By: Mary Fran Bontempo

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My feet don’t even hit the floor in the morning and the question pops into my head:

“Oh god. What am I going to make for dinner?”

If you happen to be responsible for feeding and watering the familial masses, the next meal is never far from your mind. What do I have in the freezer? Is there any milk? Can I get another meal out of that wilted salad? And on and on and on.

You’d think that once the kids get a little older (yes, children, your twenties qualify as older), the adults could take care of themselves. To be fair, they probably could, but the codependency is so ingrained that no one can break free of the habit. The kids show up in the kitchen like so many baby birds, mouths open, just waiting for mom to provide sustenance. After twenty-six years of gathering worms, mommy just does it. Not that this is personal or anything.

So, when recently presented with an opportunity to spend an overnight with some girlfriends, I accepted, then panicked.

“Oh no! What are the kids going to eat? I have to get to the store and cook a few things before I leave,” I muttered.

Several hours of frantic prep later, the fridge was stocked with fresh food and enough prepared meals to get my soon-to-be-abandoned family through a day and night without me. I drove away confident that my husband and offspring would survive, well fed, until my return.

Back home less than 24 hours later, I opened the fridge to find that nothing I had so lovingly purchased or prepared had been touched. Nothing.

“Hey!” I called. “Everybody into the kitchen!” Dave and our two oldest kids shuffled into the room. “Why is all the food I made still in the fridge? What did you eat while I was gone?”

“I don’t know. Whatever was around,” our son, David, said.

“It’s okay, Mom, we managed. It was fine,” Laura answered. “We were all out a lot anyway.”

“Yeah and when we were hungry, we just ate what Dad made,” David said.

“What Dad made? What did Dad make?” I asked, not a little incredulous.

“I made this,” Dave said, walking to the fridge and pulling out a plastic container packed with hundreds of plain and peanut M & Ms.

“M & Ms? You ate M & Ms? Instead of food?” I asked.

“Hey, a little respect. It took me a really long time to paint those. I did each one by hand,” Dave smirked.

“And we didn’t just eat M & Ms,” David added. “Dad also bought krimpets. We ate those, too.”

“Great. Just great. I go crazy making food and you eat candy and cake.”

“Look at it this way, hon. You’re always so worried that we can’t take care of ourselves and we were fine. From now on, you can relax a little,” Dave said.

Finally. I’d been waiting for this day. “Well, it’s not exactly what I was hoping for, but what the heck. Let’s eat. Can somebody pass me the M & Ms? And get the krimpets, too; I’m pretty hungry.”

That was two weeks ago. This morning, in keeping with my daily ritual, the ever-present question about the evening meal appeared in my head. But today is Valentine’s Day. Thanks to my husband’s inventive “cooking,” I think I have the perfect menu for dinner.

What’s your favorite Valentine’s Day meal? Click “comments” below and share!