Taco night.  I lift my eyes from my dinner plate to my loved ones gathered around the table.  I first spot my three-year-old son.  Sitting on his knees in his chair, he’s in the middle of lifting a giant spoonful of sour cream with some crumbly pieces of beef loosely clinging to it.  He opens wide, mostly gets it all in, and does a quiet little dance in gratitude for this deeply moving eating experience.  Somehow he opens his mouth for another bite while still swallowing the first, and my stomach churns.

I turn away and look at my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter.  She’s sitting properly on the chair, which conveniently leaves her chin a few inches above her plate.  Using two tortilla chips as shovels, she neatly pushes everything from her plate into her mouth so as not to drop any on her lap.  Her mouth, chin, cheeks, and hands are chili pepper red.

I feel something raining on the table near my elbow.  I turn and the baby is smashing a fistful of taco into her mouth, losing half on account of her fingers running into her nose.  She swallows, shakes her head and growls, and starts again.

I can feel the carpet soaking up the oil from the hamburger with each second, and I look at my husband, who is concentrating on his plate.  I nudge him.  “This is so gross,” I mouth.

He looks around and nods.

I watch as our little taco-stained friends happily eat, squeal, and tell the funniest stories the others have ever heard, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll never have holier dinner companions.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer