Family Dinners

There have been lots of stories in the news about how family dinners are good for you. They may have health benefits for teens, and the other benefits seem nearly magical.

When I was growing up, we ate as a family almost every night. We had a dining room that we only used on holidays. For nightly dinners, I brought in two chairs from the dining room and we hunkered around the small kitchen counter. We turned on the TV and didn’t talk much. We did not say grace or pass food, but reached. Instead, we ate. A lot. And quickly. My dad said it was a holdover from his childhood, when eating with 6 siblings was competitive and he who hesitated got no mashed potatoes.

In case you suspect I’m exaggerating about how much food we put away, my mother used to make six to eight pumpkin pies. Each of us would get a quarter of a pie at a time.

I’m thinking that TV watching and competitive eating are not what these parenting experts had in mind.

My family dinners now resemble the family dinners my husband’s family had. Cadillac grew up having raucous family dinners. Sometimes his mother still hosts some at her house, and the kids adore these because they get to hear tales of what happened at previous family dinners, like the time that their uncle made their cousin laugh so hard Jell-O came out of her nose. Or the time Cadillac, as a litlte boy, took off his slipper and put it on the table because he wanted a turn to talk.

Everyone pitches in to set the table and bring out dishes. We say grace in the Catholic style, first doing the sign of the cross, and then this child-friendly, “Come Lord Jesus be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.” Not only is it child-friendly, it’s short. Always a benefit if you’re starving.

The longer version is this:

Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

Or something like that.

At Christmas, we do an Advent candle wreath. We have a book with different prayers and discussions on each day, counting down to Christmas. On the first week of December, you light one candle; on the second, another, until by the fourth all the candles are lit.

We pass food around, asking nicely. We try to practice good manners. This includes not criticizing the food. If you criticize, you get to cook. We tell the kids to pretend they like something, so if they go to someone’s house and they are served something they don’t like, they won’t insult their friend by gagging.

The kids are mostly pretty good at this. But the other night, I made beef stew. Cadillac was going to be late, and so we began eating before he got home. I served it to the kids and then went back into the kitchen to get the salad.

Little Girl made a comment I didn’t catch.

“Don’t say that!” her older brother and sister immediately said.

“What did she say?” I asked.

The kids were mum.

“Tell me what she said,” I asked my son directly.

“She said it looks disgusting and I told her she shouldn’t say that,” my son said.

“Well, it’s too bad, because that’s what dinner is,” I said. “Besides, it hurts mommy’s feelings. And what would Daddy say?”

Little Girl sat upright in her chair. “Don’t tell Daddy! Don’t tell him one word! I’m sorry!”

Anyway, we ate and talked and laughed about what happened that day. Cadillac got home. Nobody ratted out Little Girl.

“So how was the stew?” I asked her at the end.

“Good!” she said, as if she had forgotten what she had said. “It was good.”

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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