“Let’s eat at the table tonight,” I said.
An audible groan escaped from my 11 year old daughter, who was already getting comfortable in the corner of the couch. One of those tween-age Nickelodeon sitcoms was coming on, and her displeasure at the prospect of having to share a meal around the dinner table was evident. She got up and approached the table with the fervor of a death row inmate approaching her last meal. My boys were more amenable to our first family meal around the table in months, but it still felt a little awkward having to clear the table of my computer and piano studio games in order to place the plates and cups where they belonged.
The dinner around the table tradition has slowly melted away in the last few years. When the kids were younger, we tried to make it a point to always eat as a family. However, as the nights of coming home late from church activities, homework, and other distractions grew, our time around the table shrank to once a week, to once every few weeks, to the point that I noticed us over and over sitting around the couch watching Wheel of Fortune while stuffing our faces with spaghetti. Something had to change. I was glad that we still were together, true, but I never thought we’d become a family where the voices from the TV were more prevalent than our voices interacting and sharing during our rare moments together. Thus was my declaration inspired.
We finally got everyone seated around the table and looked around to see who would begin the grace. Our family grace has been passed down from my parents, which I believe is a Lutheran table prayer…”Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these, thy gifts to us, be blessed.” Much of the tradition of our current family dinners come from my childhood. My dad was the expert at turning anything into a teachable moment – I still remember the 30 minute dissertation he gave on why the ice cracks when you pour a hot beverage on it — and I admit I take the same kind of stewardship of the dinner conversation. This includes asking everyone what they are thankful for, which can elicit a variety of responses: from my younger son reciting a 5 minute list of everything he did that day, to a random grunt that sounds vaguely like “being alive” from my oldest son. The second conversation starter is the “highlight of your day”, which often leads to long discussions about random topics that have nothing to do with the day’s activities. Needless to say, as the kids have gotten older, it’s become much less about guiding the family’s conversation and more about trying not to get sucked into arguments.
Yesterday’s conversation was no exception. How we got on the topic of Adam, Eve, and gender equality escapes me. Suffice it to say that my 18 year old, who is almost always in a defensive conversational posture, was doggedly stating that men were superior to women because Eve was silly enough to talk to a snake. My wife and daughter, predictably, formed a united front against him. Here’s an example of the exchange.
“Eve shouldn’t have been talking to a snake.”
“Well, Adam was right there. He should have stopped her.”
“Because he knew she would talk to a snake?”
“No, Adam should have been more interesting. He was wasting time talking to animals and naming them. She was bored.”
“God told him to do that!”
“Besides, Adam lied. He told God it was the woman’s fault. That’s why He was mad.”
“Yeah, and it was Adam’s idea to use those leaves to cover them. He probably used poison ivy.”
“Yeah. The world’s first rash.”
At this point, any attempt of mine to correct the theological missteps of my children is confounded by my stifled laughter. A child’s greatest weapon is the ability to make their parents laugh, and my children have the mental equivalent of Iraqi Scud missiles – witty rejoinders fired randomly and often haphazardly, but very effective when they hit. Another example from last night illustrates this point. I remarked how I might take my children with me to the preschool music class where I teach this week. They used to accompany me every time I went, but when they got old enough to stay home I let them remain behind. Both objected vehemently to the prospect of being re-introduced to the little ones.
“Ewww, Dad, no. Those little kids creep me out,” whined my daughter. “The little boys always stare at me.”
I probably shouldn’t have said this, but I did. “So you’re trying to date little boys, huh?”
Never one to be outdone, my younger son chimed in. “They do the same thing to me.”
To which my daughter pounced, “Oh, so you’re like Michael Jackson. Only smaller.”
Score: Kids 1, parents (who were trying again not to laugh, and failing miserably), zero.
The comebacks, laughing and attempts at a semblance of parental control continued throughout the evening. The main point is this — when we got up from the table, there were several stories and moments we would laugh over and share for the next week or month, if not longer. In this day where money is tight and sometimes our attention spans too short for real interaction, there’s still no substitute for a table and a group of people sitting around it and forced, if need be, to engage each other. Even if the consequences include a rewriting of Genesis to include skin irritations.