Necessity, well, necessitated how my evening went tonight. I got home and, even though I’d budgeted as absolutely tightly as I possibly could, I hadn’t taken into account that I have 4 children who are voraciously inhaling any and all food in the home to fuel the insane growth spurts that run through their bodies. My son, Sam, has grown beyond anything I could possibly describe. I remember going through these growth spurts myself. Your knees hurt, the muscles stretch and cramp up, it’s really not a lot of fun. As for Sam? He’s already just a few inches, at 9 years old, from being his oldest sister’s height. Hannah, my middle girl, is just a few inches from being her Mom’s 5′ 10″ towering frame.
But the problem with that when you’re completely broke is the fact that you cannot factor their habit of coming home from school and snacking when you’re not home. I’d bought a giant bag of pretzels – simple, normal, salted pretzels – and figured it would be the salty snack that would last the week. I bought them yesterday. I got home tonight in anticipation of making pizza – homemade – and realized that Hannah and Sam had inhaled the entire 3/4 of the pretzel bag in one afternoon. I was unreasonably frustrated with them because they didn’t even think about it. They walked in, ate a few . . .then a few more . . . then a few more still. I looked at them and just had to ask them how they thought I was going to get their lunches going for them if they eat all the food in the house. I’m at the end of my financial rope for the week.
I looked at the two of them and informed them that I had nothing for their lunches. Not a thing.
“I can make you sandwiches, and maybe something I can pull together for a dessert, but you ate all the pretzels!”
Now, you’re reading this wondering why I’ve made such a big deal about pretzels because . . . well . . . they’re pretzels. It’s not a big deal, certainly not worth writing a whole blog post about. You’d be right.
I looked through my pantry and realized that necessity is the mother of invention. I stared at the shelves trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Fortunately I have my pantry somewhat organized. I had all the dry ingredients on one shelf; the spices and ingredients another. I looked down and next to the sugar and flour was a box of corn meal. Right on the spine was a recipe for cornbread muffins. Pretzels replaced!
The dessert was something else altogether. I have a standby that I’ve used for years to solve that problem. You see, I’m out of brown sugar as well and it’s 9pm, well past when I can get to a close by grocery store to cobble together money to buy it.
Years ago, one Christmas, my mother gave me a cookbook. You’d probably wonder why a Mom would give her son, particularly when he’s still married and working, a cookbook for Christmas. But I’d been looking for this for awhile (and in print again). My Mom, when I was a kid, had a book just filled with cookies. It literally was called “The Cooky Book”. It’s very ’70s, bright Kodachrome colors, but I loved the fact that it was filled with recipes from old world eras and amazing flavors. Even better, instead of pictures of play-dough and elmer’s glue for frosting they actually made the cookies and took pictures of them, putting them on the pages. On top of that, it’s just a great, amazing, thorough cookbook. There are cookies you’ve never thought of. There are old-world recipes from times gone by that you probably never tried but SHOULD because they’re amazing, homemade, and nowhere near as bad for you as the stuff you buy in the stores. Why eat an Oreo when you could have a homemade butterscotch brownie?
But this day was just so crazy. I still had an inordinate amount of chores to deal with. Hannah had 3 days of back-homework to do and I wasn’t going to pull her from that simply to do her chores. God forbid I get more zeros on her report card. So I did her chores – which she’d avoided for 3 days – and did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. Then, while the muffins cooked I ran upstairs and did another load of laundry. After the muffins came out of the oven I found a recipe for Snickerdoodles in the cookbook and found it used little or no butter, no brown sugar, all fitting the ingredients in my pantry.
Now, before you reach the conclusion I’m bemoaning my situation, like I’m angry I don’t have time; that I’m shouting to the heavens for having no money, all of it, I want you to know it’s not the case. The budgeting is my fault. I have made mistakes and assumptions about a tax refund that put me where I am. I can get to work. I have eggs, butter, flour, sugar, meats in the freezer, I’m OK. Sure, I wish I had my gas tank at full and a pantry full of treats for the kids, but we’re not surviving on beans and rice, either. On top of that, I have shown my kids you can survive when things are perfect. My kids went for so long, with their Mom’s money, living with tantrums, angry complaints, and getting everything they wanted.
That was the trend in my house, too. I loved Andrea too much, it’s true. She wanted something, she got it. When her friend got a brand new Coach purse – something costing waaaayyy too much money – I pulled together everything I had and got her one. It wasn’t until the latter 1/4 or more of her life that we both came to realize we needed to keep each other in check. Andrea realized that when she was being unreasonable, she knew it, but would ask anyway. I realized as well she just wanted someone who would tell her “no” once in awhile as well.
On top of all that, my kids now see that we can be happy, comfortable, and OK without buying stuff. Sure, I’m stressed out, my face is breaking out, and I’m feeling the remaining black hairs on my head going grey, but I am proud of my kids. When I gave them their lunches today they looked and weren’t disappointed, they were thrilled to get cornbread and Snickerdoodles. They see that we’re making food, that the house is filled with the smells of cornbread and cinnamon sugar and vanilla.
This is the closest I’ve come to the days I met my Grandma for lunch. The house may not have an over-abundance of cookies and desserts, but we have them and they’re not bought and tasting like perservatives. I went to bed, late, exhausted, but I wasn’t angry or disappointed. It was a good night. I was the father of invention – not Edison, no, but inventing nonetheless – and used what I had in my house. The combination of a family cookbook, the Cooky book, and a pantry with staples in it, has made me be the parent(s) my kids need me to be.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but their Mom wouldn’t have done any of this. She couldn’t cook staples or comfort food. Since we lost her we’ve had a wider pallette, more homemade treats than just chocolate chip cookies from the back of a Nestle package, and we’re surviving.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ve shown my kids just what it is like to have a house that’s a home.