad. Those phone calls made it hard for me to get back to work. Why, then, did I text them to ask what they wanted for supper? And why did I make exactly what they wanted?

I did not enjoy those phone calls. Whether they are or not, the teachers sound like they are judging me and I’m falling short. In my head, I ranted. Why was this my problem? Why can’t children just be good and do what they’re told? Why do they have to have opinions and a desire for control of their own lives? Why? And will they ever get into college? And how will they become productive adults with this kind of attitude?

Then I poured myself another cup of decaf and calmed down. (One of the many reasons I gave up caffeine: It is not soothing, not one little bit, and I didn’t want to become the sort of parent who poured a glass of wine at ten in the morning, because it isn’t really as cute as people think it is. I am not, however, opposed to a healthy slug of it in the early evening, just in time for homework.) Encouraging more rule breaking, I texted both kids.

“What do you want me to make for dinner?”

One of them answered, “Fish tacos.” The other, presumably, did not want to risk having his cell phone confiscated, especially given that he had already met his quota of bad behavior for the day, if not the whole year.

Everyone in our family loves fish tacos, including our youngest son, who at various times has been overheard bragging to his seven year old friends that he ate 12 (or 20 or 23) fish tacos the night before. They might not believe him — or care — but he knows a good meal when he tastes it.

They’re also really, really easy to make. Is it possible the son who asked for them knows this? Is it possible he was trying to make my life a little easier, given that he had already given me enough trouble for one day? I like to think so.

Get my recipe: Fish Tacos at The Shop Tart

When the boys got home, they knew they were in trouble. I told them I didn’t want to talk about it just yet. They each asked what the other one had done. “You’ll have to ask him.” Because brother bonding is always a good thing, right?

They sat down to supper with tentative smiles on their faces, because…fish tacos! Hadn’t they suffered enough? Did I really need to pile on more scolding? Should I let someone else’s frustration with my children transfer to me? It seemed that there was enough anger at the moment, so I served the tacos, saving my own wrath for uncleaned rooms, soccer balls in the kitchen and near empty jam jars, all within my own domain. Would I expect their teachers to yell at them about those things?

I’m not a horrible parent, nor am I the best ever. (Yes, I did pour the aforementioned slug of wine before dinner, and enjoyed a second slug during.) My skills fall somewhere in the middle. The bad behavior did not go unaddressed. During the meal, we kept it light, because why not? I like my kids and, most days, they like me. Why should something that happened away from home ruin a perfectly lovely meal?

When everyone had eaten, we told them what we had to do. Yes, we took away their phones. No, they were not allowed to spend time with friends that weekend. Somehow, the fish tacos made the punishment easier to swallow. They knew they deserved it, but…fish tacos! My very own “spoon full of sugar.”

Thankfully, the obligatory unpleasant conversation was cut short when a friend arrived to see one of the boys. They were working on a science assignment together, so this did not fall under the “no hanging out with friends” umbrella. We made sure they did not have any side conversations and that there was no laughing. Just kidding. (And they did end up getting a good grade on the assignment, so clearly we handled this one just fine.)

Is there a dish that brings your family together? How do you say, “I’m not mad at you. Your day has already been bad enough” with food?