MOTHERHOOD PART TWO: The Importance of Family Dinner –Why it’s Vital for Family Togetherness Even Just Once a Week... Laugh out Loud.

Wrestling over who gets to blow out the candles
is a lovely weekly tradition.
Let’s face it, when the kids were little -- we have 3 kids within 3 years of each other -- “family dinner” was a concept for those other people who had it all together. You know, the neighbors down the street where the mom actually had her hair combed each day and didn’t constantly wear pants covered in baby vomit.

Ah, good times.

Luckily, today, our family has a little less baby vomit and a lot more hair combing. By which I mean that I have now stepped out of the fog-of-early-motherhood and can actually focus on bigger things like hair combing and the importance of Family Dinner.

Family Dinner finally came about when my youngest, my twins, stopped wiggling enough in second grade to be able to sit at the dining room table without falling out of the chair or, I kid you not, ending up with a foot up on top of the table while eating our spaghetti. 

Up until then, the “dining room table” in our family had been used as a glue-sticking-project-central location, a Thomas the Train village and track, and the very infrequent location for entertaining wide-eyed friends, if they dared enter the House of Chaos.

Using Napkins as beards at Family Dinner
is highly frowned upon...
I realized it was time to have a ritual, a routine, on Sunday evenings that my husband and I marked down as a recurring date in our Google family calendar “5:30pm: Family Dinner” to calm, reconnect, recalibrate each Sunday evening before the busyness of a the week of soccer carpooling, work travel and fifth grade math headaches ahead.

So we implemented it. Full steam ahead. Out came grandma’s china. Hey, not plastic! Out came the “good napkins." Hey, not the 8 year old ones with Bob the Builder on them! 

The kids help set the table. Fork on the left, knife on the right. Little teeny spoon on the top – which still to this day fascinates them to no end.

As we, mom and dad, cook, we ask for some help from the kids where they are able to without lopping off a digit, ie: no carrot chopping. Nothing fancy for the menu, but a complete, balanced meal, with an actual green item or two included.

When everything makes it onto the table hot and steaming and we’re all seated with: a) clothing on – naked is NOT an option; b) hands washed – schmeg from the day does not end up on “the good napkins”; c) legs forward, torso sort of forward – sitting side-saddle is for cowgals; and d) pinching, poking and food throwing is strictly forbidden for “the longest 20 minutes of their life”, our oldest son has earned the honor of lighting the candles and we hold hands around the table.

The ideal Family Dinner plate at grandma's house.
Which as you might imagine set-off the “kooties” “ewwww grosss” from the younger set the first few times so we had to resort to a “finger touch” at first, but now has become a normal, not-disgusting part of the evening.

“Whose turn is it to say grace?” we ask. (We are a family with little organized religion, so we bow to this one lovely way to connect with something greater.) Hands shoot up all around the table, everyone wants a say. So now we go around the table and each get a little something to contribute, usually centering around, “I’m grateful for the food and mom and dad and SORT OF for the annoying sibling across the table and I’m VERY grateful for cute, little puppies and kitties.”

Surprisingly and embarrassingly, one of our greatest challenges has been getting the kids to use the forks and knives and NOT their hands to eat their food. 

I seriously, even last night after having Family Dinner for a year now, was jaw-droppingly incredulous at their need to grab corn kernels with their fingers from the plate, toss them into their mouth, miss, dig around in their lap for the lost corn kernels, which are now squished into the back of the “good” dining room chair, finally dig the corn kernels out of the crack, and pop them back into their mouth with their fingers. And, 50% of the time, miss again.

What is this strange object and can we slurp directly from the spoon?
All etiquette breaching, nails-on-the-blackboard aside like: “No, honey, napkins are not for whirling over your head like we do at Giants’ games…” these once a week Family Dinners have become a touch-point for us. 

The kids “look forward” to the calm meal. They grumble less about clearing the table afterwards while we parents point like Royalty at the items still to be cleared by our short, little serfs. They settle and listen to the conversation about middle school PE stinking or having more taste-buds when you are a kid Which is why we don’t like spinach, Mom… very clever, these kids.

I can feel the shift.

I foresee Family Dinners with special girlfriends and boyfriends then spouses and the circle of wiggly grandkids way ahead. A central connection around a dinner table. 

But, note, clothing not optional.

Namaste & Three Cheers! – OM

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