Eat as a family
My mom was a working mother who got dinner on the table almost every night. The whole shebang too. Carefully folded napkins, fork, knife, even the spoon we never used, butter in a separate dish with a butter knife, matching water glasses, place mats, and beautiful serving dishes filled to the brim with whatever hot meal we were consuming that evening.
During dinner, we talked and laughed, discussed politics, faith, you name it. After dinner, the kitchen was cleaned, made spotless and presentable for the next morning when the cycle began again.
Sounds Norman Rockwell, huh? But that was my parent's generation when school, work, life in general made way for the family dinner.
I'm not sure where the breakdown occurred. I'd like to blame modern society and vaping and social media. I'd really like to pin this one on Trump. Alas, I cannot.
I think I had it in me all along to break the cycle. While the family talked, I plotted, waiting for the perfect opportunity to slide my napkin full of green beans or peas into the soil of the nearest potted plant. When dinner began to wind down, I pressed my arms into my stomach, made small, but audible noises of discomfort. And in the second before my mom asked my siblings and me to clear the table and load the dishwasher, I asked to use the bathroom. Where I stayed until my sister pounded on the door and my brother screamed at me that he knew I was hiding in the bathroom to get out of cleaning the kitchen.
So maybe I had it coming. This reality I find myself in where dinner as a family means different things depending on the night. Sometimes we find ourselves hunkered around the island, eating chili from a single spoon out of the crock pot. Or we eat in shifts, clocking in and out like it's a job. I actually love to cook, but I love the process of it most of all. So I experiment, try different flavors and anyone with children can predict the outcome of making food look different. As a result, there are nights when the picky kid ends up starving or shoving a handful of goldfish into his mouth while standing in the pantry where he thinks I can't see him.
Sometimes we eat at 4, other times at 6, and more often than I'd like to admit, at 8:45 when everyone is finally home. Sometimes we eat together, or in pairs, or in the car on the way to dance or soccer, or alone and on the school bus to a softball game.
On that rare occasion when we do sit around the table to eat, it is with paper towels as napkins, jelly jars and pint glasses for water, butter still in the wax paper, and pots and pans taken directly from the stove or oven and used as serving dishes. Since it's usually near midnight when we finish eating and the kids have homework to do and there's laundry to fold and a science fair project due the next day, the kitchen is left as is.
While my family dinners look nothing like my childhood and the clean-up leaves much to be desired, there is something that remains, a thread that links my family now to my family back then. Wherever we eat, whether it's at the table, around the island, or in the car, we talk. We share things about our day: good things, bad things. We give advice, we disagree, sometimes there's fighting, always laughter, and if the mood strikes, a rousing game of I-spy.
I'll always wish I'd had it more together as a mom when it comes to the small things; folded and pressed laundry, tidy kitchen, sparkling toilet bowls. But if this version of family dinners can still create memories like my own did - good and lasting memories of time spent together - then I'm good with that.