A number of years ago, when my kids were elementary school age and I worked at The Ohio State University Hospital, a resident heard me talking about the meal I'd planned to cook the next day. He asked me, "So do you really make a five-course sit down dinner on your nights off? Do you really make your kids sit at the table and eat with you?"
"Not five courses, but well balanced. And yes, they have to sit at the table." Duh. My look must've matched my thoughts, because he literally took a step back.
"Why?" He honestly didn't understand how a modern family could do this.
"Why wouldn't we? Don't you and your wife sit at a table and eat?"
"Only when we go out. When we do cook, it's usually something we can eat out of the pot while we stand in the kitchen."
As odd as he thought my family meals were, I was saddened by his description of their meals together. He continued to study me as if I was some strange lab rat, so I expounded on the reasons we had sit down dinners at home.
"Sitting together gives us a chance to tell how our day has gone. Everyone, down to the youngest gets a turn to talk. The children learn to eat with manners and also how to have table conversation."
This long ago conversation popped into my head tonight at dinner as I watched my son-in-law holding my granddaughter while she learned to maneuver her fork full of food into her mouth. He patiently let her feed herself, while Rocky-the-wonder-dog dutifully kept the floor beneath her clean. Aria's mother sat beside them, rocking Ransom in his car seat while she worked on her own meal.
Next to me, my oldest daughter chatted with her boyfriend as she ate the dinner of stuffed peppers and mashed potatoes. It was odd that she wasn't eating the asparagus, a favorite vegetable of hers since she was a little girl of four. She announced the reason as, "since I've been pregnant, asparagus hasn't tasted right to me." Luckily for her another month and that should be fixed when her daughter makes her appearance. Seated on my other side, was my husband, who was busy chatting with Aria and reaching for seconds. The only missing person this evening was my son, who is now working evenings. (All these pictures were from last Thanksgiving.)
Once a week I try to plan a family dinner. I don't have to coax anyone to come home to eat. There are no dramatics. I cook. They come. Part of the fun is having the girls or my son-in-law help in the preparation and setting the table. The chatter, the laughter, the companionship are as much what they come home for as the food, (although, I get great pleasure in watching those second helpings hit their plates). Often, we'll stay at the table, long past the last piece of desert is consumed. (Tonight it was french apple pie!) Sometimes we just talk, sometimes we play Clue or cards. Sometimes one of the grandbabies falls asleep in my arms.
I like to think all those family meals when they were small is the reason they keep coming home. And I always think of my mom. She's the one who taught me what family meal time was all about. Tonight when my oldest informed us she couldn't wait to have a family dinner with her child and boyfriend I knew another generation would learn how important they are.
As a reader, these kinds of family moments, whether they take place in a modern day home, a neighborhood cafe or and old English dining room make the most impact on me. They touch what I love about families. It's why I love writers like Lisa Kleypas and Debbie Macomber who show us that families can be as good a character in a book as setting or individuals.
So, dear readers, did you have family meal time when you were growing up or now with your kids? What was your favorite meal? Your favorite memory?
P.S. Once when my son, Eric was little, he moaned about having stuffed peppers for dinner. He said, "Why do we have to have this?" My husband wisely told him, "Doesn't your mom always make things you like to eat?" When Eric said yes, he said, "Well, this is one of those meals your mom likes. She made it for her." Eric, said, "Oh, ok." And never complained about it again.