Today is Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children. From the website:
More than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has consistently found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.
I came from a household where we ate dinner together every night, without fail. It was the most rigid of routines: at 6:00 we would hear the whoosh of the bus pulling to the curb. Our border collie would go insane, scratching at the door. This meant that Dad Was Home. Dad would come in, take off his shoes, and go upstairs to change; this meant that it was time for my brother to set the table, and for me to start transferring things from pots to serving dishes, and taking them out to the table.
Then we would eat, I guess, but dinner at my house wasn’t about the eating. It was about the talking.
You’ll be just shocked, I know, to hear that I am a talker. But it’s not just me, and it’s not just talking. I come from a whole family of long-winded people, and we would sit around the table wind each other up and talk about anything and everything: our day, the news, the book I just finished. something somebody said to me once, this is what is wrong with the education system, I had a weird dream last night. We were philosophizers, we were sermonizers, we were expounders. We would give forth, parry, soliloquize. God, how I miss it.
These were marathon talks that could go on until bedtime; it was not at all unusual for us to still be sitting around that dinner table flapping our yaps two or three hours later. Yes, that’s right. HOURS. (If any of my old high school friends are reading this, please back me up in the comments.)
And I really think it was these times of talking that gave me a sense of who I was. I was given the time and space and a willingly captive audience; I was free to give voice to my opinions. I was also fully expected to debate them and defend them. Often I would reframe them.
I developed a fairly evolved sense of ethics and morality. I learned to see things from multiple viewpoints. I learned to stand behind my opinions.
Today, I eat with my own family on a daily basis, although I think of it as more than just a comforting routine and a long conversation.
- I involve the kids in the shopping for food; we have become acquainted with the vendors at our farmer’s market, and the kids have, hopefully, some understanding of where our food comes from and how much work goes into producing it.
- I involve them in the prep as well. I really wish I had learned to cook before I had kids! It’s a valuable skill to have, and they are invested in the meal we set on the table.
- The children set the table, complete with placemats, cloth napkins, china plates and glass cups. They fill a pitcher with whatever we’re drinking with dinner and fill the glasses. Dinner is not a slapdash affair; it is something that is central to our day and lovely and enjoyable.
- We talk. Not as much, alas, as my dad and I did. But we talk nonetheless. There is no TV, no answering of phones, no radio. Sometimes there is singing. (I would prefer no singing, but I am flexible.)
- We use the time to use our manners, our “Please pass” and “thank you”s. We wipe our hands on our napkins and not our pants. (Most of the time.) We point out what’s appropriate dinner conversation. We try not to interrupt. We don’t take the last of the iced tea without checking to see if anyone else would like to split it.
- Afterwards, the kids clear the table and load the dishwasher. I wash the pots and pans; someone dries, someone wipes down the table; someone fills Tupperware with the leftovers for the next day’s lunches.
It saddens me, really, that we need to have a day set aside, where we pledge to have dinner with our kids. Something so simple.
Our children grow and change so quickly, and I make a point of getting to know who they are today. I want to meet every bit of them, every beautiful nuance and aspect of their personalities.
I want to help shape them, but I don’t want to do the shaping. They are their own people. Mostly I want to be a safe place, a wall that they can bounce their ideas and hopes and thoughts off of. I want to help them refine who they are each day as they change and grow, and I want them to hear their own thoughts take shape. I think this is so important and neglected.
I want them to learn how to think, to think on their feet, to defend, to see the value in their own original thoughts and opinions. I want them to know that I’m listening.
So, Family Day. I don’t know. Why just a day?
I know not everyone is lucky enough to have the schedule that we do, the luxury of everyone coming together at a certain time. I realize that even in a few years, our own schedules may prevent it. (Jeez, who will be my captive audience then?)
How about you? When do you get your “talk time” in?
Contest!! Kids can submit artwork to the CASA “My Family Dinner” coloring contest, to be considered for the 2009 Family Day campaign. There will be a winner in each of these age categories:
- Primary: preschool-grade 2
- Intermediate: grades 3-5
- Middle/junior: grades 6-8
- Senior grades 9-12
Guidelines can be found here, and entries must be postmarked by October 22nd.