Family Dinners

I have a vision of family dinner. It starts with a beautifully set table, moves onto bowls and platters of our favorite food in the center of the table, mixes in some laughter and stories while slowly enjoying each bite and ends with smiles as the kids clear their place and go happily off to play, while Patrick and I linger over a glass of wine.

The reality of family dinner is that I am lucky to get enough forks on the table each night before someone screams that they want water and don't like squash soup and the candles get blown out and cups spill onto the floor as the dog laps it up. (Breathe, just writing that made me a bit panicked!)

When Lucas was a baby I would feed the two older kids at a small table in the kitchen where they ate most of their meals. As Lucas grew he moved onto a high chair for most of his meals. Now that he is two (and wanting to do everything like Eeeee-yiiii - Eli), I am trying to combine my vision of family dinner, with the frantic reality and hopefully come out somewhere in between the two.

This starts with letting go of the tablecloth as it so much simpler to wipe a table than launder a cloth every day; and every day would be a must for the amount of spilling the independent two year old does. I have looked to ritual to ease us into the family table of five.

A cloth napkin, silverware and cup placed on the table by the kids before dinner. The adults later add a pitcher of water and the bowls or platters so we can eat family style. This can be risky when little people decide spaghetti squash is the best thing they have ever eaten and go in for seconds and thirds, I do it! We mostly drink out of small glass jars as they are hard to break, and I have some wooden plates for the kids.

A bit of seasonal beauty goes in a vase, ferns or roses or even weeds the kids pick on their walks. This allows the table to flow with the seasons. We have been borrowing this old table from our neighbor and are now on the hunt for a table that has history, that will fit our family and all those we hope to bring to our table through the years.

Celebrations, giggles, crumbs, spills, art, homework, projects, delicious food, elbows, napkins, computers, all finds it's way to our table. At the end of the night, when it's all over (and hopefully cleaned up) that family dinner is part of what creates our family rhythm and keeps time in our house.

The candles still glow at times after the lights go out, and I find some breathing space. It's work to bring dinner to the family table, it's love, it's learning, it's allowing each individual to learn more about themselves. In the ritual of it all, as I sit typing this, Patrick is making homemade sauce to bring to the family table one night soon for dinner. I can imagine the table, the napkins, the Romano cheese, the salad in the loved wooden bowl. I hear the crabby voice of Eli who always melts down about 5 minutes before we sit down, Lucas sitting at the table spilling his water before the food ever arrives and Chloe trying to sneak bites of the Romano when no one is looking. And so is our family dinner.

Where do you find ritual in the family dinner?