(Normal Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” . Wikipedia.)
I have always revered the picture by Norman Rockwell titled “Freedom From Want”. This idyllic experience of dining together, in times of plenty, epitomized what a family dinner should look like to me. A family, sitting at the table, together, safe and secure in a space full of familial warmth with plenty of nourishing food things. I attempted to recreate this scene in so many ways over my years as hearth keeper, but most keenly by attempting to gather my family at the dinner table during their growing years.
Our family didn’t make it to the dinner table every night, but we tried to make it happen as often as possible. I can’t tell you that this was always a pleasant experience. Often times the dinner table shined light on family issues and a healthy portion of parenting was served from its scratched and water stained surface. I can tell you though, that the effort was worth the reward.
My middle child was away at his freshman year of college. Just before Christmas break I called to ask him what he wanted his break to look like. He said that he was just really looking forward to one of our sit down dinners that started or ended with a dance party, one where we sit and have awesome conversation with no hurry to leave the table; and to just eat some home cooked food.
And of course, I got a little teary. All the effort I put forth to get a whole food meal on the table on ridiculously chaotic evenings was not just noticed, but coveted. Those evenings where full scale strategic planning took place just to gather everyone around the table, those dinners after 3 hours of baseball practice in the mud and the pouring rain, the dinners carefully constructed for wrestlers watching their weight, the dinners made in between cleaning up puppy messes just before catching the four year old cutting off all her hair. Those special dinners made for birthdays and before school special events. They all hit their mark. They set the foundation of Home.
My daughter came home one day from school. You’re a kitchen mom, she said. And what does that mean, I inquired. It means that I know that when I come home, you’ll be here waiting for me. I know I can tell you about my day and that you will listen to me. A kitchen mom, okay, I like that, I said. I think I’m lucky to have a kitchen mom, she said. Then I made here some tea as she sat at the table to tell me about her day.
The table has always been the epicenter of our home. It’s where we filled out high school registrations, college applications, job applications and first tax forms. The dinner table is where the kids vocalized their dreams and transformed those dreams into goals then formulated plans to achieve those goals. We played games, we made decorations, we hosted friends and family. At the dinner table is where we made the bulk of our family memories. Its where the three siblings formed their little inside jokes that they giggle about still today, even at the ages of 18, 24 and 27.
The table is where they came home from college and challenged me with the new paradigms of society, like privilege and power and sexual identity, gender identity and racial biases. Table conversations have encouraged us all to expand our thinking, to change and grow.
Most nights, we listened to music before and after dinner, sharing our favorites, and yes often engaged in dance routines taking us from the table to the living room.
Our table looks a bit different now than it did back in the dance party years. The table settings are increasing in numbers as the children find their partners. I may even have a hidden leaf waiting to expand the table for the grandchildren that are most certainly to come. And board games seem to be even more common than dishes on top of the table’s surface, but the foundation had been set. You’ll find this family at the table, making memories.
The table is the safety bubble the kids’ dream of coming home to and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Make some memories with your family at the dinner table, I assure you, you won’t regret it.