It has been months since I have had dinner with my family.
It’s quite a change from when I grew up, one I tend to feel often. It’s no surprise then that when I saw this early this morning, trawling through social media, it struck a chord.
I was extremely fortunate as a kid- I had both parents, one of whom (my mom) didn’t need to work. She became a librarian when my sisters and I were in high school/college- not through necessity, but because she was bored and wanted something to do.
The whole time she was a stay-at-home mom, though, my mother insisted on a family dinner every night, and that that dinner should be homemade. Of course, all stereotypes have a seed of truth to them- some dinners were hits, others misses (my father will tell you stories of black bean burgers, and nuclear-hot buffalo wings where the red color was entirely from paprika.)
Hit or miss, though, the intent was the same. Dinner was when the family talked. It was where we shared our day and our thoughts. Books were forbidden at the dinner table (quite the imposition on three exceptionally bookish kids. A common game when out to dinner was “Guess the literary work from the first line that I’m reciting from memory.”)
Comic books, toys, and any other diversion where likewise banned.
It was family time.
I talk a lot on this blog on the virtues of food as communication, as well as the economic and experiential joys of home cooking. Of all the things cooking communicates, though- the very best is love. There is something profoundly primal about the emotional impact of sharing with, cooking for, and feeding others. Looking after your friends and loved ones at this most basic, biologically necessary level communicates- in a way deeper than words can conjure- that you love them, care for their well-being, and want them around.
In retrospect, that was one reason I became a cook and a baker- I wanted to help EVERYONE find those moments of happiness. Whether I was cooking for them, or teaching people to do it themselves, I wanted everyone to have at least one moment around their dinner table like I did.
When I decided that I was going to get in shape, one of the challenges was finding the time. I didn’t know when was best, when I’d have the most energy, when I’d feel the most motivated- “when I’d have the chance.”
One of the biggest lessons I learned from that was “You always have time for the things you make time for.” Thirty minutes I spent dithering on the computer could be spent running. Time in front of the tv could easily be active.
The same applies to your family dinner- “you have time for the things you make time for.”
Pick a time after which you will NOT be disturbed by work or other activity. If that’s too much, pick just one night a week. Keep it open for family dinner, and keep it sacred.
That sounds dramatic, but it really is what you need to do- make that time or that night special, to yourself and the ones you love.
It can be a homecooked family dinner right out a Norman Rockwell painting- or just swinging by a friends place with Chinese take-out.
It’s not hard, or even a really big ask- but it can mean the world.
You don’t need to cook well- or even at all. You just need to BE THERE.
Be there to witness- to listen, to laugh, and to tell.
Be there to love the people you love- they will know.
It’s not that hard at all- and it’s worth it.