In the kitchen you can hear the intermittent and yet endless clatter of cupboards being opened and closed. There is the incessant yawn of the refrigerator as it expels cool air into the tepid atmosphere; air that is meant to be on the inside of the refrigerator cooling our food. There is food there, most of it uncooked, some of it cooked but leftover from last night’s meal. There are cold cuts, condiments, fruits, vegetables and miscellaneous tubs of things labeled with exotic names like humus and yogurt.
And yet at the beginning, afternoon and end of each day we hear the same question repeated like a mantra, a cantillate that annoys every mother and drives every father crazy, “What’s for dinner?” This particular question is often preceded by the loud banging, the moans and groans of despair and the cries of “I’m hungry!” which is immediately followed by a parents directive to “Find something to eat!”
“But there’s nothing to eat,” the masses wail as if they are begging the guy in charge to whip up something special with these five loaves of bread and two fishes.
Hey guess what fella’s, right next to that ice box is another box man created called a microwave. It does the opposite of what the ice box does – it warms up your food. There are two freezers stocked with microwaveable delectable teen treats like burritos, French fries, pizza and those tiny square gut bombs a catchy and somewhat confusing name for a kid from the islands but kids like them, they are easy so why not and why are you hungry when you are surrounded by food?
I admit, I’m picky but that was learned behavior. American fast food ruined me – literally. But when I was a kid in our house the words “I’m hungry” and “What’s for dinner” were outlawed and taboo. I daresay that any Samoan child who says these words either a) does not know where the kitchen is located; b) he has no hands; c) he has hands but doesn’t know how to use them; or d) is just too lazy to find and cook his own food.
My mother was a beautiful Samoan woman who was an incredible cook. That woman could make plywood taste like chocolate mousse cake and chocolate mousse cake taste like a slice of heaven. But you were never allowed to ask what’s for dinner because frankly she never knew herself until she started throwing ingredients onto the counters and whipping things together and there is only so much you can do to feed a family of ten people and the extra ten who showed up unannounced just to say hello.
Soup was a staple. Potato soup, tomato soup, celery soup, chicken soup and whatever else she and dad could get their hands on. And the rules at the Matua kitchen table were really simple: 1) Sit down and be quiet. 2) Say a prayer of thanks. 3) Eat everything on your plate. 4) Say thank you and vacate the seat for the next person in line. The unwritten rule was this – you never complained because mom put her time and love into making that meal after a long day of work and be grateful because she didn’t have to make it but she did it because she loves you.
Our sons have been great. They have asked “What’s for dinner?” and they have said, “I’m hungry,” but over the years we have asked them the same question and now one of their regular chores is to come up with a menu and in response to being hungry we simply say, ‘go find something to hold you over for dinner.’ And as they have grown and become more responsible, they have figured out how to cook the things that make them happy. Now we just need them to clean up after themselves. All in due time, right?
I guess my point is a lot like that old adage we often heard when we were kids – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I would run myself ragged and on the brink of insanity if I had to feed these boys every time they are hungry. Instead, they have learned some important skills for the day when they are out on their own and they have learned a little more independence in the process. You know where the kitchen is – get in there, work and enjoy the finished product!