Everyone has heard that it is super important for families to eat dinner together. Well, I will tell you:
It isn't just that we're too busy to cook and clean (we are but we do it anyway--just don't look too closely at the pile of dishes next to the sink). Those family health experts are so funny, aren't they, in thinking that this is the problem? What a joke!
We don't have dinner together on far too many nights because the kids are in school until 4:00 in the afternoon and it's only after 4pm that we have time to do the other things in life which are so important to us. It's not that we don't have time to cook: we use the crockpot and we make soups ahead and we use our freezer and we cook on the weekends or early in the morning. It's that the kids have dance or music lessons or health appointments at least four times a week, always scheduled during dinner time (or pushing dinner to unreasonable lateness). I have to be in class during dinner time twice a week. Somebody's always running somewhere between 4 and 8pm. Often, we're all running in separate directions, handing off kids and cars like it's the latest relay race fad, splitting the difference and hoping for the best.
We do, however, always have breakfast together as a family. Now, we almost never eat patent cereals from a box, and I feel somewhat odd knowing that I am partially colluding in the advertising campaign of a gigantic corporation who will not pay me a dime for my trouble-- but there's got to be some give, maybe a couple of judicious short cuts here and there.
Although the late school day makes evenings tricky and afternoons nonexistent, starting school at 9:00am means that we don't have to leave the house until 8:30am, which allows us to get up at a leisurely 7:00am and still have time for all we need to do. We use our morning jobs charts and good mental hygiene habits to keep us on track, and together we manage to get everyone clean and dressed, packed lunches made, hot breakfast made, beds made, jammies folded, Duchenne stretches and teeth brushed and other health jobs done, plus a couple of musical instruments practiced, and often a spare bit of homework done too. And in the midst of all of that, the breakfast.
(What we don't get done is nearly as long a list, and a "perfect" morning often ends in one parent presenting "competent" out to the world while the other one is still home presenting chaos in pajamas with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Also, we use an allowance-based motivation system for the kids with both bonuses for good and timely work, and fines for non-cooperation.)
Yet every day, rain, snow, or shine (or dark of winter), we gather around the table together at 7:30am and spend a half-hour totally devoted to family, good food, and conversation. Every breakfast is planned ahead for ease, health, and speed; every breakfast includes some healthy protein and either fruits, vegetables, or both.
We do not watch television and we never use electronics at the table (except for the very rare occasion when we have to look something up immediately in order to continue our conversation). Yes, we take a morning newspaper and there are mornings where breakfast is consumed in silent contemplation of reading material, each absorbed in his/her own book/magazine/newspaper article. But we're quiet introverts and sometimes this is the best way to share space and feel companionable and relaxed together. What happens most often, is that we'll be reading along for a minute or two and someone will pop up with a "Hey you guys, listen to this!" or a "This article has got it all wrong about ..." or "Did you see this awesome photo?" Then we're off on a winding conversation journey that tends to be both far-reaching and fun.
I was particularly proud of one of our recent weekday breakfasts, which went something like this:
Scott was cooking at the stove and I was making coffee. One of us warbled (I'll let you guess which one), apropos of nothing:
"The sun was shining on the sea, shining with all its might ... and this was odd, because it was the middle of the night!"
(Breakfast, some of us feel, should always include random snippets of misquoted poetry. Especially if the quoter would otherwise merely be complaining about how it's still dark outside when we have to be out of bed.)
Suddenly, one of us who is easily startled before coffee, shouted out: "Aaaugh! Oh, it's you! Good morning, Hazel."
Then there were two of us warbling and dancing around the kitchen (I'll let you guess which two), and Rain toddled in and got into the mix. Then one of us hurried him off to the bathroom (he still needs to be forcibly persuaded to do this every single the morning).
Then my memory goes a bit blank for a few minutes because it does that sometimes when I haven't yet had coffee and I've gotten out of bed when it's still dark outside. Somehow or another, we all got to the table and a lovely broccoli-cheese-and-eggs scramble was being consumed with coffee, toast, vitamins, and some berries. There may have been, in fact, I can guarantee that there was, a significant amount of poetry-snippet warbling in the interim.
Once we were all gathered at the table, Rain, who had apparently been contemplating the magic of cooking food, asked, "How do you make a fire?"
We spent several interesting minutes trying to figure out whether he was asking about 1. traditional fire-starting and tending practices, 2. about wildfires, 3. about how I would make a fire if I were stranded in the wilderness, or 4. about the process and requirements of combustion. It was combustion.
But during the conversational explorations into our other fire-related topics, we had mentioned the flint and steel method of fire-starting. So there was some post-combustion talk about the relative hardness of different types of stones and metals. And whether or not you could get a spark out of banging them together. This led naturally, of course, to a discussion of the comparative advantages of different materials in knife and sword making over the course of human (and pre-human) history.
We agreed that Homo erectus must have had fire, stone knives/tools, and clothing in order to survive, and that they probably also had houses. There was some debate about which of these early inventions we thought was most essential, with the majority of the family coming down on the side of clothes.
Nevertheless, we agreed that houses are important, which allowed one of us (I'll let you guess which one) to begin expounding on the topic of how best to design a house-and-farm colony on Mars. Then, while some of us were debating about radiation control and how people can breathe even if they live entirely indoors, one of us had turned back to the paper and discovered that there's a private house in Hollywood with an 8000 square foot disco in the basement.
We drifted away from the table, still occasionally shouting remarks to one another from our respective bedrooms, as beds were made and pajamas folded, about who on earth could possibly justify having their own personal 8000 square foot disco. We did agree, however, that the four-lane personal bowling alley also contained in the fantastical house would be a distinct advantage. Especially on Mars!