There are some things in life I think everyone does because I do them. Like folding undies, having vegemite toast with my hard boiled eggs and counting on my fingers what number the months between April and September correspond to.
Growing up we had dinner as a family. Both of my parents worked and sometimes Dad wasn’t home in time, but our little family of five would sit at the dinner table most nights, and even when we didn’t sit around the table we would sit on the couch watching Sunday night TV eating together, chatting in the ads and probably watching re-runs of Cheers.
Now I have my own family of five and we do the same. I’ve lived in a bubble that consists of a little family having dinner together at night – not every night, but most and I thought that’s what everyone basically did.
Are you guilty of overparenting. Is it worse than underparenting?
Then the other rather hot day beside a sporting field a mum was complaining to me about her messy teen. Yep. I understood. Ohhh. Yes I did. Clothes on the floor, unmade bed, lost everything, five million lost travel cards and then she said:
“And she never brings her dinner plate in. She has old food in there from dinner. All she has to do is bring her plate to the kitchen and she can’t be bothered to do that.”
Cue a movie double take that was going on inside my head. They don’t eat dinner together? Maybe it’s just a one-off thing? Maybe I’m hearing wrong. This mum has always seemed really sensible. Why would you think having dinner in bedrooms is a good idea?
Then, because I needed to know more and asked very specific questions but I hope in a very nice way, it became clear that their family of four didn’t eat dinner together. Sure, sometimes they did – usually when people came over. It was “easier with everyone’s different schedules” for people to just eat dinner when and where they could. That could be bedrooms or in front of the TV by yourself (they didn’t watch the same things on TV either).
Then I had images of a house with the roof taken off and all these people sitting in all these different rooms eating their Malaysian chicken curry alone. A little bit of yellow curry stain left on a desk next to a lap top. I couldn’t help thinking about that stain.
"What's for dinner?" is one of the most annoying, fingers-down-a-chalkboard question of all time. It's a question that can turn me into a frothing banshee in the hallway saying things like:
Bark and poo
Wouldn't it be a lovely surprise if once, just once, I came home and one of my smart, accomplished children had made me dinner
I don't think I know who you are
You know what, that bedroom of yours is a disgrace. I swear I picked up five wet towels the other day - and just because you put them in the cupboard doesn't mean they suddenly don't exist and BLAH BLAH a list of every-single-thing-that-has-annoyed-me-from-the-past-week BLAH.
Caviar, champagne and then a private jet to Ibiza kids. Pack your bags
But when it comes to dinner time itself and we all sit down together (again, sometimes it's just on the couch, dinner on our laps) nine times out of 10 I love it. There's no avoiding it: every now and then there's going to be a complete shocker because someone, okay a teen, will not like the way you said I don't understand why anyone would want to do that.
There's talking. There's a bit of irritation. There's a messy eater. There's always someone slow to the table. There's a fast eater. A picky one. There's a sharing of the day. There's a looking at tomorrow. There's laughing. There's tension. There are mistakes. There are revelations.
For all its demands, for all the I-can't-be-bothered-to-do-this-tonight, sitting down with my family at the end of the day is one of those life moments that sustains me. I connect. I feel part of something. I can take the emotional temperature of the people I love most. I understand - a little better - how the week is going to play out. And I get to eat.
Imagining my house without its roof on I can see us all at dinner. The inhabitants imperfect and together. Talking, sharing. An argument about to break out over whose turn it is to wash up and my husband about to say, Well, I'll just clean up AGAIN shall I?
I'm so grateful that my three girls don't eat dinner separate and alone in their rooms. I'm so grateful 'easier' didn't beat instinct.
It's just your average dinner at my place, usually with paper towels instead of napkins, usually with scraping chairs and forgotten glasses of water, but this everyday routine helped build and sustain my family.
Dinner together. I hope it gets passed on to my daughters too.