The Victual Ritual

(aka, the Family Dinner)

Dinner time. Family time. A time for coming together and connecting. The "family table."

There's something wrong with my "family table" because it looks nothing like the ones I see on the Stouffer's commercials. You know, the ones where everyone takes a few moments from their busy lives to sit down together, talk about their day, laugh over a few jokes, praise Mom for preparing the frozen (yet still counting as "home-made") Family-Size Lasagna.

Who are these people, and why couldn't I have given birth to them?

Now granted, the hastily prepared spaghetti covered in the finest (Ragu) sauce money can buy, pizza from a box, or Hamburger Helper may not be in the same league as June Cleaver's family table extravaganzas, but surely my menu choices are just as good as the Stouffer mom's frozen lasagna in terms of providing a culinary adhesive to bond a family together at mealtime. And I certainly don't think they warrant the "Oh Mom, not this again!" or "Did you even warm this up?" or "Jeez, what's in this anyway?" comments I routinely hear.

To me dinner time is mostly a "fight or flight" thing. An adrenaline rush (and not in a good way) because I have the choice of either enduring fights over things like "He's spraying juice from his corn-on-the-cob all over me on purpose" and "Mom, tell her to stop sucking up the spaghetti noodles;" or I can throw the food on the table, call the kids for dinner, and run for cover. Guess which choice I'd like to make on most evenings.

And even if the kids are in the mood for quality "bonding," the things they choose to connect over rarely appeal to me. There are the "see-food" shows, where one kid catches another's eye, then opens his or her mouth to show the sibling some ABC (Already Been Chewed) food; the name-calling battles ("you're stupid", "you're stupider", "well you're stupid, infinity!"); and the getting-a-sibling-to-laugh-so-hard-liquid-comes-out-of-his-or-her-nose game. Bet you're hoping for a dinner invitation to my home right about now.

My children seem to think these little dinnertime shenanigans are funny…like really funny. I, however, do not share in their sense of mirth. I look at my children and think, "These people are crazy. Like really crazy."

And because crazy people don't treat those of us who are sane very well, it's at these moments I think about how I really don't want this job of preparing food and sitting with my offspring while they consume it. Yet, I force myself to try it over and over again, because I feel guilty when I see the people in the Stouffer's commercials talking, laughing together, joined to each other over a hot meal. And the mom doesn't look like she's about to explode or throw herself through a plate-glass window.

Maybe I just need to lower my standards. If I can change my views of what it means to "get along," our family-table time might just become palatable. I mean, if instead of looking for the kids' demonstrations of affections to include things like smiles, nods, and pats on the back; I can see that the tongues sticking out, air-jabbing towards each other with cutlery, and mouthing of silent insults are just their way of saying, "I'm glad we're family," we might be able to become a Stouffer's family ourselves.

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