Adam, Hsin Yi and Eleanor came for Sunday dinner. There’s something about gathering and sharing a meal with family that makes our new aerial space more our own, claiming our territory so to speak. I’m always excited when family or friends are coming for dinner. I love setting the table, making it special, perhaps adding a party favor to create a mood.
A National Geographic article, The Joy of Food, asks the question: What is it about eating that brings us closer? Part of that answer is that sharing food has always been a part of the human story; we use it to make friends, court lovers and count our blessings.
The benefits of families sharing their dinner time is commonly known and well documented. From better achievement in school, to having enhanced self-esteem, there seems little downside for kids absent a toxic home environment. Unfortunately, polls reported by NPR in 2013 reflected data where in almost half of those responding found it difficult to share meals on a regular basis. In 2016 over 60% of households had two working parents so when all the benefits of dining together compete with evening schedules, what are our choices? As with all the challenges in our lives, we do the best we can. Some days we succeed others perhaps not.
During part of my stint as au pair to my grandsons, their dad was working at The Washington Post. The nature of the newspaper business often kept him at work past the boys’ dinner time. My son Emmet dealt with that by being the breakfast guy. The boys would start their day with their dad and a breakfast he had prepared for them. One regular offering was over easy eggs with toast with quickly became known as dip-dip eggs!
Mr. Smith and I had been empty nesters for many years when I commenced my grandmere au pair adventure. We had come to take for granted a tablecloth, cloth napkins, candles and often flowers on the table. When I became an au pair, I had to pull some tricks out of my bag as that wasn’t really working for the grandsons. They mostly just wanted to blow the candles out!
When it was hard to get them to sit still long enough to eat lunch, I made that into reading time. They were much more likely to linger at the table and eat something if I was reading to them. Who doesn’t want to find out what happens to the old lady who swallowed a fly???
For dinnertime, I found it helped to include Eli and Henry in dinner prep and setting/decorating the table. It was always a huge hit when I would cover the table with brown kraft paper for them to draw on. They loved creating “placemats” for everyone and assigning seats by writing your name where they wanted you to sit! They were always happy to build a centerpiece out of Legos, paint on some fall leaves, or help add pine and pinecones to the table.
Eons ago when I was single and living with my sister and her family, she came home on Valentine’s Day with beautiful foil wrapped chocolate hearts that she put at each person’s place. That was the beginning of my love of party favors! Trying to come up with a favor that coincides with the occasion has given me much pleasure over the years. With my grandkids, I usually stick to a small chocolate or other edible treat for favors and I’m not above using those treats as a bargaining chip to get them to eat their dinner.
We make memories around the table. Traditions are born there. Our middle son and daughter-in-law have three young daughters. On New Year’s Eve, they have cheese fondue and talk about what they were thankful for during the year. On Valentine’s Day they have chocolate fondue! During Advent, Becky sets the table every Sunday with the good china and crystal. My granddaughters all look forward to “fancy dinners”. In my mind’s eye I see my granddaughters carrying on those traditions with their friends and families.
One gift my mother did give me is the tradition of all of us sitting down together for dinner. It wasn’t fancy, but in retrospect I understand how important a gift it was. Thanks, Mom.
C’est la vie.