Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The family dinner.

{Spoiler alert: There's a chance to win a PRIZE at the end of this post!!!}

Back in April my cousin came to visit us in Nashville (such a treat - she's my favorite) and brought me a book called The Family Dinner. I had recently written this post about our dinnertime situation so when she saw it in the store, she immediately thought of me.

Because she's amazing and thoughtful and beautiful and...

The day after she left, I picked up the book and did not put it down until I had read the whole thing. It was really cute and well written but what I loved most was how approachable it was. It had practical ideas and recipes (almost all with vegetarian modifications!) and made me feel like any steps we took toward eating together as a family were better than nothing.

Did your five year old complain and refuse to eat the entire time? Who cares? You still did it!

Does tonight's "dinner" consist of a block of cheese and a box of crackers? That's okay - just sit together and pass 'em round!

The author, Laurie David, is Larry David's ex-wife so to me it felt a bit like reading something from an old friend. Curb Your Enthusiasm was one of my late night nursing shows so Larry was totally IN OUR LIVES for a while there. We pretty much watched every episode ever made and it only took us two months of sleepless nights! (After that we took the TV out of our room. We were sooo done.)

I love how non-preachy this book is. I feel like most parenting books and cook books set the bar WAY UP HERE and then when you're (obviously) not able to leap over it in a single bound, you feel like a failure and quit trying. But this book is so not like that. It basically says forget the food, forget the fancy setting, and simply focus on the experience. The time together as a family. And if it's not a particularly enjoyable experience, that's okay too! You don't have to knock it out of the park, you just have to DO IT. Whatever that means.

You're building a routine so that someday when your kids are teenagers and really REALLY don't want to sit across the table from you, family dinner will be so ingrained in their lives that they won't even think twice about it. How far can a kid stray if he has to eat dinner with his parents every single night?! (That's probably a pretty weird interpretation of the book but that was my main takeaway. If I think this is hard now, imagine how hard it will be when he's thirteen! Whatever motivates you, right?)

Right away I started trying harder. Most nights I would make something (anything!) for dinner so that when Bill got home from work we could sit together as a family before Finn needed to go to bed. It wasn't particularly fun at first, but we did it. I even sat with the boys at the table when Bill was out of town which felt like a miracle of epic proportions. I used to like to wait until the boys went to bed so I could eat cereal for dinner and watch TV (classy, I know). But I forced myself to sit with my family (even though part of my family was missing) and spend time together over dinner. And guess what? It was awesome.

Liam requested this "special variety dinner" (aka - a cheese plate)
a LOT after I threw it together for our first family dinner together.

We've been doing this off and on (but mostly on) for the past few months and I think I can honestly say it's working. This week I launched back into the illustration project I started last summer (ouch) which means come dinnertime, our table looked more like an episode of Hoarders: Cut Paper Edition than anything out of Better Homes and Gardens. This is usually what derails us (darn, the table is messy, guess we better watch TV!), but not anymore.

I was amazed to find that when dinner was ready, Bill and Liam instinctively came to the table. Just like Laurie said they would! And instead of trying to find a new home for my mess or worrying that if I put away my project I might never find the time to get it out again, I just shoved everything to one side of the table and we ate around it. It wasn't perfect (it never is) but it didn't matter. We had created a ritual!

And, not only are we sitting together, we're eating together, too. Yes, even Liam! There are still rules and reminders (he has to taste everything on his plate, even if he really doesn't want to) and he may never be a member of the clean plate club, but he's doing SO MUCH BETTER. And every night we do it, it gets a little easier.

So a couple months ago when I found a copy of The Family Dinner at the going-out-of-business sale at Borders (so sad), I jumped at the chance to buy it. This book had brought so much inspiration to my home, I couldn't wait to share it with someone else. And, lucky reader, YOU could be that someone! Just leave me a comment about something dinner related and I'll put all the entries into a hat and draw a winner. Maybe you could tell me your favorite thing about family diner as a kid. Or share a recipe you like. Or link to a book or blog or website that inspires YOU. Or tell me what you ate last night or are planning to eat tonight. Or spill what your favorite Curb episode is? Whatever! Just be sure to include an email address so I can get in touch if you win. Let's tomorrow (Friday, July 29) at midnight? Sound good? Okay, go! And bon appetit or whatever...


Callie said...

how fun! I still have fond memories of family dinners as a kid when all 5 of us sat around the table. It was an everyday occurrence. Now I'm trying really hard to do it but again it's SO hard to do when kids go to bed so early. I'd love to read the book. :)

No Mommy Brain said...

we did it as a kid, too! at least until we got really busy with sports and stuff. i wonder how we'll get around that... i guess just make family dinner time a priority?

bem said...

I think Megan and I always ate together. Mom always made dinner but she didn't always sit with us. My favorite dinner memory is Megan and I sitting at the counter eating soup for dinner and we had the giggles and could not stop laughing and Meg was blowing the hot soup off her spoon. I think we got seperated that night!! LOL My worst dinner memory is sitting at the table chewing on a piece of steak for what seemed like hours. Horrible. I love going to Megan's house for dinner now so I can sit and enjoy time with her family! My cats don't sit and stay at the dinner table very well!

Caddie said...

My favorite dinner as a kid was when my mom would make tostadas - she'd fry the tortillas & then put all the toppings in bowls on the table, so you could put as much as you wanted of whatever you wanted onto your tostada. I'd always pile mine high with stuff & top it off with sour cream...And when I'd take a bite, b/c I had piled it TOO high, the sour cream would go up my nose. I loved that.

Neither of my kids likes sour cream, so I haven't tried this with them yet.....

No Mommy Brain said...

beth - when i think of dinner at your house i think of tacos. : )
caddie - i think i did that too! i can still feel the sour cream...
thanks for playing, girls! i will have liam pull a name from a hat right now. ; )