We've just had a holiday here - and holidays mean family meals!
I used to dream of those family mealtimes when everyone was relaxed and happy to be at the table together at the same time. Sharing laughs and stories and interesting conversation, enjoying the food and not dropping it on the floor (accidentally or on purpose) or getting up constantly, or telling each other what to eat or complaining about the vegetables or snorting milk through their noses. I have dreamed of dinner conversations that didn't have to do with bodily functions. Whenever I read one of those essays about the halcyon days of someone else's dinner table, I wonder if, in general, families really do have those wonderful mealtimes together or if the reporter of said halcyon days is just lying to get attention.
Oh, sure, we've had some of those meals, although to be honest we're more likely to have them around a restaurant table so that someone is not flustered from cooking, everyone got to order what they wanted (including the parents' glasses of wine), and nobody will have to wash dishes. We had some fun just yesterday, sitting around the dining room table eating takeout subs. Of course, two of our grumpier members were not present. But still, we were in good spirits and had some laughs.
I have memories of my family dinners growing up - always at 6:00 o'clock, with the Huntley Brinkley Report going on in the background (although we couldn't get up in the middle of the meal to go watch it, which was ok because it was usually just Huntley's or Brinkley's talking head shot anyway). Lots of teasing went on at our table. My brother and I teased our mom about her casseroles - whenever she told us she got the recipe for that night's dinner out of a magazine, we made all kinds of faces and groaned loudly. My brother teased me a lot and especially liked to tell jokes at the table. There were definitely a couple of milk-out-the-nose episodes courtesy of his deliberate timing of the punchlines.
I expect mealtime was not all that satisfying for my mom since, in addition to the tv and the unenlightened conversation and behavior, I was a terribly picky eater and often would have to sit at the table for two or more hours because I hadn't finished my liver or spinach or drunk my milk. I hoped to wait her out, to get a break when she would finally have to leave the room for a minute and I could quickly throw my food out the back door for the dogs to eat. I also unsuccessfully tried the hold-it-in-my-mouth-until-she-wasn't-looking trick. But usually I just had to sit there until I could choke down whatever it was I didn't want to eat. It was awful. And I expect it was awful for my mom, too.
So I have mixed memories of family dinner, myself. The important thing is that I did experience it as family time, whatever the quality.
Given my own negative contribution to my growing-up family dinners, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my grown-up family dinners are often exercises in frustration. They actually seldom even happen, as our family is often out in all different directions until well after "supper time." I suspect, too, that in fact, most families do not achieve the wonderful family meal experience on a regular basis, but only sometimes. Fortunately, I don't think my kids read those magazine articles or blog posts about the wonderful family dinners that other people are supposedly having, and even if they did, I doubt they would care.
So I think it's past time to let that fantasy go, and for the most part, I have. I am only occasionally wistful about the dream family dinners. I am not always frustrated that on the days I do cook dinner, nobody is at home at "dinner time" to eat it. What's more important is that I am thankful that we have a family and that we have food to eat and a table to eat it on (even if it has to be decluttered every day) - and a dishwasher and towels and a mop.