A mother of 9 grown children reflects on dinnertime:
the central hub that held all the spokes of her family’s activities
together into one cohesive whole . . . a wheel of family life.
“Oh good, you’re done barn chores. Perfect timing; dinner is almost ready.”
“Two more minutes, everybody!”
“Daniel I’ll help with that after we eat, okay?”
“Mary, please run up and open Claire’s door and shut off the music.”
‘Dinner is ready!”
“Lucy, I know you love that book sweetheart but, remember, no reading at the dinner table.”
“Honey would you lift up David into the high chair?”
“Are we all here? Anyone missing?”
Ah, dinner time in a large family.
Dinner was the highlight of the day with everyone clambering to share their news or simply squeeze in comments or opinions into the cacophony of voices. It was a humorous symphony that sounded perfectly in tune and in harmony to my ears with high baby voices, loud, boisterous little boys, the quavering of a male voice changing, Dad’s reassuring bass tones and my calls for every one to listen to the toddler’s newest word. The highlight of this often unruly symphony was the spontaneous laughter that punctuated the entire meal.
Life around the dinner table was relaxed and happy because I allowed my children to behave in age appropriate ways. I did not demand adult perfection. The consequences of this decision were messy but well worth the time it took to mop up after meal time. It meant and not shoveling in neat, tidy mouthfuls of food into a toddler because we let little people feed themselves as soon as they reached for the spoon. It meant including three-year olds in meal prep, sending five and six-year olds running out to the garden for vegetables and letting go of pride by letting a ten-year old make the dessert. In other words we valued participation over a neat and tidy kitchen and orderly meal time.
Now I am reaping the rewards of decisions that sent my mother-in-law into a sputtering, spiral of incredulity as she eyed my kitchen and the faces of my little people after a meal. Yet even she looks now at my grown-up kids with admiration because they all love to cook and entertain, especially for each other. Just drop by for a quick hello and inevitably they will cajole you to stay for a meal. It is a simple fact that there is no better way to form deep relationships than conversation over a home-cooked meal. In fact there is no better way to encourage the development of a warm supportive family than with delicious food and relaxed conversation around the dinner table.