Over the years, we have developed a rhythm and rituals as to how our weekday family meals go.
Of course, it's my job to do most of the serving and cleaning, and I'll often say, "Mommy is not..." and the kids will finish the sentence with "a genie, or a fairy, she is just a mommy."
I'm very attuned to my kids, and their behaviors at the family table. Perhaps because it's just the four of us, I'm more relaxed than my parents were with my sisters and me while I was growing up.
Growing up my family ate only in the dinning room. My sisters and I set the table with china and the good silverware. Manners and decorum were very important.
If you were to laugh and spit milk up through your nose because your sister made you laugh too hard, you were exiled to the kitchen for at least as long as you needed to pull it together.
I spent my fair share of dinners banished. Of the three of us, I was always the easiest to crack up.
Dinners could be stressful when I was a kid, but I've always tried to keep it light with my children.
I also know what it feel like to be plagued with motor skill problems, and I have tried to teach my kids in a slightly more relaxed fashion.
Forks are required of course, but if Peter happens to be struggling with getting his pasta around his fork and goes to use his hands, I will laugh and then say "humans eat with..." and he will laugh and say, "forks." No point in ostracizing a six-year-old for a utensil violation.
Each child has their tolerance for certain foods. For some unknown reason, Peter, will just out of the blue decide that he no longer has any appetite for something he until that exact minute salivated over.
Out of self preservation and a choice to pick my battles, I no longer ask questions. I have a little sympathy too because I can be the same way. Peter is also a wonderful eater who would rather eat vegetables and fruit than ice cream. So if every now and then, he wants to eat cereal or bread for dinner, I'm OK with it.
He is very particular. If he says he wants bread, he means the white bread, not the white bread with seeds or a kaiser roll. He means the bread, in the green package. He does not want butter, and he likes it if you cut it up in four pieces.
I have learned this from years of on-the-job training.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Tom, our 13-year-old. Tom will eat no vegetable unless it is in sushi. Again, I no longer question.
I will still offer the vegetables that Lizzy and Peter fight over, but I know that Tom will only eat the protein I'm serving that night.
Lizzy, our beautiful 10-year-old, is pretty easy in that she will eat just about anything I make. Though, she does want to wear her fairy wings to dinner. I'm okay with that, but I draw the line at the costumes. She can wear a tiara and a flower crown if she must.
Lately I have to watch her pretty carefully so she doesn't steal vegetables off Peter's plate.
Once everyone is settled and we have eaten our main meal, we eat our little desert and then dinner is over, and it's on to the getting ready for bed portion of our program.
It's a comfortable, familiar routine that I have come to really love. It can be hectic, and I sometimes want to pull out whatever hair I have left on my head, but I do cherish our dinner time.
But it all changes when the weekend rolls around and daddy is now at the table and in the mix.
For the longest time, we use to go out to eat on the weekends or at least take food out. But we were getting tired of spending so much money just to eat. Plus, as Lizzy's special needs have become more complex again, it's easier to eat at home. I also like that it's a bit healthier for us as well.
Since Joe still wants me to have a break during the weekends he takes charge of the meals on the weekends.
Things are a little different when daddy runs the show.
Take this Saturday. Joe made the pizza and he added a few new cheeses to the mix. The troops handled this politely enough, but Peter decided this would be one of the nights he would have bread for dinner.
"Mommy, bread please."
"OK Peter, I will get you bread," says Joe, trying to give me the break he knows I desperately need.
Joe goes to the fridge and starts cutting up a hard roll. The same kind of roll that Peter likes to eat in the morning.
Total rookie mistake. Just because Peter likes rolls at breakfast does not mean that he will eat that at dinner.
I look over at Joe cutting up the roll and wonder how to handle this. I don't want to hurt my husband's feelings, but I know my kids.
"Daddy, I want bread. Plain white bread for dinner. Not a roll. A roll is for breakfast."
Joe starts laughing and gives me a look like "Is this kid for real?"
"Peter, it's okay the world will not stop spinning if you eat a roll for dinner instead of breakfast" I add. I find sometimes I need to remind him of this fact.
"Oh yes it will Peter. The world will totally stop spinning if you eat a roll for dinner," chimes my wonderfully helpful Tom. He has been relishing his role as big brother lately, and if he can inflict a small amount of torture, he won't let the opportunity go by.
Now of course Peter is convinced the world will stop and starts to cry.
"Honey the world will not stop. You can eat a roll."
I shoot Tom my death ray eyes.
"Peter, it's OK. I'll get you a slice of bread." Joe is a softy, I probably would not have caved, but then again, I would have known the difference.
"Bread please," chimes in Lizzy. Lately she eats everything, and I have to make sure she doesn't eat too much and get sick.
One of the many problems of having a child who has such difficulty with communication is I don't know why she is eating so much. Is she really hungry? Bored? Not feeling well and thinks eating will calm her stomach down?
I don't know? I don't even know if she knows.
Since Lizzy has only picked at her dinner, I nod to Joe that the slice of bread is probably safe.
Now, we finally sit down together to eat. Peter starts singing a song from the Beach Boys.
He then gets up from the table to go in my room to check on the TV music channel.
"Peter. Come back," says Joe with his "Mean Daddy" voice and scares him.
Peter cries and comes over to me.
"Mommy I need a hug."
"It's OK Peter. Daddy didn't know you want to check out the year of the song. Next time just tell Daddy that's what you are doing."
Joe and Peter make up. Peace is restored.
"I like the Beach Boys. I like Elvis too." Peter says matter of factly.
"And you like Buddy Holly, right Peter?" says Joe, trying to get into the conversation.
"No, I only like Elvis and the Beach Boys today."
"But Peter, you love Buddy Holly, you were just singing a Buddy Holly song 10 minutes ago," Joe continues. Clearly not getting just how fickle Peter is.
"No daddy, I don't like Buddy Holly anymore."
"Peter, you still like the Beatles today though, don't you," says Tom, totally enjoying the complete influence he has over his little brother.
"Yes Tom. I like the Beatles, Elvis, and the Beach Boys."
Joe gives me a look that says, I-know-you-say-this-is-how-it-is-each-night-but-I-really-thought-you-were-making-it-up.
Lately it is these little rituals that have been keeping me going.
The familiar patterns, the particular ways of each child and the unique rhythm is very comforting to me.
Lizzy' issues are so in our faces right now.
Physically she is getting illness on top of illness. The school year began with a nasty case of whooping cough. It's still giving her trouble and is only being exacerbated by a string of sinus and ear infections. We even had a case of conjunctivitis thrown in for good measure.
The problem with having an undiagnosed condition that affects all aspects of her development is that no doctor can ever really completely help us. We just go symptom by symptom putting out whatever fire is up.
And, of course the manic behaviours are back. The mania that turns my very sweet loving child into an aggressive, nonsense speaking child who will even at times say she is not Lizzy.
It is a hard thing to admit, but I don't know how to deal with it anymore.
I'm thankful that we have the doctors we have. I'm thankful for the insurance we have that makes going to top specialists possible. I'm thankful that when Lizzy's doctor suggests we may have to start thinking about an in-treatment facility in the event that we have to completely change her medications, I have family around that would make it possible for us to do that.
But I'm scared. I'm tired. I'm overwhelmed.
I'm keeping the family together with laughter and kisses but I'm a human. And, I'm getting mad that this is happening to us.
And that this is happening to her. A sweet, little girl who just wants to wear her fairy wings, go to school and play with her brothers.
But life has to go on. Dinners need to be made, children need to be fed, floors need to be cleaned.
I'm grateful for the silly behaviour at the table. I'm grateful for the laughter.
I'm grateful that for a small amount of time each night, we get to be a family just eating dinner.