Family dinner is one of the strongest memories from my childhood. It exists in blurred, indelible layers, the result of hundreds of nights when the four of us sat around the old wooden table in my parents’ kitchen. We used place mats (changed out with the seasons) and sturdy white plates rimmed in blue or green. We ate burritos and spaghetti and baked chicken, brown-sugar-glazed ham with green beans and buttery mashed potatoes. In the winter, Mom made hearty chili or chicken-cheese soup. When it was Dad’s turn to cook, sometimes we had breakfast for dinner.
Those dinners were our chance to come back together, to catch up on each other’s days. We told funny stories or complained about homework; we teased or argued, and always, we laughed. We always sat in the same seats (we still do, when I’m home); we always joined hands, bowed heads and gave thanks. And no matter how late my band rehearsal or my sister’s golf practice went, we waited to eat together.
Since I got married, I have begun to understand why my mother, in particular, fought so hard for family dinner during all those years. I work in a different town than my husband does; we rarely see one another during the workday, though we always make time for a quick phone call to catch up. He works several evenings a week, because marriage and family therapy is not a nine-to-five gig. In these days of mismatched schedules, I have become nearly fanatical about family dinner.
We plan out a rough menu for the week on Saturday or Sunday, based on how late he’s expecting to work each night. We go to the grocery store together, pushing the cart up and down the familiar aisles, grabbing an extra jar of salsa or box of pasta. We cook the simple, tasty meals we both love: pasta with veggies and goat cheese, my regular rotation of soups, chicken-mango curry, store-bought pizza crust topped with varying ingredients. And burritos (always burritos).
Sometimes he does dinner prep before leaving for work, turning on the Crock-Pot or chopping veggies or chicken and leaving them in the fridge for me. If he’s working really late, I cook and eat alone, making enough for two and sitting at the table with him when he comes home, hungry and tired. My favorite nights are the ones when we cook together, sliding past each other in the kitchen, the movements of this dance practiced and fluid after nearly six years.
I often wish we could have dinner together every night, that our schedules were as steady and consistent as my family’s was for much of my childhood. We live in a larger city, our lives swayed by unpredictable urban rhythms, so that family dinner is not always the constant I would like it to be. But no matter how crazy the weeks get, after a few frazzled nights or a few solo meals of leftover pasta or “single cuisine” eggs, we come back to the table, together.
Inspired in part by Lindsey’s recent post about family dinner.