Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Turn-Keys in Adoption: Family Dinner

 Ah, the family dinner.
A subject that greater minds and bigger hearts than mine have explored and pondered for many years. Indeed, it's  a fixation of modern shelter magazines and cable shows; how to cook and create a wonderland of fantasy meals. 


I'm not gonna attempt to lay down new paths or thoughts; that's above my pay grade.
This post is my ongoing consideration of dinner, supper, and what it means to the family, especially one built through the often messy process of adoption. 

In fact, I have come to believe that the seemingly simple concept of dinner is really, for us at least, a turn key in attachment.
Yep, this is another one of those posts.  I have a series of them, sporadically put up as I need to process things or I start stewing about stuff {go here:trust, touch, transitions, schedules, Christmas, prayer}.

I think that the whole idea of family dinner is one that is super easy to brush off.  We've heard it all before, from our own parents to the modern beta parents on tv: Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Spock, Judge Judy...heck, everybody's got an opinion.  But this forum is mine and thus this blog post is about my meandering musings down the dinner table.


Now, I'd love to say that our family has beautiful Rockwell quality dinners.  That we all sit down in a calm and mannered fashion to an elegant and/or chic table every night and linger easily over interesting and savory local, foodie creative meals that nourish our bodies and souls.  Right.  But if I did, I'd be lying.

Ramare Bearden, Color Screenprint, 1993
 Our dinners are often a jumble; kids needing to be called to the table, fetched from outside,  hollered for repeatedly (yes, we/I holler, it's not my proudest moment).  Kids race to snag the primo chair; which designation will ever remain an unfathomable mystery to us parents.  {Sometimes it's a mystery to the racers too, but the race is on, nightly, nevertheless.}  This frequently leads to some sulking about not claiming said spot and  having to sit in the "stupid" spot.  Dinner is considered and often declared "gross" or "yuk" and the sulk extended.  We parental types try to regain calm by lighting a candle or two and then beginning with prayer, going around the table to nudge each kid to come up with something, anything, to be thankful for this day...all the while reminding the wild small boys to sit on their chair, hands off their legos, cars off the table, sshh, with significant looks and the not infrequent verbal cue.  After that, we try to have real conversation as we dine (ok, we eat).  This effort rarely succeeds; what with two teenage girls and two preteen girls, any variation thereof who can often be found nursing some level of mood. Occasionally, one of the girls might be working an angle to get some yet unknown advantage and thus launch a bright and superficially charming conversational gambit.  Those nights the repartee is especially exciting for the unknown results and volatility.  Otherwise the conversation can be rather stilted attempts at extracting details of the day at school (yes, much like pulling teeth, actually) and continuing to referee sulking players; all the while leaving us two over forty craving scintillating discussion of current events or politics or heck, number theory...anything at all to change it up. (I lied, I will never crave discussion of number theory, evah.)


 Jean Foss, "Family Dinner"

Often enough one or three kids will thank me for the cooking, signaling the end of the meal; a truly lovely and appreciated gesture (always Marta, sweet habit) and then bolt to the beyond of upstairs to escape the ensuing chaos that erupts after dinner.  Then the dishes are clattered to the counters and sinks, reminders of dish night assignments handed out, and the dinner comes to a close as I try to scoot/race the little boys up to the bedtime routine.

Thus we have three phases to our dinners: preparation, partaking, and cleanup.   All of them are key to our family dinner and to the foundation that is laid.  It is the whole of the process that makes the family dinner so important, and yes, a turn-key to adjustment.
I want to say that again: I think the whole of the process: the prep, the sitting/eating, and the aftermath, is important to the bonding and attachment found in the family dinner.

The importance of this meal, it's function as a key for us, is coming more and more clear to me; especially over these past few months of our adjustment to our newest daughter Marta.  She has a need for a very defined order to her days, she counts on it, it is her safety zone.  And the dinner routine, as close to 'no  matter what' we can get, is key to her sense of well being, and thus, attachment.
I daresay it is the same for our other children, young and old, bio or adopted. 

Family dinner counts.

The time to prepare it shows our newest daughter, without words, that this time is important to us as family.  She sees me, as do all  my kids, thinking about it in advance, shopping, preparing it, prepping the table for it.  If it wasn't important I wouldn't bother.  They all know it.
If I can get it together during the day, I try to have the table set and dinner planned and begun to prep as she/they arrive home from school....yes, it's very Donna Reed, but it's very very comforting and secure.  All of my kids, each and every one, ask me, every day within minutes of seeing me after school: "What's for dinner?"  Each one of them need that answer, sometimes I say "I don't know!" But, if I name a meal,  it's an almost visible sigh out of them to hear the answer - even if it's not their favorite.  Because it signifies that I am on it and life is secure.  Now, they won't say it that way, but I see it that way now...because of my newest daughter.  Her life was not secure and dinner wasn't a guarantee or even always an option.  So, yeah, this is important stuff...for all of them, but absolutely critical for her. 
It is a turnkey on so many levels: food, primal sustenance, comfort, family, routine.

Peter Blume, Vegetable Dinner, 1927
The sitting down together is a coming together, a pause in the day to nourish our bodies and us as a group together, to nourish our sense of family.  The kids can't see that, sometimes it's just a chore...for me too.  (I can easily, if I were to choose, skip the eating of dinner, most any day.....)
But beyond that obligation and duty lies great unspoken meaning: family, it's important and this is ours.
And happily enough, that meaning is not reliant on the context of perfection or glossy fantasies of "should be" or "looks like."
I will go out on a cyber limb and even say that the very chaotic mess of our dinners, and it's own particular kind of standard chaos, defines our own family culture and is a feature of this key to attaching into our family. 

The cleanup, well, its not nearly the pretty part.  Not that any part of our dinners every really are so much...but cleanup is a mess and a job.  But by having the kids all take part (they rotate dish duty) and their dad usually giving them a boost of help...they learn that they too are contributors to the family. They don't only take...they too give to each other and the family.  Giving back is part of the key to attachment.  Unless you are invested in something or someone, by serving them in some form (time, attention, effort), it's very hard to have a two way attachment. Now, that's just my opinion...but I hold it close.  I think you love by doing.  I think the best way to help a child learn that they are an integral part of the family is to  have them pitch in and help that family, just the same as the other kids (or to their ability).  

So, who'da thunk it?
Family dinner, be it vichyssoise or burgers, means ever so much more than the calorie count.  And really, it's not even about the actual food or the quality of it; be it fancy french or sub sandwiches.
It's about the whole process of the dinner, as a family.
I think it's one of the better keys in your tool belt as a parent.  
I think that so much of what we do, we feel we have to follow the perfect script or recipe or rules or recommendations.  But the beauty in the messy chaos and routine of the family dinner is that it allows for our unique seasonings and tweaks and settings.  It is our own. 
It is in the very making and prepping and sitting and tastings of it, we find our own selves and each other. 
This is a turn key to attachment for each of us, adopted or not, for healing and blending together as a family.  It is a key that is not a hard metal bit to be clanged about...rather this one is as a red ripe tomato, bursting with goodness, begging to be savored.

Jos van Riswick, Tomato 15x15

8 comments:

Lauren said...

I love this. Service IS attachment; love is an active verb. The doing of the thing, every day, together, is the point, and a self-perpetuating attachment cycle.
It's not about the calories, it's the ritual. Michael Pollan said "don't feed yourself and your car at the same place", and I extend that to the "fill 'er up" attutide that constituted a big part of the food culture I grew up with. McBurgers eaten without eye contact will fill a hole, but only in the belly.

PursuingtheSummit said...

Love this! I laughed out loud. So true. Thank you for the reminder.

Paula said...

Sigh. We do family dinners almost every night, but I must admit... it has become one of my most hated chores since the twins came to us. Getting them to eat is such. a. struggle. Unless I'm willing to serve cheese pizza and chicken nuggets every night. I have become a dinner planning slacker. But this post has given me food for thought that if I put a little more effort into planning (so, so NOT my style) that perhaps the importance of the dinner will increase in their little brains. I do love having everyone together at the table as often as possible, and yes, our meals sound very much like yours. :)

coffeemom said...

Paula, I know just what you mean and I feel your pain! I am pretty bad at planning dinners; and I'm not saying we should channel our inner martha stewart and have them all planned out a week in advance. I'm just pointing out that it helps us to have me just make a decision about what we are having and get a jump on it. I'm not saying what kind of things are best either....our dinners can be on the fly by scrounging through the fridge or making "rainy day soup" ( soup from what ive got in house bc I'm too lazy or reluctant to go out in the rain)....
And again...I am really coming to think that even that crazy and or painful chaos of wild little kid dinners make a difference for our kids and our families. That is not to say that I don't really enjoy those date nights out alone w tom when we can have a whole different kind of dinner too!

And if i may...remember, you know this,this phase will pass. This phase will pass.....

Sara said...

lovely

Nora said...

I am all about family dinners, especially since they are so varied here. For 35 years, I have put dinner on the table at 7 so regularly that it is automatic to count back from 7 to decide when to start what dish, without even thinking about what I am doing.

When Devereaux was alive the dinners were about feeding the man of the house, with the rest of us eating what would make him happy - and a huge variety that was, but always in man quantities.

After he died, the family dinner was a critical part of remaking a family for Kate and me. We love our dinners together. I am middle aged; she is a teen girl. In many ways we prefer the same health conscious, pretty meals. I scored some lovely square plates and some red ones to "go with" the dramatic plating options. A composed salad, arranged as carefully as flowers; a fussy dessert with 3 or 4 components with their own containers; an ethnic dinner with all of the folderol: those became our pledge that we could go on. My answer to her "What's for dinner?" was an assurance better than any visit to the cemetery for grounding us.

Now with my daughter in law here with my 2 grandsons waiting for the 3rd to arrive, dinners are like they usually are with little guys around: whining about the veg, hogging the fruit, loving the bread, insisting on the same protein they have had twice this week. However, that too falls into a family rhythm that Kate and I enjoy.

coffeemom said...

Nora I love this. Really...beautiful. Family dinner as a promise... It is. Just that. Thank you!

Luchia Nevada said...

Family dinner. How i wish to experience it even for one night w/ my whole family too >.<