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Amber Chandler: Funky snack dinner gives birth to tradition

When I was pregnant with my son, Oliver, I was tired. After all, I had a 2½-year-old daughter, Zoey, who was pretty much queen bee. My husband was going to school at night, and she believed that it was my responsibility to play with her. I tried pretty much everything I could think of to keep her occupied between 4 and 9 p.m., when we both tumbled into her bed.

Once, after a visit to a children’s museum, I decided that it would be really cool to re-create the rice table I had watched her play at for a full hour. An hour! Unbelievable bliss. I could cook. I could clean. I could watch a grown-up television show. What if I could make her a rice box to sit and play in?

The foot of snow on the back porch necessitated an indoor location, so the kitchen it was. I could barely contain my enthusiasm as I found a big tote and filled it with all the rice we had in the house and excitedly watched her climb in. With her pudgy little hands, she picked up two fistfuls of rice and gleefully flung it in the air.

Immediately it came to mind that I had read about torturing people by making them kneel on rice. I was worried that would be my destiny as I tried to sweep up the tiny particles. Once I gave her a sifter, though, she was fine.

As I contemplated where to begin, I decided I would take pictures. I mean, seriously, this was genius. I could share it on Facebook. All my mommy friends would be clamoring for my advice.

As I started dinner, I was pulled from my daydream by a gigantic thud, followed by a piercing scream. My heart dropped. Zoey had stood up in the tote of rice, leaned forward on the side and toppled the entire makeshift thing, landing on her belly. After an assessment that she was fine, I realized I was not. There were four bags of rice covering my kitchen floor. I sat down, right there, and cried. Big, wailing, nose-running, shaking sobs. That caught Zoey’s attention, and she stopped crying.

“Why are you sad?” she asked. I couldn’t tell her the truth. I had just been on a roller coaster of greatest mom ever to being pushed out at the peak onto a pile of rice.

“I’m hungry,” I replied, sniffling. I knew she would understand this. I stood up, and contemplated what to do about dinner. I most certainly was not cooking.

I turned off the stove and went to the fridge. I grabbed a block of cheese and some pepperoni. I looked in the cupboards and came up with fruit snacks, an apple, peanut butter and some mini candy bars. I found a huge serving tray, made little piles of it all and directed Zoey to the living room.

“We are going to have a funky snack for dinner. Let’s watch ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and eat on the floor,” I said.

We plopped down on the floor, spread our feast out on a blanket and had a picnic. Apples with peanut butter seemed relatively healthy. Dark chocolate is good for you. Cheese is dairy. We watched TV, ate our snacks and Zoey snuggled up and rubbed my belly.

I didn’t think much about it until Zoey began requesting a funky snack dinner. Throughout the pregnancy we did this more often than I’d like to admit. It became a kind of tradition.

Zoey, who is 11 now, and Oliver, 8, still beg to make their own funky snack dinners, usually after a stressful day. I love listening to them come up with names for their creations – PB and A (peanut butter and apple) or a “Siggy Souffle,” which I don’t even ask about. Sometimes you just have to have a funky snack picnic, guilt-free.