In the grand scheme of roadblocks, unexpected events, and routine stuff that just makes you tired, last week was epic.  We spent the long weekend for Memorial Day at my folks’ house, which is a few hours’ drive from us, and took Tuesday off to give ourselves a travel day (and ease everyone’s re-entry into reality).  Of course, we wound up back in Rhode Island just a couple of hours before I needed to be showered, dressed in clothing that wasn’t disheveled from a morning spent lathered in sunscreen and chlorinated water, and keenly focused on the first rehearsal of Concert Week for my choral group.  Yes, we’ve just had Concert Week.  Three weeks or so ago.  And yes, another Concert Week just about three weeks prior to that.  It’s been a busy spring.

At any rate, my feet hit the ground as I stepped out of the car that day, and have barely stopped moving since.  With two rehearsals, two performances, my full-time job, another blog post due for Yahoo, this blog, and the kids to care for — all in the past six days — it’s miraculous I’ve even had time to think.  Oh, and somewhere in there I baked the bread for my church’s Sunday communion service and delivered that, on foot, as I toted P. around our neighborhood in his little red wagon.  And went to the farmer’s market.  And did the grocery shopping.  And.  And.  And…

I’m not complaining, I’m really not.  I think a too-busy life, while complicated and sometimes destructive in its own way, is usually preferable to the alternative.  I mean, if you’re busy (at least, with mainly pleasant things), then you’re being productive; your company is probably desired by at least someone in the world; and you’ve set yourself up with plans and/or projects that are interesting to you.  At least, that’s how I look at this particular brand of busy-ness.  But it doesn’t come without its breaking points.

Among them, in these past few days, has been P.’s sudden realization that bedtime should not be taken lying down — no, to borrow a phrase from Dylan Thomas, he refuses to go quietly into that good night.  When he’s angry or upset, P. has a ferocious and uniquely piercing screech that should be studied closely by science; I’m fairly sure they could use it to split the atom, or some such thing.  And he’s been splitting atoms, or at least eardrums, for up to an hour or more after bedtime.

The only antidote, it turns out, is to sit quietly on the floor of his room, in the dark, until he’s asleep (or at least calm and sleepy enough to not protest my departure).  J. and I have been taking turns at this little endeavor to preserve our sanity and to be sure that poor, patient L., whose room is just across the hall, has some sort of chance at sleep.  It’s not the most desirable of outcomes for any of us (except L.), but at the moment, it’s the last trick in our rather expansive bag of magic. 

With all of this going on, my time for doing ANYTHING in the kitchen, other than the occasional quick dinner prep or grab-and-go breakfast, has completely evaporated.  Thank goodness for the meal plan, or we’d have been sunk.  Actually — we haven’t completely followed the meal plan.  It’s all gone rapidly, and strangely, awry.

By Friday, we were out of food.  No, really.  Out.  Not of ALL edibles, but certainly out of leftovers and things that could be cobbled together for a “fend night.”  I ended up cooking hastily before my dress rehearsal.  Luckily, Whole Foods had been running a sale on their house-made Garlic Chicken Sausages, which P. and L. both love, so I had a few on hand.  I also had, conveniently, extras of the olive oil bread I’d baked to donate to the church for communion (which had to take place late, late into the evening on Thursday, after much floor-sitting in P.’s room).  Bread.  Sausages.  Oh, look, we’ve got greens!  Salad.  Fruit.  Out the door.

Saturday’s meal, the Antipasto Pasta Salad, happened barely by the skin of my teeth, and as soon as it was assembled I shoveled a bowl hurriedly down my gullet as I leapt around the house readying myself for a performance.  But on Sunday morning, another derailment: I hadn’t soaked the white beans for our slow-cooker white bean chili, and I didn’t know if they’d cook properly.  I didn’t have time to figure out a Plan B, let alone execute it; after lunch, I needed to be on the road again for another show.

J. soothed me with vague promises of take-out, which we both knew were somewhat futile; the options, at least the non-junk ones, are even more limited on a Sunday than they ordinarily are around here.  Finally, in desperation, I turned to L.  “What do you want for dinner?” I asked him, mentally preparing myself to throw up my hands and be fine with it if he happened to ask for pizza.

Calmly, he blinked his doe eyes at me and said “Chicken.”

It would have undone me…except that it reminded me I’d stuck to one of my cardinal rules that week.  In busy times, cook extras of a main protein for lunches or emergencies.  There were, in my refrigerator, three fully cooked chicken breasts I’d almost neglected.

Chicken.  Nitrate-free bacon.  Plain yogurt.  We were on.  In under 15 minutes, including quickly cooking some diced bacon while brushing my teeth (no, I didn’t brush in the kitchen), L.’s favorite chicken salad was ready to eat, and I was yelling instructions to J. about sandwiches and vegetables and so forth over my shoulder.

We’re almost back on track now.  When I got home from work today, the smell of the white bean chili — which I managed to get together in time to set the slow cooker at 8 a.m. today — greeted me triumphantly.  L. also greeted me with extra enthusiasm, so I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter for him and we spent a little time baking whole-wheat cornbread to accompany our dinner.  I never thought making quickbread with a 4-year-old would seem so downright relaxing, but it was almost hypnotic.  I started to unwind.  The craziness was over, at least for the time being, and I could right our course again.

At dinner, the boys ate very little other than cornbread and fruit.  P. got out of his chair and ran around the house with a piece of cheese in his hand, squealing, as J. tried valiantly to carry on a telephone conversation with the fourteenth person to ring our line in the space of about 5 minutes — his eldest brother.  L. insisted on having me pick every last scrap of chicken out of his chili and put it on a separate plate for him, where he dissected it, ate two bites, and wiped his hands on his clean shirt.  Somebody’s drink was spilled.  Crumbs were everywhere.  P. pressed half a mashed banana into my hand before I knew what he was doing, then rubbed his face on my perfectly good sundress.

And what was I doing?  Eating a bowl of chili with a smile on my face, enchanted.  Dinnertime has been far from perfect around here lately, but we’ve pulled through and kept the wheels going in the right direction.  There may not be real peace or order to our family meals for many years to come, at least not reliably; but there WILL be dinner.  When all else fails, there will.  Be.  Dinner.