Then, one night, in the midst of some truly prize bitchy knifework, I had a thought. Honestly, a vision.
I turned to my husband. He was standing in the kitchen, doing nothing. He had asked what he could do to help, and I had told him nothing, which trapped him in the knowing husband’s purgatory—he had nothing to do, but he knew better than to go and sit on the couch. “Here’s what we’re going to do,” I said. “Next week, I’m going to plan all our dinners, grocery shop, and cook. You do the dishes. The next week, we’ll switch.” In other words: Next week, I’ll think about dinner. The week after, I won’t. At all.
We got excited. We bought a dry-erase board for the inside of our cabinet. In two weeks, when I opened that cabinet and saw dinners plotted out for the week, I thought, Mm, peanut noodles. Oh, sheet pan paneer, that sounds interesting. And then I closed the cabinet. And I didn’t think about what we were eating again until I sat down to eat it.
We are now two months into this arrangement, and it has changed my life. On my “off weeks,” I wake up with a phantom-limb feeling of missing stress. Honestly, I don’t even feel stressed on my “on weeks,” anymore. I always knew that dinner was a daily source of anxiety; what I didn’t realize was that so much of the dread came from feeling like I’d never get a break. It would never end, and at the same time, I would never be doing it quite right. (Love how all those family-dinner studies are like, Hey, no pressure, but this is the key to your kids’ grades, mental health, and long-term risk of obesity!)
You can’t enjoy something you never, ever get a break from. There are days off of work and school. Dinners off have the same effect. Now, for two weeks each month, I scan my NYT Cooking recipes. I think, That looks fun! I set my list. I shop. I cook all week. When I find myself feeling lethargic, in any of these duties, I remind myself that next week they will not be mine. And then I remind myself: Plus, you’re not doing the dishes. The mental peace of knowing what I have to do and the extent to which I have to do it—instead of engaging in a daily regimen of flailing, blame and magical thinking—has changed my life and mood around dinner. When I walk around the supermarket now, I give everyone I see a little smile. The little smile looks just like whose? That’s right, the woman from Stone Soup. Turns out we’re not so different. She spread the labor out, so nobody got pressed.