Researchers report that regular family dinners will help keep kids off drugs and alcohol. Will help kids stay on track in school. Will help kids develop healthy relationships.
My research, conducted at my own house at my own dinner table, with four subjects including myself, two of whom are under the age of 8, tells me that regular family dinners increase the likelihood of the parents taking drugs and drinking heavily.
“Mommy, you’re not funny. Eva’s funny, I’m funny, and Daddy’s funny. But you’re cute.”
“Thanks for that, Jacob. Please eat your carrots.”
“What’s this black stuff?”
“It’s where the potato was stuck to the pan, sweetie. Just eat around it.”
“How was your day?”
“How was your day?”
“Not bad, I…”
“Daddy, know what?”
“Yoda is 800 years old.”
“I know, Jacob, that’s old, huh? Now eat your carrots.”
“What’s this green stuff on the carrots?”
“Eva, it’s spinach. You won’t even taste it.”
“Fine, don’t eat it.”
“Mommy worked hard at making dinner, Eva, you should at least take a bite.”
“Fine, don’t eat it.”
“See Daddy? Mommy said I don’t have to.”
“So, how was your day?”
“Pretty good, I…”
“Mom-mee! Jacob made a face at me!”
“… had a meeting today with…”
“Mom-mee! Eva kicked me!”
In the small dining room we ate the meal our mother had prepared, pasta mixed with cucumbers, olives, tomato and Parmesan, drizzled with Italian dressing. We ate light most nights, out of financial necessity or diet trend depending on the month. My younger brother sat across the table from me, our mother on the end between us. The pale evening light from the window illuminated the mirror on the wall, casting an elongated shadow of my brother’s head across the table.
I stared at him until he noticed, making eye contact, at which point I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue, chewed pasta and vegetables balanced precariously, a feat to keep it from dropping in a sloppy wad onto my plate. He laughed and did the same.
Our mother got up from the table and walked into the other room. She didn’t return.
Before we had children, dinner often consisted of a bowl of cereal and a glass of wine on the couch. When Eva was born, we changed our ways, because we wanted our baby to stay off the drugs, develop healthy relationships, graduate from high school. She slept in her infant carrier on the floor near the kitchen table while we ate. The cat paced nearby, fur raised, giving her the stink-eye.
Roses and Thorns
Upon hearing that Barack and Michelle Obama have dinner with their daughters every night, during which they each share a rose and thorn from their day, I decided that we would do the same. Something good, something not so good.
Eva: “My rose is our cats. My thorn is that I want another cat.”
Jacob: “My rose is this milk. My thorn is the rest of this food.”
“All great change in America happens at the dinner table.” – Ronald Reagan
“At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.” – George Carlin
It was over the dinner table when I was 18 that we had our last real conversation, one of many that had left me broken and empty. I asked if he would help me pay for college. He said no, they couldn’t afford it, what with her three young children in private school and all. I ducked my head, embarrassed at the tears that trickled down my cheeks as the waiter refilled my Pepsi. A month later they were remodeling the house that for the past five years had not welcomed me, and we didn’t speak again.
Only in the last year or so have I come to enjoy the act of preparing food. Chopping, sautéing, garnishing. There is this lovely window of time most evenings when I am able to turn on music, pour a small glass of wine, and have the truthful excuse to get out of playing with Legos. Vegetables I used to avoid – kale, squash, cauliflower – are lightly roasted and tossed with healthy grains or lean meats.
I know that the right combination of whole, unprocessed foods could keep us all running on level ground throughout the day, rather than the emotional waves of waxing and waning moods we often ride.
I know that the right combination of whole foods could eventually rid me of my itchy skin, my anxiety, the inner tube of fat around my ass and hips, my need to use food to soothe the rough edges.
I know that the right combinations of whole, unprocessed foods could allow both of our children – but especially our daughter – to grow into a strong and healthy body image.
I know that the right combinations of whole, unprocessed foods could save us all.
“What’s for dinner, Mommy?”
“Chicken and veggies.”
“Chicken and veggies?! Why-y-y? I want hot dogs. Please can we have hot dogs?”
After they go to bed, I pour a full glass of wine and stuff my face with cheese and wholly-processed crackers.
“Are we going to have kids?” I asked.
Mark paused, his fork halfway to his mouth, creamy pasta both hanging precariously from the tines and stuffed within his right cheek. “What?”
“Are we going to have kids?” I repeated, my voice level. “I mean, I know we want to, but…are we waiting for something?”
The restaurant buzzed with late evening conversation, voices raised in direct proportion to the number of drinks consumed. Waitstaff flowed in and out of the field of vision; dressed in black, they were barely defined against the dim light of the room. Somewhere, behind the wall, dishes clattered.
“Well,” said Mark slowly, fork still, a hint of mischief in his eyes. “Maybe we should wait until after dinner.”
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