While browsing through cookbooks the other day, a favorite pastime of mine, I came across a book that shocked me, saddened me, and made me think, “Well, I could have come up with that.”
A cookbook and guide on how to have a family dinner. Is that what America has come to? Many books now tout bringing the family back to the table. They are full of recipes, conversation starters, and tips for turning off electronics because evidently we families have forgotten how to cook, talk to each other, and find the off button. And I don’t know where we have gone. Where does everyone eat?
Yes, I am that naïve. I do have dinner with my family every night. I know I’m lucky to have a husband who gets home at a reasonable hour, but even when he’s late, I eat with the kids. We sit down to a meal that I cooked and we talk about our day. Sometimes we eat, laugh, and have a Hallmark moment. It may not be a fancy meal. It may have come from a box. Or maybe I spent time making everything from scratch only to have my daughter shrink into a fit of tears and my son take a bite and whisper, “This is disgusting.” The kids may fight about how many carrots they must eat or who gave them the stink eye, and I always nag at them to get their elbows off the table. Who would want to miss all that love?
When we have sports practice or Scouts, we just eat earlier. It’s tricky. It takes effort. We run late. We rush to the van in our socks.
But some of my funniest memories of childhood include dinnertime with my family. I sat and poked peas around my plate and slipped lima beans to my dog when no one was looking. I griped about tough, chewy pork chops or the fact that the last of the macaroni and cheese was gone. Or I got up from eating my dinner and made myself another meal while my family watched in horror because I had the appetite of two teenage boys and a tapeworm, they were sure.
My sister and I used to taunt each other across the table about how quickly we were developing. We’d tease each other about bra size and make our father so uncomfortable, he’d sometimes gulp his dinner and forgo his usual seconds. We joked about kissing boys with no lips and big ‘80s hair. And the evening culminated in a chase around the kitchen when my sister realized I never participated in dishwashing. Those were good times.
Dinnertime may not always be easy. My kids fight. My daughter picks and squirms. But my kids turn on some of their best comedy acts at the table when they know they have a venue. Sure, we have to endure the world’s lamest knock-knock jokes, but every now and then, somebody says something that makes me choke on my baked ziti.
And of course it’s always the time the kids choose to bring up the most inappropriate topics, like the poor guy who has to carry the shovel behind the elephant at the circus. My husband doesn’t miss a beat though, pointing out that that’s why it’s important to go to college, so you don’t have to be a human pooper-scooper. Always thinking, he is.
So to anyone who needs advice on how to have a family dinner, I offer it here for free. You don’t need a book (unless you can’t cook, then by all means go get a cookbook). Skip the drive-through. Make a meal for your family like your mother did. Eat at the table. No TV, no phone, no devices. Just people. The conversation will come. You don’t need little cards telling you how to talk to people. I promise.