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  • Writer's pictureErin Carenzo

The Unsung Joys of Winging it… and Red Sauce

I was a spectacular parent before I had kids. The fail-safe plan: Travel the world with our young charges in tow (seriously, how hard could it be?), feed them only organic food (hotdogs are organic, right?), and spend our weekends taking family hikes reminiscent of The Sound of Music, complete with show tunes and all the frivolity we could muster.

Some 12 years later, I find myself bathing in the quiet brought about by an excess of Plants vs. Zombies-playing two rooms away. On the video game console I swore we wouldn’t have. On the television in which viewing would be limited. In the playroom with an excess of toys we’d never purchase.

I know, I’m laughing too.

What I’ve learned over the years, besides the fact that boys prefer the sleeves of their sweatshirts to tissues, or that you’ll find those soiled sweatshirts three feet from any laundry hamper, because boys’ clothes and laundry hampers repel one another, is that 99% of parenting is winging it. I mean, I’m winging this blog this very minute, because it’s basically all I’ve been doing for the last 12 years. Years of training in anything theoretically makes you an expert, and I’ve got the golden effigy on the mantle to prove it. Sure, it’s dust-colored gold, but I digress.

I recently saw a Campbell’s soup commercial extolling how easy it was to cook and subsequently share a lovely meal with your children after a harried day at work. A lovely woman I’m sure, misguided though she was, raced in from work, bag of groceries in-hand, and not taking a moment to kick off her stilettos, strode gracefully to her spotless stove, and proceeded to cook a quick & easy meal with red sauce, smiling all the while. Red sauce, I tell you. And then she sat down, I’m guessing for the first time in the better part of her day – because, really – while two laughing children ate this easy peasydinner containing RED SAUCE, AT THE DINNER TABLE.

As this little fable dissolved to the next ill-advised commercial designed to pull at the heartstrings of exhausted moms everywhere, I tried to remember the last time our family had eaten at the table together without someone refusing to eat because his food was too cold, too hot, too smushy, too onion-y, too brown, too gross. Basically, what happens when I serve anything besides a Happy Meal.

I hate to break it to you Campbells, but Oh Dear God are you out of touch. Really. Hold a focus group of 100 moms and ask for a show of hands as to how many have kids who will eat anything not ending in “& cheese” or “nugget” and I promise you the number of moms who can fit in a Prius with car seats installed.

But I give you props for trying. If you ever do want to put together a realistic marketing campaign, just give me a call, and I will happily cook you up a lukewarm bowl of noodles with butter. And I don’t like to brag, but I’m pretty good at kicking it up with a sprinkling of Parmesan, all the while in my stilettos. I promise I won’t even try to sneak in carrots and claim they’re shredded cheese.

I will also promise you that should you actually air this little buttered-pasta bonanza, that the voices of moms everywhere would ring out exclaiming, “Finally!, someone just *gets* me!” Because we all know what starts as, my baby will eat nothing but organic baby food imported from Italy and wear clothing made only of the softest alpaca kittens, eventually turns into:

Me: “Did you eat something?”

Child yelling from playroom: “I had some chips!”

Me: “Great, so you’re good then?” *high-fives reflection in kitchen window on realization that dinner has just become a bottle of red*

Some people call it making peace with imperfection, though I am led more to believe that it’s likely sheer desperation that takes hold, eventually turning organic carrots & tempeh into Lunchables and Jello. It’s just the way it is. I didn’t make the rules.

Some days, the best we can do is a little less best than others. On particularly organized school mornings, for instance, I’ve got papers signed, clothes laid out, lunchboxes and backpacks packed and by the door. On others, I’m digging through the back of the crisper drawers, while fluffing clothes I just found three feet from the laundry hamper.

And there are days when videos games are in fact, the babysitter, because the promise of a few hours of quiet – broken only by minor three-boys-under-12 altercations – feels like the closest thing to nirvana this side of the Xbox. But eventually you learn to placate that nagging voice, the one that says, I really should go outside with the kids and show them how I can kill it at a rousing game of badminton. You’ll reassure yourself that in fact your kids don’t really need a babysitter because they’re old enough to basically look after themselves, so all you’re truly doing is helping them to cultivate their interests, which at the moment happen to be in the realm of weird technicolor alien warfare. And that’s technically a good thing, right? Or is that just me?


Is this thing on??

And there are moments when you are trying to write a blog and your eldest peppers you like a grinder with questions about the Twilight series humming on the television in the background because you made him take a break from the game console. And these are the moments you remind yourself why it was you have the console, and the playroom with too many somethings, and the television in the first place. You just wish you had put that television in the other room. Because some moments that’s just the best you can rally.

And then there are other moments like now, when your 6-year-old is throwing a fit because you forgot to buy mayonnaise at the store. Apparently have you not only ruined his sandwich, but also his entire life.

And it is these flashes in time, these twinklings of an instant really – and hopefully many that are non-mayonaise-dependent – that comprise this thing we call living – in which you, like now, find yourself counting to three, heading to the wine cabinet, and turning to your stove to cook for the small mongrels who live in your house. You know they’re “not hungry,” and you know you’ll get at least one “I need 1 – 20 more minutes, mom!” when you call them to the table, and you know whatever it is you cooked is going to be too spicy or too bland or too (insert color here).

But if all else fails, threaten them with red sauce. Because even if you’re not winning the battle, red sauce can definitely help you win the war.

You don’t even have to take my word for it.

Just ask Campbell’s.

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