My kids have a bizarre notion that barbeques are the easiest way to fix dinner this side of a take-out menu. This is because their main contributions to barbeques have been eating twice as much meat as normal, urgently spraying ketchup as if they’re putting out a fire, and chugging sodas. My husband mans the grill (“persons the grill” just doesn’t sound right, does it?), and suits up for the job by donning his Official Barbeque Shirt, festooned with a blinding pattern of beers and burgers. This forces me to wear my biggest, darkest sunglasses for at least three hours.
When one of my teenaged sons asked, “Can we barbeque?” I decided it was time to teach him about the unsung, behind-the-scenes work involved in transforming raw hunks of steer into tender and juicy burgers, medium rare.
“We cannot barbeque, but you can barbeque,” I said. “Go to the store, buy the meat, clean the grill, baste the meat, watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn, wipe down the backyard table, and clean up afterwards. You need to be responsible for everything.”
I was sure that this menu of instructions would cause dizziness, and I would be safe.
“No problem,” he said.
I reluctantly tendered my credit card to him, knowing that in addition to our own six hungry family members, several of his large teenage friends were at the house. They had appetites the size of a Congressional appropriations bill.
“Better make a salad and some mashed potatoes also,” I said when they returned. “But remember, it’s your barbeque.”
“Relax, Mom!” he said.
I went to my room to take a nap. I’d been asleep for nearly two entire minutes when a baseball began thwacking against the house, right outside my room. I had forgotten that baseball practice was an essential step in preparing for successful barbeques. I’m sure I’ve seen Emeril Lagasse do it many times.
“Hold it down out there, guys, I’m trying to sleep!” I complained. The baseball fell silent, but the basketball immediately was put into play. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, went the basketball.
With a sinking feeling, I went to check on things in the kitchen.
“Don’t you know you have to peel and cut the potatoes before you boil them? And put a lid over the pot or it’ll take a month for them to boil.” I fished the Russets out of the pot, peeled and cut them, then returned them to the pot. “Remember to marinate the meat,” I reminded them. “After all, this is your barbeque!”
My unerring motherly intuition continued to send me Code Red warnings, and I inspected the grill, which they had not cleaned and was now the scene of a hot dogicide: A dozen dogs were so charred that DNA tests would never determine their origin. Coughing and blinded by smoke, I turned off the gas. After the grill had cooled and I could see again, I took the wire brush and scraped off vestiges of barbeques past. “You should have done it yourself. This was supposed to be YOUR BARBEQUE!”
“We had everything under control,” my son said. “We like our hot dogs well done.”
“I still need to make sure you don’t accidentally cook Salmonella Surprise on a dirty grill and serve it with a side of raw, dirty spuds. Where’s Dad?”
“He went to buy beer,” reported Sam, one of my son’s friends. Sam always miraculously shows up whenever we have meat on the grill. It’s uncanny, really. “You can’t have a barbeque without beer.”
They refused to make a salad, but to humor me, they set out a jar of pickles and a bowl of chips on the table, claiming they were “vegetables.” I steamed some broccoli, in the case any of the other kids had parents who would ask them what the Gruens had served at dinner.
The boys hustled back to play more basketball while I stood sentry over the spuds, and my husband grilled the remaining burgers. “How’s everything?” I asked, resorting to my default waitress mode and trying to ply them with a little broccoli.
“Everything’s delicious. Thanks, Mom.”
“Especially the beer,” my husband said, nursing a foreign import while slathering mustard on a burger. He was attired in his Official Barbeque Shirt. The boys tried to sneak a few beers, which we intercepted and which is why college is such a terrifying idea.
As soon as the last burger was gone, so were the boys. The table was a mess, and it took all my self-control not to clean it up. But I didn’t. After all, it was their barbeque.