US: Dinner Rules!

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If you spend any time reading about the demise of the American family, one issue that is always broached is that we don't share the dinner table with each other anymore. It is symbolic of how busy we are—even when doing good things—that this once common event has eroded and fallen off our family radar. At the risk of sounding like a wistful old man, my childhood is full of memories around the dinner table, as was Hope's, so we naturally wanted to pass that on to our own kids. I say naturally because I don't think we ever had a discussion about it; it was assumed and we made it a priority. Obviously, this is easier when the kids are younger and their activities are confined to the neighbor's yards and the swing sets, but we also kept it going as long as we could once extracurricular interests evolved to the ball fields and church.

Eating together was a great opportunity to not only spend focused time together, but it allowed us to slowly work on table manners and expectations when sharing a meal with others. Saying, “Please pass the bread” and “Thank you” were taught and learned and allowed Hope and I to feel a little better about sending them out to the public, especially when we weren't around to glare and clear our throats. We also tried to keep a scheduled time to eat, usually around 6 p.m. That gave everyone plenty of time to get prepared for bed and have a snack before going to bed.

Ah, yes, the snack. One of our rules at the dinner table was that you had to, minimally, try everything on your plate in order to get a snack before bedtime. This seemed simple enough, but it was the cause of much drama and angst. This was when we discovered there were certain foods that certain kids refused to eat. Whether out of stubbornness or actual taste bud revulsion, Jordan would not eat green beans. This was problematic because Hope did her best to prepare food that they would eat and green beans tend to be a vegetable that is widely accepted in the childhood arena. The battle to get him to eat at least one—”at least try it!”—was exhausting and always ended with Jordan in his famous pose of defeat: elbow on the table, hand on forehead, eyes staring at his plate. Eventually we issued a writ of dispensation for him and allowed him to skip the beans but, in order to get a snack, he had to eat double of the other vegetable offered. It eased the drama and, as far as I know, he still won't eat green beans at 21 years old.

Laura brought her own drama to the snack situation. There were times that she patently refused to eat something on her plate. Sometimes it was the meat, sometimes the vegetables. There didn't seem to be a rhyme or reason so we tended to show her less grace. And she was a rock in her stubbornness. She learned early on that there were consequences for her actions and we were constantly amazed to see her fall on the sword of baked chicken and miss a trip to the yogurt shop. I guess there is something to be said for consistency, even if it occurs inconsistently.

But the drama and the sadness were completely overshadowed by all the positives of eating together. We laughed a lot. We talked about our day. We made fun of Laura looking at herself in the mirror (and eventually had to change her seat at the table to an obstructed view). We learned a lot about each other and grew as a family sitting around that table and we still relish the opportunity to all gather together now and share a meal and stories. We still laugh a lot and we still have to keep Laura away from the mirror but that is fine with me. It would be sad if nothing stayed the same.

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