A couple weeks after my daughter, Penelope, was born, when I was already feeling the natural rut of new motherhood, I discovered Andrea Buchanan's Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It. It's a book I now give to expectant and new mothers and it really has one premise: Motherhood is wonderful and beautiful but a lot of it really sucks. She says the things that most mothers in the past had never spoken about and lets new moms know that it's okay to sometimes hate the new responsibility. As an easy read (especially during nursing periods), I highly recommend it to all new mothers.
Fast forward to a little over a year later, a time in motherhood that is really quite great. My daughter was walking, communicating with me (in her own non-verbal way, of course) and demonstrating a real personality which made hanging out with her quite entertaining. Basically, for the most part, the fun parts were outweighing the sucky parts.
One truly sucky part for me, however, was preparing her lunch each day. I'm unabashedly comfortable with admitting that my husband does all the cooking in our house. He loves it. And no, it's not just me rationalizing my guilt by saying he loves it. His weekends are spent planning elaborate menus for the upcoming week, shopping at the farmers market and cooking three to four hour recipes.
It wasn't always this way, though. For the first two or three years of our marriage I made dinner. Then, one night, in the middle of making a complicated Thai soup, I got so frustrated that I just tossed (or threw -- as my husband, Ben, recalls) my wooden spoon down and walked away. From then on, Ben was the de facto chef of the house.
So here I was, a mother of a toddler, dreading making her lunch. The novelty of her eating solids had worn off and since we had always just given her modified versions of what we were eating, my own lunch of a slice of leftover pizza suddenly seemed inadequate. I knew that if Penelope was going to continue to eat lunch, I was going to have to figure out what exactly would be my own carrot on a stick.
Enter the art of bento. You just have to do a search on Flickr to see how obsessed folks are with these lunches with personality. As far as I was concerned, making bento lunches for Penelope was more about arts & crafts than cooking; it was something that I could get excited about. More importantly, it was something that really forced me to think about the contents of her lunch. Sure, I could still give her a slice of pizza, but if I dressed it up with broccoli florets, it suddenly had nutritional value.
Getting started was easy enough. I checked out a lot of bentos over on Flickr to get inspiration and then headed to my local Daiso and stocked up on supplies. (Incidentally, this this book has recently been published and contains many of the bentos found on Flickr). Luckily, Daiso is fundamentally a dollar store so I was able to get everything I needed for about $10. If you don't have a local supply shop, Etsy seems to be the easiest place to buy supplies. The boxes I make tend to be less about characters and scenes and more about presentation so most of the edible ingredients are already in the fridge and freezer.
I won't lie. Creating a bento is time-consuming and, for most mortals, not something that can be done daily -- I certainly don't do these as often anymore. That said, something magical occurred after I made the first couple boxes: I actually forgot how much I hated cooking. Nowadays, lunch preparation isn't the same ordeal that is used to be. As my daughter grows up and appreciates her lunches more I can see Bento making being something we do together.
Most importantly, these lunches taught me how to find a pleasurable angle in all the things I have -- and don't want -- to do.