What's the saying? The family that eats together
People often ask me how I managed to raise four such great children as a single parent, and all I can do is shrug and say, “Sheer dumb luck…and maybe a heavy dose of love.” Lord knows I look back on those years and see all the things I did wrong as a parent.
But this weekend, talking to the kids’ half-sister, I realized one thing I did right. She is an only child and referred a couple of times to growing up on an isolated farm in the hills above Santa Rosa, CA. Later, thinking about it, that proverbial light bulb went off in my brain.
Sunday dinner! That was the thing I did that I doubt many single moms did. Somewhere along the way, when they were approaching teen years, I made a structured if not formal event out of Sunday dinner. Once the kids got part-time jobs outside the house, and they all did, work was the only excuse for missing Sunday dinner.
It wasn’t that the five of us sat around the table. There was usually anywhere from fifteen to twenty. My brother, also single by then, came with his two kids, and various friends came—some regularly every Sunday, others only on occasion. All were always welcome. One friend, widowed and older than me, came most weeks, as did a young couple whose baby, now well grown, is my goddaughter. The dad put her in one of those chest carriers and often spent much of the meal standing by the table bouncing up and down. We thought he’d probably never learn to sit quietly through dinner again.
My brother instituted a tradition whereby he went around the table and each person, child or adult, had to tell him what was special about their week. The kids moaned and groaned, but in retrospect I think it let them know that we cared about each of them and wanted to know what was important to them. Table manners were important too, and John was quick to correct any slips like elbows on the table. As a result, my kids have great table manners, and they are passing that on to their kids. Colin in particular—his youngest, Kegan, watches me like a hawk to catch me with my elbows on the table and then says slyly, “Juju, elbows.”
Sometimes it got funny, like the Thanksgiving (okay not Sunday but in the same spirit) when John asked each to tell what they were thankful for. Megan had brought a new beau to dinner, and he stood and very solemnly said, “I am thankful for Megan and her beauty.” The other three of my kids and their cousins practically swallowed their tongues in an effort to keep from laughing. It’s a favorite story to this day.
I don’t remember all the things I fixed—turkey breast Wellington (I used two boneless turkey breasts), not too many casseroles because the traffic wouldn’t bear it. Maybe once in a while a leg of lamb and sometimes a roast, but my budget often wouldn’t stretch that far. Probably roast chicken, maybe spaghetti—things I wish I could recall, though some maybe in Cooking My Way through Life with Kids and Books. Once I made a dish called, I think, hamburger corn bread—it was from a history of Texas foods that we were publishing at TCU Press at the time. John tried it and looked at me to ask, “Sis, is the budget the problem?”
This morning Jordan and I were in the car together, and I told her my sudden inspiration that Sunday dinner probably made a difference in their lives. She picked up on it immediately. “Yep, it was a community of family.”
I was crushed when the kids moved away, and Sunday dinners dwindled. When Jamie moved to Dallas, I figured it was close enough he’d come home for Sunday dinner, but he scoffed at the idea. Living alone, I often made it a point to invite others for Sunday supper. It was good, and I was grateful for the company and for a reason to cook something special, but it wasn’t the same.
Today, in the Burton/Alter combined household, we try to make Sunday dinner special, but it’s just us. Christian and I take turns cooking special dishes, but guests are rarely invited. Some days I really miss those large happy dinner tables. I do think they were an important part of my children’s growing years.
But I still say it’s sheer dumb luck that my kids, each so different, turned out so great.