Reclaiming Happy Hour, Toddler and All

When Cee was an infant, I remember lamenting to a friend about how difficult the evening hours could be. Cee was often fussy. Husband was usually returning home from work hoping for some quality time with her, but instead she would cling to me.  Meanwhile, I had some crazy idea about getting a balanced meal on the table. Sometimes, I wanted nothing more than to be alone in the kitchen with both hands free. With a demanding baby, dinner usually ended up only being accomplished when Husband stepped in to finish what I had started and to clean up the mess left in my wake.

My friend empathized. She told me that she had deemed this time of day between about 5 and 7 PM, “Unhappy Hour.”

It is a fitting name, I think. Pre-kids, we would have been meeting friends for drinks and appetizers after work. Or maybe Husband and I would be cooking dinner together, glasses of wine in hand, telling each other about our days. It was often my time to go for a run or to a yoga class or to take my dog for a long walk. Regardless, happy hour used to be that time of day when we could reconnect with our friends and family, unwind from the day’s work, and recenter ourselves.

Reconnect. Unwind. Recenter. Is that even remotely possible with a toddler awake in the house?

These days, Unhappy Hour is daycare pick-up, sometimes errands, and dinner preparation, all within about an hour in order to stay on track for an on-time bedtime. Cee seems to fall apart at the least discomfort or injustice, and my efforts to console her can completely throw off my dinner preps. If both Husband and I are home, we can tag-team this – one of us hanging out with Cee and the other taking the lead on dinner. Sometimes Cee seems to need one or the other of us more, just as she did as an infant, and we make adjustments as needed. Things are tougher though if one of us is working late, and given Husband’s weird work hours, this happens a lot.

I’ve been reading Ellyn Satter’s Secrets of Feeding a Happy Family. It is required reading for one of the courses I’m teaching this fall, and I highly recommend it. It is really a comprehensive guide to feeding – from attitudes about feeding and eating, to meal planning, to cooking itself. Satter even addresses Unhappy Hour, which she calls “Bewitching Hour.” That she included this is brilliant. You can preach all you want about the value of the family meal and balanced nutrition, but if you can’t get past Unhappy Hour, you’ll get discouraged fast. That’s when the fast food drive-through suddenly seems like a great idea. Continue reading