I used to feel guilty whenever I bought a frozen pizza for my kids. Not because of the cost (I only ever buy them on sale), and not because of the nutritional value (I consider a pizza to be one of the most balanced meals around: carbohydrates from the crust, protein from the pepperoni, calcium from the cheese, lycopene from the tomato sauce, fiber from the—well, who needs fiber, anyway?). No, the reason I felt guilty about buying a frozen pizza is that since I know very well how to make both pizza dough and pizza sauce, somehow, by not putting these skills to use, I thought that I was being a neglectful mother.
I didn’t entirely come to this conclusion on my own, of course: over the years countless TV shows, magazine articles and even websites had all told me—in subtle and not-so-subtle ways—that the only “real” way to have dinner with your family is to sit around a “real” table that has been set with “real” plates and “real” silverware and eat “real” food. (“Real” in the latter case meaning made from scratch: conceivably the table and plates can be store-bought, in a pinch, but a real mother probably would have made them, too).
For the first few years after my daughter was born I believed this with all my heart: it didn’t matter that the actors on the TV shows were all happily eating a catered dinner separately in their trailers, or that the magazine articles and websites were all probably written either by someone who had never spent more than five minutes with a child or who had kept their own children at bay with uncooked ramen while they trying to meet their deadline: I was convinced that if I didn’t serve a proper meal, in a proper location, at a proper time, well, then, my kids would grow up to be drug addicts, serial killers, or worse. (“Tell me, son: how did you get into conservative talk radio?” “Well, you see, there was this frozen pizza…”) And then, one day, I read an article that not only threatened doom upon the family that didn’t cook and eat together, but even went so far as to suggest that buying products like pre-washed lettuce and shredded cheese was nearly as bad as feeding your kids fast food in the back seat of a Buick—that by denying your family the chance to “go through the process” of cooking together, you were denying them the true benefits of a home-cooked meal.
And I thought, “Bite me.”
Look: the idea that there there is only one “right” way to raise your kids is both ludicrous and limiting: in my own case I know for a fact that my mother and I spent more quality time tubing down the Salt River together—where our “table” was made of water and “balanced meal” meant that the ice chest full of fried chicken fit perfectly inside its own tube—than we ever did eating an ordinary home-cooked meal at our perfectly normal dining room table back home.
Just as you can never possibly understand the dynamics of a particular romantic relationship unless you are in it, you can also never really understand how another family works unless you are a member of that family. So while it may be true for one family that the key to their success is to sit around a dinner table together eating their home-cooked meal (with cheese that they shredded all by themselves, after making it six months earlier with milk from their own cows), another family might experience the most bonding while waiting in line together at Starbucks. Or tubing down the Salt.
Or maybe even waiting for that frozen pizza to cook.