Ask any parent about one of their worst times of day, and a good chunk of them will say the hour right before the family dinner. Between me trying to figure out what to make for dinner and the boys coming out of their homework haze, family dinner chaos rolls into our household right on schedule, like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” (Imagine Osbourne’s maniacal laughter—“ALL ABOARD! Hahahaha.”)
With two teens in the house, I figured I would have mastered this time of day about a decade ago. Nope. Come along for just a snippet of a ride on the Family Dinner Crazy Train.
30 minutes before dinner
It starts out quietly enough, with Parker playing video games in the family room and Trevor upstairs in his bedroom just chilling out. I put on a smooth jazz station in the background to create a relaxing ambience for dinner.
I’m up to my elbows in raw chicken when Parker texts me from 15 ft. away asking for a drink of water. Yeah, let me scrub the E. coli off my hands to serve you a drink just so you don’t have to pause your video game.
As I ignore Parker’s dying thirst and continue my multi-tasking dinner prep, I ping-pong back and forth (with butcher knife in hand) between the refrigerator, the stove, and the sink, as our fat cat Shadow repeatedly darts between my feet and trips me. I think he’s secretly trying to kill me.
“Would someone please feed the cat?” I call out to no one in particular, hoping someone will rise to the challenge. (No one does, of course, but a mom can dream, can’t she?)
25 minutes before dinner
The phone rings.
With raw chicken still coating my hands like a mitten, I grab the phone with my elbows, slide it onto the counter, and press the speakerphone button with a spoon. It’s Kevin calling to chat during his 45-minute commute home. As I listen to Kevin vent about some guy who just cut him off, I realize I forgot to start cooking the jasmine rice. Crap.
The doorbell rings.
“Parker, can you please answer the front door?”
“I can get the front door, but will I?” Parker responds in his trademark wise-guy tone.
Parker answers the door and politely rejects some guy hawking his pressure-washing services. Yes, 5:30 p.m. is a great time to go door-to-door promoting your small business , young entrepreneur. Let me abandon my stir fry while I come talk to you about my moldy sidewalks.
Meanwhile, Shadow continues to work our kitchen like a pinball machine, ricocheting from my leg to the fridge to the cupboard and back again.
20 minutes before dinner
“Parker, can you please feed the cat?” I ask again.
“I fed him in the morning,” Parker replies with split-second timing.
“No, you were supposed to feed him in the morning, but you forgot, so I fed him. Can you please handle it before I trip over Shadow and stab myself with the knife?”
We continue to verbally volley about whose turn it is to feed the cat and how it’s not fair that he has to do Trevor’s job and Shadow’s not really hungry yet and he’s so fat that it wouldn’t hurt if he skipped a meal.
“FEED THE CAT NOW!” I bellow above the freakin’ smooth jazz that’s starting to irritate me.
“O-KAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!” Parker replies, drawing it out into a five-syllable word and rolling his eyes as he walks by.
Don’t push my buttons, boy, or I will grab you with my E. coli hands.
It takes Parker 4 seconds to feed the cat. We argued about it for 5 minutes.
15 minutes before dinner
As I start cooking the stir fry, I ask, “Hey boys, can one of you set the dinner table?”
“It’s not my job,” they both reply in unison.
We’ve had a chore chart on our refrigerator since 2005. Apparently, it’s never anyone’s job.
“Trevor, it’s your turn. Please set the table.”
“Okay,” I hear in a muffled voice from upstairs, instinctively knowing that Trevor will not come downstairs anytime soon.
Suddenly, I hear a small voice coming from our counter, like a page right out of Horton Hears a Who. I forgot I was still talking to Kevin on speakerphone, as I catch the tail-end of his frustrations with the no-jeans policy at work.
10 minutes before dinner
“TREVOR, SET THE TABLE!” I yell upstairs again.
I pour myself a glass of wine to
ease the stress I feel creeping into my shoulders enjoy with dinner.
5 minutes before dinner
Trevor finally comes downstairs to set the table, which he does one-handed because he’s watching a YouTube video on the cell phone in his other hand.
“Phone away, Trevor,” I tell him.
He looks up at me, unplugs one earbud and asks, “What?”
“Put your phone away. You’re down with the family now. Time to interact.”
Apparently, Trevor confuses “interact” with “pick a fight with your brother,” as he walks over to Parker, laughs at one of his video game moves and kicks off our daily family drama that rivals an episode of Mob Wives. Bickering ensues, insults fly and name-calling spirals out of control just as Kevin walks through the door and I greet him with, “STOP CALLING YOUR BROTHER AN IDIOT! THAT’S IT! YOU LOSE VIDEOGAMES FOR A YEAR!”
“Geez, Mom, stop overreacting,” Parker says. “You don’t have to bite my head off.”
And there it is. I officially reach the Crazy Train destination of (bat)-head-biting Ozzy. I’m thinking he was probably inspired to write his song lyrics after watching Sharon try to cook the family dinner one night:
“Mental wounds not healing
Driving me insane
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.”