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You Want What?

Kids expect so much.

In my former step-mother life, I was expected to cook at least the evening meal for this herd of children I had inherited with a marriage. That doesn’t seem like it would be a big challenge, except I had missed Home Economics in school, and I didn’t know the basics of meal preparation.

I had asked my mother once when I would learn to cook. Her reply was, “When it becomes important to you.”

It had never been high on my importance list, so when the kids sat around the table that first night with their knives and forks pointed at the ceiling, it was my first clue they expected food. They looked like a nest full of baby birds begging for worms.

A well-meaning friend suggested I fix Hamburger Helpers, a new quick meal invented by a woman who must have had a herd of kids too. I could brown hamburger meat and that seemed to be all that was necessary to have a meal ready in minutes.

Back then there were only 5 different Helpers, so I just rotated a tasty Helper every 5 nights, proud that I was able to master the chef requirements of a family.  Sometimes I would even serve a salad: a piece of lettuce with a peach or pear or pineapple slice topped with cottage cheese.

No one said I was an imaginative cook.

This menu worked fine for about 2 ½ months, and I chose not to hear any complaints that were probably being whispered behind my back.

One historic night, the only boy in the crowd shook his shaggy head and spoke his first words since the wedding ceremony. He was 14 and a grunter, and I had had to acquire new language skills in order to communicate with him. But this night I learned he had a voice and could actually form words. That in itself was shocking.

So, as he eyed the bowl of Hamburger Helper and his lovely pear salad, he spoke, eyes lowered, but voice strong:

“When are we going to have something besides Hamburger Helper?” he wondered.

Fear ripped through my body, I couldn’t breathe, and I just stared at him. I didn’t know how to answer him because it had never occurred to me that I would ever have to learn how to cook something else. Oh my gosh, what was I going to do? What did this mean? Was I going to have to learn to cook another dish? What would it be?

And then the realization hit me: I hated Hamburger Helpers. I hadn’t allowed myself to form an opinion about them because I didn’t think I had a choice…it was the only thing I could cook, so we ate them!

That’s been 43 years ago, and I’ve never had another Helper…those kids probably never have either.


4 thoughts on “You Want What?

  1. On our birthdays we could choose anywhere we wanted to eat, restaurant-wise. When I was about 8 years old, I requested one of the Hamburger Helpers. My mom was in shock — “you don’t want to eat out?!” But I was insistent. Only Hamburger Helper would do!
    Gah! I still can’t believe I did that! And my poor Mom, missing out on an evening free of cooking!


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