"Mom, what's for dinner tonight?" called my son, Simon, dumping his school bag at the door and sailing into the kitchen.
"Shepherd's pie," I said. I stiffened, waiting for the onslaught of whining, complaining, or nasty proclamations on the horrors of vegetables. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and left the kitchen.
"I was just asking, Mom," he called back. "You didn't need to get all bent out of shape."
My husband raised an eyebrow, but continued to read his paper at the table. I put the spatula down.
I only answered my son's question, but he heard more than my words. He read the way I held my shoulders tight and rigid. He understood my tone of voice - brittle, dry, and ready to crack.
Simon's three brothers had already waltzed into my kitchen with the same question on their lips. Each one vented his feelings at me, pitched his comments into the air like eggs, and expected me to clean up the mess. Simon asked a simple question, but after three combative responses, I was a bit defensive.
I sprinkled the pie with cheese, slid the dish into the oven, and went outside to watch the kids play hockey. I sat on my front step while a street full of kids hollered and swung sticks in the air. They looked serious and intent on the game, but I knew they enjoyed this part of their day best.
I drew my knees up to my chest and hugged them. Why couldn't my children and I act more like friends than people we were forced to endure? And why couldn't I save the better part of myself for my children, rather than the tired, grumpy part?
Life would be very different if I treated my children as guests.
I'd gently close their bedroom doors instead of throwing a temper tantrum when my two oldest boys, who share a room, let the clutter get so bad that it looks like the scattered debris of a tornado.
If I treated my children as guests, I'd ask them what they wanted for dinner, instead of preparing food they disliked. I think they'd soon grow bored of pizza and ask for more variety. They might even offer to cook a meal or two.
My 10-year-old loves to cook, but I shoo him out, claiming he slows me down. If I handed him the apron, I'm sure he'd surprise us both. And chances are, if I allowed my children a role in meal preparation, they'd be less inclined to find fault when I slipped in vegetables once in a while.
If I treated my children as guests, I would encourage them to share their stories with me instead of believing laundry held priority. I'd give them my full attention instead of only one ear. And instead of a spotless kitchen, I'd ensure that self-confidence, excitement, and joy highlighted our evenings together.
I'd call them for supper as if I want-ed them to join me, rather than sounding like an employee finishing one last chore before quitting time. I'd invite them, and they'd accept because they'd see how much I valued their presence. And maybe we'd all take time to savor the food and the company.
The hockey puck soared through the air, slamming into the net and marking the end of the game. The kids on the street jumped and hollered and promised to meet again later that evening.
One by one my children followed me inside. The smell of comfort food cooking in the oven surrounded them, enticed them as they came to their chairs. I carried the speckled casserole dish to the table while my oldest poured the milk.
Soon they'll be driving cars instead of playing hockey. Maybe it is time I enjoyed my children for the people they are and are becoming rather than complaining about how much work it all took.
One by one, our hands moved out of our laps and joined with other hands. The circle complete, we began our prayer for supper, and then a song. As voices rose and fell, I looked from one child's rosy, contented face to another, and I saw something I hadn't seen before. They really were my guests, and I was theirs, too.