Of the numerous things I was totally unprepared for before becoming a twin mama, the madness of mealtimes and everything associated with them has been one of the most difficult to adjust to. Memories of eating what I want, when I want, pressure-free and in a calm environment that included adult conversation (or blissful silence) with The Hubs seem a million years ago. If a child-free friend asked me what mealtimes involve these days, I would advise them of the following:
1. Children have no patience
I can’t overstate this; when my girls are hungry, the world has to know about it. I try to maintain a schedule (something which has kept me just about sane since they were born) but I often misjudge how long a meal will take to cook, or I’m unorganised and don’t get it started in time, or I’m supremely unorganised and haven’t even decided what they’re going to eat. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same: the twins hanging off the safety gate on the door to our kitchen, crying and screaming, pointing at the oven and basically reminding me what a crap parent I am at that moment. You’d think cooking would be something you could switch your brain off to do, but until you’ve tried cooking while two whirling dervishes do their best to destroy your eardrums, your heart and your sense of self-worth all at the same time, you may not realise just how difficult it is!
2. Children are fickle
As soon as I started weaning the twins onto solid food, I decided that where possible, I’d make my own. I wasn’t Mrs Perfect; the food wasn’t organic or particularly fancy (it mainly consisted of mushed up boiled veg) but I wanted to give them a taste for healthy food, and to introduce them to a variety of flavours. In theory, this would lead to good habits as they got older. Well, what a load of crap! I do still try, where possible, to ensure they eat fruit and veg but quite frankly, they sometimes refuse to eat anything at all, and often turn their noses up at anything healthy in favour of potato-based food (chips, waffles, crisps) or chocolate cake (thanks, Peppa Pig!). And the worst thing? The complete inconsistency. The fact that I think I’ve nailed it one day with salmon, potatoes, peas and parsley sauce and then the next time I serve it, they throw it on the floor/up the wall/in their hair/in my hair. I have a list of food they’ll eat which I pretty much cook on rotation but in reality, they basically live off fish fingers and chocolate.
3. Children don’t care about social etiquette
I very rarely go out to eat with the twins. Yes, it’s partly because money is tight these days but it’s more to do with how stressful I find the whole experience. The lack of patience (see point 1) and strong chance that I’ll pick the wrong meal option for got them (point 2) or that I’ll end up guilt-ridden for choosing a supremely unhealthy option just to keep them quiet (also point 2) means that it’s rarely an enjoyable experience for anyone. I end up embarrassed, the kids end up having a meltdown, and fellow patrons have their meal ruined. Even in a child-friendly place, I end up feeling mortified for the staff, who have to listen to our bullshit and clean up after our gargantuan mess. Eating out with children means that you don’t enjoy your meal and therefore the act of shovelling luke-warm food into your mouth becomes completely perfunctory instead of something to savour. There’s no commenting on the bouquet of the wine or cleansing your pallet between courses when it comes to family dining; it’s a case of get in, order the first thing you see, pre-fill the kids with snacks to keep them quiet while the food cooks (or is boiled-in-the-bag) so that they’re not even hungry by the time the food arrives (a no-win situation), chow down, have an argument with Hubs, shout at the kids, pay (thank you, Contactless Payment!) and leave, in an awful mood, with gripping indigestion and two screaming toddlers. Sound like fun??!!!
4. Children don’t like to stay put
I have no idea at what age kids start to understand that we sit at the table nicely when we eat, but Nearly Two is definitely NOT that age. Our house is small so I got rid of the high chairs ASAP (it’s the legs! They take up so much floor space!) and took great delight in buying the twins a cute little table and chairs set from Ikea. I thought I could teach them how to sit nicely! How bloody hilarious is that??! I’ve gotten over the issue by using those strap-on booster seats on dining chairs at the dining table, but until I thought to do that, mealtimes were supremely stressful because the twins just would not stay put!
5. Children. Eat. Really. Really. Slowly.
Unless the food put before them is chocolate, my twins take an AGE to eat. They investigate every morsel, turning it over, squeezing it, licking it, rolling it along the table (I serve their food on plates but I don’t know why I bother)… Eventually, they indulge me by actually chewing and swallowing one mouthful, and then the food-playing starts again… It takes over half an hour for them to finish playing and decide they’re full. I don’t want to rush them, and I know it’s important to give them that time and that they learn so much through their playing and investigating but honestly, watching them eat makes me die a little inside.
6. Children make SO much mess when they eat
Let me preface this one by saying that both the Hubs and I are rather OCD about mess and cleanliness. Many parents laughed at us when we announced our looming twins simply because of how impossible it would be to maintain our pre-kids standards. Having kids means relinquishing control freak tendencies (or battling with them on a daily basis in my case) and one thing I am simply unable to control is meantime mess. If you’re a relaxed type, who doesn’t mind food on the floor, up your walls, all over the kids, yourself, the ceiling, the sofa, and anything within a 50-mile radius of your slobbering child then parenthood is for you! But if you’re like me, with magnolia walls and an aversion to stains, you’re going to find mealtimes a struggle. I have been asked by a child-free friend in the past how I fill my days. When I’m not at work, they mainly consist of preparing for, sitting through and cleaning up after the twins’ breakfast, lunch and tea. The time inbetween involves washing up (several times in one day), doing laundry (a load a day, minimum), ironing (a weekly treat with music on, I’ll admit), watching Peppa Pig and thinking of educational games to play to alleviate some of the Peppa Pig guilt.
I always like to end my blogs on a positive note and this one is no different: it’s all totally and utterly WORTH IT. Parenthood is bloody hard but the rewards are greater than anything I’ve ever experienced in paid work or anywhere else in life. Just don’t ask me if that’s true when I’m scraping half-chewed Bolognese off the floor, wiping yoghurt out of my hair, or trying to remove chocolate hand prints from the magnolia walls.