Everyone who has ever read an article on how to be a happy family knows the importance of eating together.
If you want your kids to get straight A’s, keep their rooms spotless and hug their siblings, all you have to do is sit down at the table together every night. I can’t help thinking that’s a whole lot to expect from passing around a bowl of mashed potatoes.
As great as eating at the table was for manner lessons, it was rarely a place where our family bonded or shared our deepest hopes and fears. I am more than willing to shoulder the blame for some of it. Not all of it, mind you, but some of it.
When you’re sitting around a table with nothing to look at but each other you can get a little critical. And by you, I mean me. Table time was when I noticed stains on T shirts, or hair that needed cutting or that someone was chewing with their mouth open.
What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t helpfully point these things out? My boys would say a nice one, but what do they know about being a mother?
Then there’s the food. You know, the whole reason you’re all gathered around the table in the first place. Since I was the one who usually prepared the food I could get a little sensitive with the food critics.
To complicate things even further, one of the kids was a vegetarian while the other was a confirmed carnivore who was terrified of all things tofu. I used to try to sneak it by him, but he soon got wise and started watching the serving process like a king convinced he was about to be poisoned.
If the chili got passed to his vegetarian brother than he passed on the chili, knowing it had to contain the dreaded tofu instead of beef. The only things they all mutually liked were so unhealthy I rarely made them and when I did I spoiled it by going on about how unhealthy it was.
I’d often make enough supper for two meals so I wouldn’t have to cook something new every night. Instead of calling it leftovers I would tell everyone we were having Déjà vu. I was the only one that was amused.
I think this could be why some people go gaga over their pets after the kids leave home.
You can feed a dog the same thing night after night and not only will he never complain, he’ll continue to turn himself inside out with excitement whenever he hears that can opener whir. Give him a piece of cheese and he thinks you’re the queen of the universe.
Our family had our best discussions not around the kitchen table, but in the car.
With my eyes fixed on the road ahead I wasn’t in a position to pick apart their table manners or fashion sense.
No one could shove back their chair and leave whenever they felt like it. We were locked in for the journey and we all knew how much time we had to fill before we reached our destination.
We didn’t climb into the car with the object of having some quality time. Conversation was the furthest thing from our minds. We climbed in with the object of getting from point A to point B. Living 25 km from the nearest city, and often travelling to points even further away than that, it was simply out of boredom that the talk flowed. But oh how grateful I was for our long country roads and the conversations that bounced out as we made our way along them!
I guess it doesn’t matter where you have conversations with your family, so long as you have them.
I’m lucky this year in that both our children are coming home for Christmas.
I’ve already started stocking the fridge with all kinds of tofu and the freezer with the bloodiest of meat.
I am busy planning out individual menus without a trace of the old irritation.
I am looking forward to all the traditions and even to the family meals, but I’m especially looking forward to that long drive home after picking them up from the airport.
As for looking forward to the drive back up when the holidays are done . . . not so much.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org