French fries and chicken balls

Savoring the Not-So-Perfect Life

by Michelle Rayburn

When I was young, my mother cooked most meals from scratch, baked six loaves of bread every week and canned enough vegetables to feed the neighborhood if we ever had to retreat to a bomb shelter. But on occasion, we had TV dinners when she worked the evening shift at the hospital and my dad had to feed us three kids.

September 10 is National TV Dinner Day, and it has me reminiscing about those foil-covered aluminum trays with frozen mystery meat and gravy, blobs of mashed potatoes, corn and chocolate pudding—because who doesn’t cook their pudding in the oven, right?

In those pre-microwave days, we peeled back the foil to reveal the ready-to-eat meal when the oven timer buzzed. The actual contents were always somewhat of a surprise compared with the images on the box. For one thing, the portions were more appropriately toddler-sized, and looking back, this explains why my dad chased his meal with a giant bowl of fudge ripple ice cream.

Nothing looked as appetizing as the box, either. The gravy sort of oozed from the mystery meat over to the corn, and pooled in the pudding.

Isn’t life a little like that sometimes? Before it becomes our reality, the idea of growing up, getting married, establishing a career or becoming parents looks magazine-worthy in the images we build in our minds. And after all the anticipation, we peel back the foil and suddenly it looks a lot messier than expected.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned some lessons to get me through my TV dinner life:

  1. Savor every bite of happiness. There is goodness there when we look for it. Turns out, even mystery meat can be delicious!
  2. Toss out unrealistic expectations and embrace the imperfection of real life. Accepting what I have instead of longing for a picture on a box has brought me such contentment.
  3. Enjoy the fun of the experience. For me, TV dinners weren’t really about the contents of the box. They were about the fun of doing something different with my dad—maybe even actually eating in front of the TV. Too often, I can miss life’s fun if I let complaining take over.

What’s in your TV dinner life? It’s a great day for a perspective change—and maybe a trip to the frozen food aisle, just for fun.

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