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What Dinnertime With Three Small Children Really Looks Like

Photograph by Getty Images

When I was young and childless and dreaming about what my future life and family would look like, the daydreams almost always included a lovely family dinner. I envisioned us all sitting around a great big, beautiful table as we held hands to say grace and went around the table sharing the highlights from our days. In these visions (which I now know to be fantasies), everyone took turns speaking and passed the food around—eager for extra helpings of broccoli casserole—and it very strongly resembled a Norman Rockwell painting.

Fast forward to today.

I'm 32 years old and have three children age 4 and under and well, let's just say that dinner time is a little different than I had once imagined. This is what dinnertime with three small children really looks like:

4:45 p.m. - Oh crap. I forgot to take something out of the freezer for dinner. Hmmm... let's see what I can cobble together from random things in the pantry.

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5:00 p.m. - I start chopping garlic and onions for my potpourri pantry version of soup. It is the witching hour. My husband won't be home for another 45 minutes to an hour.

5:02 p.m. - The four-year-old is screaming and the two-year-old is biting her. I stop chopping and go break up their squabble. They each take some time by themselves, but not before plenty of screaming and tantrums.

5:15 p.m. - Back to chopping.

5:17 p.m. - The baby wakes up from her nap. I get her and nurse her. My bigger children climb on top of me and try to accost their baby sister with kisses. I get breast milk all over my shirt and have to go change.

5:32 p.m. - Come back from changing to my two-year-old son climbing on top of the baby in her swing. She is screaming in protest. I take her out and put her in the baby carrier.

5:40 p.m. - Back to chopping. Eyes are watering from onions. What little makeup that was left on my face smears as I wipe the tears from my face. My hair has been pulled back into a ponytail after getting baby puke in it and having it pulled every 26 seconds while nursing. I'm looking a hot mess.

5:44 p.m. - Two-year-old who is potty training and forgets to point his penis down while sitting in the living room on his potty chair. Pee sprays everywhere. I change his clothes and clean up the mess. I have to take the baby out of the carrier to do clean up. She is displeased about this and lets me know as much. Good thing she's the third child. She eventually resigns herself to more time in the swing.

My daughter is loudly singing in a high and screechy tone. My son is asking if he can be excused on repeat.

5:58 p.m. - While washing my hands from cleaning up the last potty mess, my four-year-old yells to me from the bathroom that she needs help wiping. Loud sigh.

6:00 p.m. - Pour a glass of wine.

6:02 p.m. - Almost done chopping. I hear more screaming. The children are fighting over an imaginary "purple thing." My son pretended to take the invisible "purple thing" away from his sister and she has a meltdown. I solve it by handing her another invisible "purple thing."

6:04 p.m. - Add more wine to my glass.

6:05 p.m. - My husband comes home during the rare moment of happy silence and opines about what a nice evening we seem to be having. (Eye roll.)

6:07 p.m. - Husband takes the kids outside so I can finish dumping cans of beans into a pot, saute a couple of things and call it soup.

6:20 p.m. - Ask 4-year-old to set the table. Have her pretend she can't hear you. Walk over and look her in the eye and tell her to set the table. She agrees begrudgingly and with some huffing.

6:30 p.m. - Dinner is finally ready. Everyone comes to the table.

6:32 p.m. - Both kids complain that soup is "not our favorite" and ask for something else. We tell them no. They ask to be excused. We tell them that this is family time and they don't have to eat but they can sit with us anyway.

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6:34 p.m. - Fulfill requests for more water.

6:35 p.m. - Come back to two-year-old is splashing in his soup and throwing the vegetables on the ground. Get up to get more napkins.

6:37 p.m. - Two-year-old's spoon falls on the ground. Get up to get a new spoon.

6:40 p.m. - Baby is ready to eat again. Too bad I can't do the same. I bring her to the table and prop her on a nursing pillow attempting to simultaneously nurse and eat soup. My boobs are on full display and I spill soup on her head and my shirt. At least the soup was cold by this point.

6:42 p.m. - My daughter is loudly singing in a high and screechy tone. My son is asking if he can be excused on repeat. My husband has tried to tell me the same story four times, but we keep getting interrupted by loud children.

6:45 p.m. - We both give up on the children eating any of their dinner and excuse them from the table. They bicker in the background as we make a futile attempt at a conversation. I take a large gulp of wine and decide that tomorrow we'll be ordering takeout and thank the Lord above that bedtime is coming soon.

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