When I was growing up, before the creation of diaper division soccer and 12-hour workdays, families had this strange tradition: We sat down and ate dinner together. At home. At the same table. With home-cooked food. Nearly every single night of the week.
At our house, dinner wasn't just an occasion for shoveling in spaghetti (sauce not made by Chef Boyardee but by BoyarDenny or Gloria). It was also a time for each of us to share the highs and lows of our day. In addition, it was our daily opportunity to try to one-up each other in witty repartee. (In the Stanfa household, we usually referred to the dinner hour as Sarcasm Hour. My dad ruled. Still does, I'm sure, at those heavenly feasts he now enjoys.)
When my kids were younger, however, a typical weekday schedule went something more like this:
8 a.m. to 4 p.m.:
Kids off to school; Mom off to work.
4 p.m. to 8 p.m.:
Left work early, using skipped lunch hour to pick up kids from school for appointment with pediatrician/dentist/orthodontist/optometrist/voodoo doctor (these were often desperate times). Waited an hour for ten-minute appointment with doctor. Dropped off one kid at baseball/basketball/sporting practice du jour. Dropped off other kid at guitar/piano/maraca lessons. Picked up both kids from their individual timesucking--make that enriching--activities. Dashed into carryout for several convenience sized boxes of Chewy Chips Ahoy, to arrange nicely on a paper plate for the next day's school bake sale. Assisted kids, as needed, with homework, except for post-sixth grade math which left me clueless. Packed lunches, rewashed mildewing clothes in the washer, failed to locate iron so stapled on merit badges for the next day's Boy Scout ceremony.
Tried to concentrate on work project I promised to finish that evening. Argued with kids about getting ready for bed.
Gave up on work project. Argued with kids about going to bed.
Went to bed. Told the kids to lock up.
Anything I've forgotten? Oh, dinner. Yes, not to worry, no children went to bed on empty stomachs in this household. Somewhere between the school parking lot and the I-475 exit ramp, we managed to fit in a delightful dinner. Courtesy of whichever squawking box had the shortest drive-through line.
One the rare Sunday afternoon when we had nothing preempting the 4-7 timeslot, I would try to fit in a Family Dinner. Contrary to my kids' beliefs, I still had the ability, if not the opportunity, to cook. Getting everyone to sit down at the dining room table was a bigger feat though. "Nobody sits together at the table to eat dinner," Son #1 once complained, rolling his eyes. (And when I mentioned this to a group of friends later that week, everyone fell silent before one of them finally nodded and said, "We haven't all sat down to eat together in weeks.")
Now, with neither son at home, one at college six hours away, family dinners have become even more infrequent.
As we sit down for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year, I will give thanks that we made it through those chaotic years unscathed and unscurvied. And thankful that now, even if only a few times a year, we can sit together and enjoy the kind of family dinners I once knew. We'll share a bounty of home-cooked food and, I'm certain, share some heartfelt words and some witty banter besides.
And we don't want any fries with that, thank you.