“Daddy! You forgot to clean up Annie’s pee!”
I pause from washing the dishes and turn around. Yes, son, you are right. I think it’s pretty well self-contained on the chair, though. Just step around it if you need to. “We’ll get to it,” I tell him.
Often Rachel is up against a choice. Wash the dishes throughout the day, or spend time with the kids. Today she chose rightly, and soaked in each moment with the children, setting up Micaela to iron washcloths and napkins, and to sew little clothing for her animals.
On the kitchen counter are precariously stacked piles of dishes, knives, and pots. Some soaking in water, others crusted over with dry soup or hamburger fat.
On some days this mountain would make me tired just looking at it. But today, not so. Just seeing my wife and children smiling when I walk in the door from work is satisfaction and fuel enough to handwash, piece-by-piece a days worth of dishes.
Emeth runs into the kitchen again. “Daddy! I’m all done getting ready for bed! Can we watch Pete Seeger now?”
“If mommy wants to. I need to finish up washing.” They finish brushing their teeth, and head upstairs to watch Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest on YouTube. It’s Johnny Cash and June Carter tonight.
The kitchen is quiet now, and I fall into a reverie, laughing to myself over the insanity of the last few hours.
* * * * *
“What can I do, love?” I ask Rachel as I enter the kitchen and started cleaning out my lunch containers from my backpack. I’m fresh home from work, still chilled from the sub-freezing walk home from the train.
She looks up, smiling, and says, “The only thing left to do is make the hamburgers. The soup is going over here, and sweet potatoes are in the oven.”
“Do you want some time upstairs?” I ask.
“Yeah, if that’s alright,” she says, with another smile. I can tell she is eager for some uninterrupted thought. She goes upstairs, and I survey the aftermath of the day.
Let’s see. There are two pounds of ground beef thawed over there. The sink is full of dishes, and…
“Daddy, what can I do?” Emeth asks. Then, in unison, Annie and Micaela ask the same thing.
…and now I have three children who want to help.
Before I can answer, I have three children chanting at me. Daddy, what can I do? Daddy, what can I do. It’s a game time decision. Focus. Don’t lose momentum now. One thing at a time.
“Do you guys want to help make the hamburgers?” I ask.
“Yeah!” they yell in simultude. Annie is already standing on a chair at the counter. The other two begin to pull their chairs over. I open the ground beef and plop it into the metal mixing bowl.
“Mix it?” Annie asks, rolling up her sleeves, ready to plunge into the raw meat.
“Just wait!” I say. We need to get the spices in first. Should I let her do this? I envision raw meat dripping down her arms, while trying to make sure the other two don’t wipe their hands on their clothes.
“Let’s use a spoon,” I say.
She gets off her chair and runs over to the utensil box, grabbing a baby spoon. She brings it back over.
“No, Annie, a big, wooden spoon,” I tell her.
“Wood spoon!” she exclaims, holding up her baby spoon. She moves it toward the bowl, while looking in my eyes for approval.
“No! Just wait!” I’m still trying to buy time, not sure if I should let her revel in ground beef glory.
I turn the burner on and grab an onion out of the fridge, then head for the spices. Salt, pepper, oregano, and mustard. And, oh yes, how about a little marjoram. That should go nicely. I chop the onion and dump it into the mixing bowl.
“Mix it?” Annie asks.
“Not yet! Let’s put the spices!”
One-and-three-quarter teaspoons salt. Grind the pepper. Sprinkle oregeno and marjoram, and squirt out the rest of the German mustard. I close the lid and bang it hard onto the kitchen counter. Bang, bang, bang. I open it back up, spritzing out what remains. Not wanting to waste a drop, I twist off the cap and dig my finger in deep, wiping the sides.
All is ready. I hesitate to give the command, but there’s no turning back. Dinner must go on. “Okay, Annie,” I say, nodding toward the mixing bowl.
Annie’s eyes light up, and she digs her hands into the mash of ingredients.
“Daddy, can I put them in the pan?” Micaela asks.
“No! I want too!” Emeth counters.
“You both can,” I say. All hands on deck.
I start to make little round balls of meat for each of them to form into a hamburger, but Annie is not interested, and prefers to squish the meat between her fingers.
As they fill up the pan, the meat drippings begin to splatter dangerously over the edge. “Watch out for the grease,” I say. But it’s too late. While Micaela tosses her meat patty onto the pan, the grease reciprocates, giving her a high five.
“Ow!” she says. But there is little time to assess the damages. Is it bleeding? No. Swelling or redness? No. Good. Nothing serious. Back to slapping patties on the pan.
The first pan is quickly filling up, so I grab a second, smaller pan, and put it on the back burner. I transfer four patties from the front to the back, to make room for the children to put some more on.
“Daddy, I want three hamburgers since I’m three. Then when I’m four I’ll have four hamburgers!” Emeth says.
“So that means I can have twenty-nine?”
“I want twenty-two!” Micaela yells.
“How many are on the pan?” Emeth asks.
“One, two, three…” I count as fast as I can, pointing to each one as I go, “…twelve, thirteen, fourteen!”
“Fourteen for me! Wait, I think you skipped one,” he says. I count again, even faster.
After a few seconds of watching them cook, he says, “Daddy, I think they are done now. Flip them!”
I check the underside, not charred yet, but we’ve got another ten or so to cook, and time is crucial. I flip them over in the spattering fat.
Another few minutes pass, and I’m ready to take them off the pan. Where should I put them? Hmm… maybe in this greasy, glass bowl sitting at the back of the stove.
The bowl is hot from conducting heat, so I grab an oven mit and pick it up. I scoop the burgers two or three at a time with my little bamboo spatula and dump them into the bowl. Oh. Some fat is dripping over the side. Maybe I should lick it with my tongue. “Ah!” It’s hot, you idiot. You are wearing an oven mit.
Every bud on the top of my tongue is now seared.
“Can we do more?” Micaela asks.
Yes, more. I start forming more burgers for Emeth to put on the pan, while Micaela, standing on the back of Annie’s chair, reaches around her for some more, while Annie continues to dig her hands deep, squeezing it through her fingers.
“Annie, no!” I yell. Chunks of meat begin to fly outside of the mixing bowl, and a large chunk lands in the butter. I grab it out.
Finally, the rest of the burgers are on. And we take a minute to breath. Emeth gets down from his chair, grabbing the back of it. It doesn’t occur to me until that moment, smears of meat on the back of the chair, that these children are walking petri dishes.
“We need to wash our hands!” I yell. I scoot Annie’s chair over to the kitchen sink. Her sleeves fall down, and she grabs one to pull it up. “No, Annie!” chunks of meat are now caked in between the folds of her sleeve. No time to lose though. First things, first. We wash our hands.
I look over at Talia, in her Bumbo on the chair, sitting contentedly all this time through the mayhem.
* * * * *
All is ready. We sit down at the dinner table. A candle is lit. Mommy has joined us. And there is a moment of silence for the casualties of dinner preparation. We pray.
I hand Talia a burger to start gnawing at while we serve the rest of the food. We start with Potage Bonne Femme, before serving the sweet potatoes, cut open and the insides mashed, with butter, cinnamon and salt. Burgers for everyone.
Emeth reclines in his high chair, squeezing his folded sweet potato, cinnamon-y butter dripping down his arm, onto his shirt sleeve. Talia takes a bite of her burger, gnaws, sucking the goodness out, then letting the remains fall onto her bib, then down onto the floor.
* * * * *
Everyone is finished now, except Annie. She is mainly interested in the meat. Rachel is now nursing Talia in the other room, and I am washing dishes. I turn around to see how she is doing, to find that her mouth is bulging, cheek to cheek, so much so that she can’t close her lips. She has Micaela’s plate pulled up close, and has taken one of her leftover burgers off. She looks blissfully at me.
She begins to choke.
“Annie, take some out of your mouth!” She reaches in and tries to pull some pieces out as she coughs and sputters. She half-empties it, and the choking dies down.
Then, I hear a muffled, “Potty!” from deep within her caverns.
“Get down and go!” I yell. But it’s too late. She is standing up in her chair, looking at me in helpless desperation, with pee dripping down her legs. I rinse my hands off and walk over.
“You’re a bowl of schloup, Annie,” I say.
“At least Annie didn’t pee on the floor,” Emeth says. Yes, at least, son. Thank you for perspective.
“Eat Cay-a’s food?” Annie asks, pointing back to the dish.