There are few things in life that I hold true, and one of them is dinnertime. Actually, let’s be real–I love meals. Any meal will do.
I grew up in a happy household and I like to believe part of that had to do with dinnertime. It seems to be one of the keys to family togetherness. There is a part of me that longs to replicate what Italian families do best – meal time. They gather, they banter, they eat amazing food and drink amazing wine. The women hover, whisking away dirty plates and doling out second helpings. The traditionalist in me finds this scenario appealing.
Please note that I am not Italian; I do, however, love me some wine.
In today’s fast-paced world, you have to wonder HOW and IF people manage to pull off family dinnertime anymore. Does traditional “dinnertime” still exist? Does anyone even bother with it?
Well … I bother with it. But it’s not pretty.
You see, I have an unrealistic, idealistic idea of what is expected of a wife and mother. Probably because my own mother (who stayed at home) always had dinner on the table for my dad by the time he got home from work. If it wasn’t ready when he arrived, he and I would gather and stare at her in helpless hunger until she produced a meal.
Now I have my own family to produce meals for. I work outside the home, so I don’t have the luxury of leafing through cook books or making random trips to the grocery store as my mother used to do. My recipes come from internet searches on my office computer and I don’t even want to talk about the issue of grocery shopping. And, although I have made many attempts to involve my husband in the meal-making process, he remains uninterested. I’ve come to realize that this is best, because his idea of a balanced meal involves fish sticks and tater tots.
The wannabe Italian in me is secretly happy that the responsibility of feeding my family falls on my shoulders, because it’s what I love. I love to cook and I love to eat. It’s perfect, really. Except … it’s not.
My daily routine involves the following: I Google “quick and easy recipes.” I print one that contains ingredients I already have at my house. I space out momentarily and indulge in a fantasy of what will transpire once I pick up my two-year-old son from daycare. I imagine that my husband will arrive home right on time. I imagine that we will gather around the table, hold hands, and bless our food. I imagine that dinner will be a time of relaxation as we idly chat about our day and recharge our bodies with warm, homemade food.
The reality is, that’s a CROCK. A big, fat figment of my imagination.
This is what will actually happen: my son (who inherited a love of food from both sides) will begin screaming “EAT! EAT!” the moment we wrangle ourselves through the front door. In a panic, I’ll drop an armful of items – purse, cell, jacket, coffee mug, artwork from daycare, mail– on the dining room table. We won’t be eating there anyway.
Then I’ll park him in front of NickJr, hand him some crackers to shut him up, and hurriedly throw together that recipe—now a crumpled wad of paper—I found online a few hours earlier. It’s never anything fancy. It’s nothing like my daydreams, which often feature gourmet creations whipped up from scratch. And of course, a salad. My mother’s meals always included the perfect combination of proteins, starches, and vegetables. I strive to attain the same. Generally speaking, I fail.
My meals are healthy, but they are also boring, rushed, and poorly planned. Dinner is not eaten at the dinner table. It’s eaten on barstools at our tiny kitchen table. I usually inhale my meal before the others have eaten half of theirs, then I jump up to start on the dishes. I wish I could relax and enjoy my food, but it’s really hard to relax on a bar stool. In fact, it’s downright dangerous.
There is really no good reason for any of the crazed behavior I just described. It’s just that I’m always running behind, so I tend to rush through everything—including dinner—until I collapse with exhaustion around 7 p.m. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m quite proud that I manage to pull off some semblance of dinner on most nights.
I do it because it’s been ingrained in me that it’s important to dine together as a family. I cherish that small amount of time each day that I get with them, TV off, connecting over food. I want our kids to talk to us. I want to know what happened during the day while I was at work. These things matter to me … it’s what my life is truly about.
So to answer the question “does family dinnertime still exist?” I say, yes – it does, at least in my house. But it’s a weak imitation of my mother’s. Thankfully, I still have time to perfect the art before my son starts forming memories of the chaos.
Harmony blew into Birmingham after Hurricane Katrina and is a self-proclaimed “never home maker” striving for a balance between her career and family life. Visit her blog Working Mommy Madness to read more!