Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Pantry Inquisition

I have five kids which means I am constantly outnumbered. Each and every morning I wake up with the looming fear of a potential mutiny on my mind. Sure I run a tight ship but it's not because I enjoy being an uber-organized, Type A personality. I’m simply afraid of the chaos that will ensue if I ever lose my authority.

Take our pantry for example; because it's much more economical to feed the kids myself than eat out, I have to know what seven people are eating for dinner every day, seven days a week. I check our family calendar for events, plan meals accordingly, and write a grocery list every week. This is a huge responsibility as our consumption levels are massive. In fact, our monthly grocery bill is larger than our mortgage. And I shop at discounted stores!

Nevertheless each week I take my meal plan, grocery list, coupons and reusable sacks to the store and perform a modern day version of hunting and gathering. I do all of this by myself because the truth is I would rather go hungry than take my children with me to the grocery store. Sticking to a budget would be impossible with any, or all, of them in tow.

Unfortunately shopping in solace also means I am left alone to unload the tangled mass of grocery sacks at home. On occasion, when the stars are aligned in the universe, I can time my shopping excursions to coincide when the kids are arriving home from school so they can help.

Of course they don't like it. They often fight about the weight of the bags and my son will monitor everyone's participation for fear he might carry one more bag than his siblings. When this happens I get angry and yell something like, "If you want to eat you'll carry these in without fussing!" or "You're lucky I'm even feeding you!" Sometimes that does the trick.

This week however, I had to plan the meals, write the list, go to the store, stay within budget, sack the groceries, load them in the van, haul them home and put them away all by myself. But I'm not a martyr at all.

In our pantry we have a 'snack shelf'. This is a specific location whereby the children can pick out their own food every day after school. With the intent of fostering independence in my children, the snack shelf was actually established so I could avoid losing my mind. Now I don’t get asked five times a day, "What can I eat?" Instead, my children know that midafternoon, if they choose; they can go in the pantry and pick any one of the snacks I've left out.

On the day I went grocery shopping I left two, brand new boxes of snacks on the shelf. When I opened the pantry later in the day to gather ingredients for dinner, I noticed both boxes had been opened. Exasperated at how quickly food disappears in my house I looked in each box to survey the damage. I’m not a mathematician but even I knew this word problem wasn’t adding up: If mother buys two boxes of snacks for the snack shelf and each box contains six items how many snacks will five children eat after school today if each child is allowed one snack? The answer: five.

once cereal spilled & no one knew who did it!
Then why were seven snacks missing?

What happened next is not my proudest parenting moment. I literally interrogated each child, lining them up frantically waving half empty boxes of pop tarts and granola bars in their face. "If you didn't eat this then where'd it go? Huh? Huh?"

I’m ashamed to admit that I never got to the bottom of the mystery of the missing snacks. I thought I could break them but after two hours of investigation I sensed an offense rising in my children. I was entering dangerous territory. No one was fessing up and the harder I pushed the more resistant my children became. They didn't care food was missing and they were refusing to cooperate with me. Also, I think I may have looked a little crazy.

Rather than risk an uprising I decided to drop the case. Not to be beat, I formulated a plan. After the children went to sleep that night, I went to the pantry and hid all the good snacks. “That'll teach 'em!” I said to myself as I left a can of mandarin oranges and a box of saltine crackers on the snack shelf. Because while I'm obligated to feed my children, I don't think the law states they have to like it. Why? Because I'm the mother and I said so! That's why!

This article appears in the Saturday edition of The Daily Review Atlas in Monmouth, IL as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series. If you enjoyed it please consider using the buttons below to share it with your friends!

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