Growing up, dinner at my house was a chaotic affair. My parents very rarely, if ever, ate with my 4 brothers and I, and so we were left to our own troublesome ways during the dinner hour. This typically resulted in most of us being in trouble for something or another by the end of the meal. As we got older, and I became in charge of cooking the evening meal, then serving it to the troublesome lot of them, I realized that I enjoyed the time we spent around the table, chaos and all. As a wife and mother, I have always insisted that dinner be eaten at the table, which is to be set right down to the napkin. My two children, who are now teenagers have spent their lives taking turns setting and clearing that table. Although they try to get away with doing it wrong whenever they can, mostly out of laziness, they both know how to set a proper table.
For 18 years we have kept the same seats around the table, shuffling spots only to accommodate for dinner guests. If the kids have to sit next to each other, my son who is a lefty, sits to the left of his sister so that their arms don’t continually bump while they attempt to eat. It has worked out quite nicely for us. Over the past few years I have realized that we do in fact need a larger table, especially if our family is going to gain son or daughter in laws, and it would make entertaining just a little bit easier. Once the table has been set, the food is brought from the kitchen to the table.
Once a month I sit down with a big white board calendar and plan out the month’s menu. The weeks have a somewhat predictable pattern, and there are never any repeats, except that twice a month, on Friday’s we have homemade pizza. Mondays are meatless, and once the weather is cool, usually a soup. Tuesdays bring a Mexican dish, started to satisfy my son’s desire to have tacos every week. Wednesday is always some type of pasta, usually prepared with seasonal vegetables. Now that it’s winter, often it’s a baked pasta dish and heavy on the cheese. Thursday is often a pork or ham night. Friday is what I call “Junk Food Night.” Friday is a crazy time, especially if it’s marching season, or show season, and then after dinner we go grocery shopping. So we have things like pizza, or grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup, or pulled pork sandwiches and chips. Something easy. The weekends are for things that take longer to cook, or for entertaining. If it is Sunday, then we have a “no pots on the table” rule. I think Sunday dinner should be just a little nicer than the rest of the week, and we even set wine glasses for drinking out of. I say wine glasses, but Libby makes them and they call them Iced Tea glasses. They look like wine glasses but they are really thick glass. At my house we call them goblets because they look like the goblets you would see on the table in a castle.
After everyone has been seated around the table, we say a simple Grace. We have been using the same prayer since our kids were little, which is the same Grace I grew up with, when we ever said it, which was rare. “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” My son, who is always in a hurry to get back to whatever he was doing before dinner, that he rates higher than both eating and spending time with the family usually tries to rush through Grace without the rest of us. We always start over so we can say it together. Once Grace has been said, everyone serves themselves and gets down to the business of eating. When the kids were younger, we used to have conversations surrounding their school day and what was new with their friends and in their lives. Teenagers don’t ever want to share that information with their parents. Questions about such things yield answers such as, “Fine” or “Nothing”. So now, we sit back, and let them lead the conversations. They generally start out with my son giving his sister a hard time about some boy, or something she’s doing that he finds ridiculous or any other thing he can find to annoy her with. After that, she will start a conversation about what’s going on with school, or her show rehearsals or with her friends or other things that lead to more involved conversation. My husband and my son will discuss computer related things that are beyond my realm of understanding, and by that time dinner is usually finished.
When the kids were smaller, they used to ask to be excused from the table. My daughter will still do so on occasion, but my son will just get up when he is finished, even if everyone else is eating, despite the fact that I have repeatedly asked him to stay until we are all done. I find this frustrating, but he is 18 and we have bigger battles to fight. Whoever is not in charge of setting the table is in charge of clearing it off and then washing it down. The kids go off on their separate ways, back to the seclusionary things that teenagers do in their spare time, and my husband and I head to the kitchen to tend to the dishes. It’s a rare occasion that we don’t all sit down to dinner together, and only if one of us is going to be eating somewhere else, as I will adjust the time of dinner to accommodate people’s schedules. An article in the New York Times last summer asked, “Is the Family Dinner Overrated?” and went on to look at things like the well being of teenagers and drug use and such things. Having been on both sides of the table, so to speak, I think I’ll keep gathering my family together for dinner. Tonight we are having Quinoa Vegetarian Chili. Care to join us?