I have often wondered about the mystery of the dinner hour. Mothers of young children around the world, I believe, regularly experience its universal chaos. In fact, I’m sure you’ve experienced your own dinnertime pleas with God, or with children, or with mental pleas to your husband to please. Come. Home. Now.

The kids are hungry, and they have decided they really don’t want to listen to me anymore. They really don’t want to like each other anymore, either. They are bored. They are tired. The boys have been swimming in testosterone all day, banging into things and conquering foes indoors if I forgot to drive them outside. They are careening through the kitchen with foam swords and running after each other with shouts dedicated to each others’ peril. My curly hair now makes me look a little like Albert Einstein, and any vestiges of makeup that were on my face are probably now scattered around the house like the Tinkertoys. We are all going a bit crazy. “We have been in this house or at school all day, Mom, and we have had it!” And I have been in the house all day, kids, and I have had it even more than you have.

My youngest, abandoning the cupboard he has been emptying onto the hardwood, is pulling up on my jeans, immobilizing my legs right when dinner threatens to give up and just burn. So I step backward onto the dog or onto a Lego, which really hurts, you know?! I yelp. He whines for me to pick him up. Pick him up now! Still limping from the Lego, I realize how many toys lay discarded around the kitchen and start hollering clean-up requests. Undoubtedly, someone I don’t know calls me at this point asking me if I want to take a survey; someone needs help using the bathroom. Occasionally, my husband makes the sweet-natured phone call to apologize, but he’s just now left the office. Ah, well.

I have a couple of dinnertime strategies I keep in my back pocket, for use when I would really like to just hop in the car and drive away, even if my kids would decide that ramen was way better than what I’d been cooking/burning. Sometimes I will declare a race outside for my sons, a strategy which my oldest recently revealed, “C’mon, Mom, I know you just want to tire us out!” Yes, Son. Yes, I do. I have also declared dinner a low-key art time, with markers and paper spread out on the bar. Or when I’m getting a little more desperate, it’s Educational Computer Game Time!

So, then, two requests. One, please share the strategies that work for you during the dinner hour insanity! And two, if you know me, you may not want to call between 4:30 and 5:30.