This evening, as my husband and I ate our dinner staring at each other, we silently acknowledged that we were also seeing our future: An empty table. Excuse me for a brief moment while I compose myself.
As children grow older, and their lives start separating from their parents, the daily question, “What do you want for dinner?” is replaced with, “Are you home for dinner?” With our oldest away at college and our two younger children involved with sports and other after-school activities, the dinner table can be lonely place. It’s hard when the only noise you hear is yourself chewing. Are my husband and I one step away from eating our supper on TV trays while watching Wheel of Fortune?
Family meals hold a special place for me. My fondest memories growing up revolve around my childhood kitchen table. My parents were creatures of habit. Dinner was served promptly at 5:45 every single evening. My mother, and this is of public record, did not enjoy cooking. She would think nothing of serving us tacos with a side dish of Chung King egg rolls. Another monthly “favorite” was chipped beef and gravy from a jar served over toasted Wonder bread with some canned cling peaches. The juices from the gravy and the peaches would run together despite my best efforts to separate the two with my fork. In my mother’s defense, she came from a family that thought nothing of serving dinner guests spaghetti with baked potatoes and sour cream on the same plate so my mother’s meal combinations were not unusual for her and have provided great stories for us through the years.
But my memories are not of the food but the laughter and conversation that took place at our house every evening at 5:45. We all learned what everyone was up to as we took turns going around and sharing our day. Manners were enforced and at times my brother, sister and I had to sit until our plates were clean, but my mother always felt it was important to make dinner time a happy time. And it was. In those days, children weren’t over scheduled and homework wasn’t a four-hour marathon. We played outside with the neighborhood kids after school until we were called inside. If we became thirsty from riding our bikes, or playing freeze tag, we ran over to the hose to take a sip, usually waiting several minutes until the water turned from warm to ice cold. But I’m digressing. Back to the dinner table.
So I tried to create the same atmosphere for my children. Dinner around the table was a must most evenings throughout their childhood. Highchairs were soon replaced with booster seats and plastic place-mats of Big Bird made way for more grown up faire. It wasn’t always perfect. Someone would cry because his or her food was touching or a recipe didn’t quite work out and a well intended meal would be replaced by Raisin Bran, but all in all it was my favorite part of the day.
I think of all of the things I will miss the most on that day when my husband and I reluctantly move our TV trays to the television will be the ritual of our family meal. Where my son runs in from practice, throws his cleats on the floor and grabs a plate and takes a heaping spoonful of whatever it is I’m preparing and gives me all of the details of his day. Where my daughter arrives home from an afternoon with friends and is full of news about her senior year. When my oldest is home from college and begs me to make “anything with meat.”
Because today, I would give anything to sit at that kitchen table of my childhood home and have another meal with my family in a time that seemed carefree.