When I was a kid, all the way from middle school to high school, I had three best friends. We called ourselves the “fearsome foursome” and did ridiculous things like go see Hanson in concert at 8 am on a school day and crash a golf cart in an ill-conceived attempt at joyriding.
We grew apart in college, and we each made adult lives for ourselves with new friends and new family. I miss my friends sometimes, and I pay attention to what they’re up to on facebook, but I figured that for the most part, that friendship is in the past. At least, the part of it where we talk, listen, and learn from each other is.
It’s days like today when I’m so stupid grateful for the internet. This morning, it gave me something beautiful — an unexpected chance to learn something new, something obvious, and something vital from one of my childhood friends.
But family dinners saved my life, I think. Well, the “family” part of those dinners. You see, growing up, we ate dinner together every night, and when I developed anorexia, the only reason I ate sometimes was so that I wouldn’t be missing out on my family. I knew I could skip, but I knew if I did that, I would lose out on stories and laughter and joy. The few calories I would put in my body then were probably the calories that kept me alive. There were the days in the beginning of recovery when we all had to learn “safe” topics, we didn’t talk about weight or diets or exercise at the table, and surprisingly, that rule became just a way of being. We talked about deeper things that calories and Atkins. (That’s a hard thing to find when dining with other women.) Dinner was used to heal, it was used to wage battle, and it was used to defeat the eating disorder monster.
When I got divorced, I got out of the habit of dinner. I often just snacked or skipped. And then, I relapsed. It was that way for nearly two years. I didn’t eat dinner with anyone unless it was a special occasion, but I didn’t have the need to “catch up” with everyone’s days. Then I met Collin, and he wanted dinner. I was at a loss. I didn’t want dinner. I didn’t want to eat. But he needed it and when I took a long hard look at myself, I realized that I needed it, too. I needed to form the habit of sitting and eating and sharing what was going on in our worlds. It’s been a place of contention for us, him wanting a meal, me wanting anorexia for dinner. But choosing family dinner, choosing to cook and eat and talk, those things are life saving and life giving. It is where we hash things out, share stories of our days and our students, help each other navigate the crazy world of education and special needs students. It is where we share our passions.
Family dinner is more important than just food. It is relationships and sharing and listening and growing. The memories of laughter and tears and fights and arguments and love that happened at the dinner table bring me such joy. So much joy and hope, that at the end of a long day, when all that is within me says to skip dinner and not do anything, I choose family dinner with Collin, because those dinners cemented my family growing up, and I want them to cement the family we are building together.
I’m terrible at family dinners. The Ogre works at the writing center almost every night, and when he’s not here, there just doesn’t seem to be much point. I make dinner, the kids eat, I put them to bed, and then I eat. Sometimes I eat with them, but usually I see it as 20 minutes of stillness wherein I can finish up the chores or pack lunches or do dishes. And even when I eat with them, or when the Ogre runs home to bolt something down and head back to work, we don’t all sit down and have family dinner. Eating at the same time is not the same thing as eating together.
I know family dinner is important, but I keep waiting for life to calm down enough to allow it. For the Ogre to be home. For Sienna to not have swim team in the middle of dinner time. But while I’ve been waiting for our life to be conducive to family dinners, nearly nine years have passed by without a guaranteed, end-of-the-day, set-in-stone family dinnertime. Nine years of missed laughter, missed conversation, missed shared meals that could have helped us cement our family.
It didn’t hit me until this morning that skipping the “family” part of dinner is not just an oversight, or a lack of organization and proactive mothering. It’s wrong, and it’s bad for all of us. We all need that time. The kids need that time with us, and we need that time with them. Our lives are crazy busy, but that should be the one time each day when we let all the craziness fade away and focus on what matters, on why we’re so busy, on what the point of all this work is for, and on what matters most.
So, tonight, we’ll have family dinner.
(PS: Thanks, Kacy.)