This last few weeks has been hard for me for many reasons. My business has shifted gears, in a positive way, but has resulted in long hours and many decisions. My husband has been working on a big project at work, so we haven’t had as much time together as usual, leaving us both irritable and feeling disconnected. The Jewish holidays have come and gone and, while spiritually uplifting, the attendant socializing and entertaining have me feeling somewhat depleted physically. And then there’s the big elephant in the room, the circus freak-show going on in Washington, which makes me sad, depressed, angry and frightened. I am not really a negative person, in fact most people would say I’m unnaturally optimistic, but this month has been a struggle, even for me.
But, dear reader, do not despair. I was hit with inspiration the other day during a random, casual conversation with some of my colleagues. I had brought my lunch to a meeting and the discussion turned to cooking in general, cooking for families in particular. I was the only person with children of my own, the others being considerably younger than myself, but each of us had something to say about our experiences with family meals. I mentioned that, while my children were growing up, I made family dinners an every-night thing. As the children got older, had more activities and eventually were able to drive themselves around, attendance was not always one hundred percent. But, at the proscribed time, dinner was on the table for whomever was home.
One of my colleagues mentioned that her mom didn’t know how to cook, so they ate out every dinner, or brought in food from somewhere else. This led us to discuss what, exactly, constitutes a “family dinner.” Did it have to be homemade? Did it have to be at home? Did it have to be dinner? I was struck by the guilt the other felt that they didn’t engage in this daily ritual with their families. They judged their parents for not making it a priority. I, in turn, began to feel self-conscious. I am not one to hold everyone to some random standard that fits me and in fact, I try to look deeper in these types of discussions. Did each of their families make some sort of regular interaction happen? Could they look differently at their family’s process and see what they did to maintain connection? For my family, dinner was the available time, but for other families it may have been something else.
The discussion revealed to me the complex and intense relationship between families and food. Not a groundbreaking thing, for sure. But scratch the surface and you’ll find that even in today’s modern world where things move at lightning speed and dinner can be obtained with the click of a mouse, by opening an app or by a meal delivery program, there remains a longing for people in the same household to spend time together. For most of us food is comfort and the comfort of eating with those we love, in our familiar surroundings, makes us feel safer and less alone in the world.
In these turbulent times, we all long for a way to make sense of things. At the end of the day I still feel comforted by going to the fridge, taking out the fixings for a home cooked meal and beginning the preparations while my husband pours a glass of wine and we share our day. When my children come home for visits, they ask for their favorite meals and we cook together, catching up and remembering what always brings us back together.
If you have a memory or story to share about your “family dinner,” please share. I’m working on a collection of stories on this subject and would love to connect with you. Leave a comment here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Bon apetit!
Bonus points if you can identify the family in the featured photo!
P.S. Here’s one last picture from my Summer Garden. Sweet Potatoes! Just dug from the ground, ready to dry and store for Sweet Potato pie for Thanksgiving!
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood. Check it out at www.nashvillepilatescompany.com. She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation. The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors. Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com. If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.
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3 responses to “Reflections on the Family Dinner”
With youth sports for two kids at the competitive level, family dinners are often few and far between. When they do happen, I wish they didn’t. The lack of table manners that I see and no one else does (or cares), the getting up to go somewhere to do something while others are still eating, the late arrivals because “I just had to finish this one game” excuse…
If the two parents involved aren’t on the same page, it’s futile to enforce it. The idyllic image of the connecting with family over a meal…it’s been a while since this happened at my house, despite that it was a regular occurrence before they turned into teens.
So, I have no answers, only tears of frustration. blah.
Claudette, thanks for your comment. It can be frustrating to corral teens. Our dinner’s were not always idyllic. But the attempt did not go unnoticed and today my adult children do have good table manners, they know how to listen politely while others are speaking and they respect each other. It may not be apparent in the moment, but keep trying because they learn more by what they observe than by what we say to them. It is important to have both parents on the same page, but keep going. It will be worth it.
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