The dinner table.
For some, it’s a dying institution; a common indictment on the slipping values we have as fine, outstanding human beings.
We romanticize the American dinner table. Maybe too much at times we are clinging to some piece of yesterday.
For me, having dinner with my wife and two goofballs is less about some stuffy tradition and more about location.
During the work week, I see the kids briefly in the morning as we all try to get ready for work/school/play and then for a couple hours before their collective wave of raw energy finally fizzles and they are forced to sleep.
You know, so they can gather strength for another wave tomorrow.
Dinner is common ground; a coming together. It’s the one time all day I can count on that we are all accounted for, doing the same thing and generally awake enough to appreciate each other’s company.
Everyone needs to eat.
But maybe, in part, I am doing dinner wrong. Maybe we need to be more forward-thinking when it comes to the dinner experience to make it enjoyable for all, while ensuring the kiddos still get their necessary infusion of food before bed.
Because, if they skimp on the eating, my kids love to remind me as they are being tucked in that they are starving, and I am a cruel, heartless dictator that wants famine upon this house.
Roll the eyes and pass the tissues.
Here are some tips I either use or intend to use in order to establish my dinner table.
Change the venue
Sitting at the same slab of wood day after day can get a bit redundant.
If your living space allows for it, try to set up dinner in another room once a week to keep things fresh.
When it is nice out (Writer’s note: Keep this column when it becomes warmer than, let’s say, the freezing mark), move dinner outside for some fresh perspective. Just be sure to make it lighter fare, as the bugs and ants will also approve of this venue and move in.
When hungry enough, my kids do great impressions of wood chippers—buzzing through food with only the sawdust of a few crumbs left minutes later.
Sometimes, my kids are in such a rush to return to what they were doing, they eat like they are defusing a bomb in the other room.
“No time, dad. I NEEEEEEED to get back in there. The world depends on me!”
Yes, if any theatre groups need more young drama students, dinner is around 5:30 every night at the Farnsworth residence.
Set a time for how long they need to stay at the table. This means even if they finish dinner, they still need to be there for eight full minutes. Use an egg timer or one of those clocks they use in chess that you can stop and restart just in case they need the restroom during dinner.
Don’t snub the TV
One of the biggest no-nos for many growing up was having the television spinning out light and sound and distracting families from eating.
That small attention span and childish mind is easily distracted sometimes from the tastiest of foods.
But enough about me.
Once a week, find a program that everybody can like (or at least highly tolerate). Make it a bonding experience and serve popcorn and hot chocolate on the side like it’s dinner and a show.
Club members only
My father-in-law is fond of reminding my kids and their little cousins that those who finish all their food become instantly a member of the coveted Empty Plate Club.
It’s a blue collar club; not one of those pretentious organizations with blazers and fancy lapels. Mostly, it’s about high-fives.
And while I understand young kids should not be forced to stay and shove every spoonful down their young throats, it does help motivate them when all they want to do is climb down from the chair and return to their mountain of toys.
Consider some form of praise like this, but make it more about their focus and time spent with them than the actual empty plate.
Posture is for suckers
More accurately, I think it’s so much more important to put my time and energy into positive encouragement for being together in the same place.
Reminding them a dozen times per meal to sit stiffer than a statue is like an English major constantly correcting your grammar while you watch your favorite movie.
Unless they are slouching so much that they have melted off the chair, just stop. Turn off that filter and eat.
In fact, for more energetic kids, allow them to stand for at least half the meal, as long as they stay tableside during supper.
A dinner table may not be the American tradition we remember as younger human beings. But for these currently young human beings, maybe some of these ideas.
In the end, it’s not about a slab of wood you sit around, it’s about who you sit around the slab of wood with.
Good luck. And from one cruel, heartless dictator to another, here’s to hoping your dinner table is common ground you can all appreciate.
Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.