Monday, April 28, 2014

And what does dinnertime look like at your house?

Sarah: Do you think we will ever have a pleasant family supper?
Brian: Yes. When they've left for college. 

I have these memories of lovely family meals. Meals in which people minded their manners and there was laughter instead of sobbing. My parents are probably reading this and rolling their eyes. But I have this vision, this vision of a pleasant family meal, and I really don't want to give up on it.

I felt pretty good about supper tonight. It was healthy, I threw it together with food on hand, and I knew I had incorporated ingredients my children will eat. But it was a nightmare. At one point, Brian and I walked out of the house, practically pushed out by the screams that followed us and were most certainly audible to those walking past our house, home to their quiet, well-behaved children.

Why the screaming? Well, our two-year-old decided the cucumbers were the only edible part of his meal. And when no more cucumbers were available, he began to scream. At the recommendation of his new speech therapist, we are trying not to jump-to the minute the ear-piercing begins but calmly ask him to communicate in a clearer manner, signs at least. But no amount of, "Are you done? Sign all done. Do you want down? Sign down," elicited anything more than a vehement shake of the head and more screaming from the mule-child.

And our five-year-old? Well, thoughtful girl that she is, she doesn't like anyone to have to scream alone. We had actually gotten her to successfully ingest the minimum three bites (beyond the cucumber), but then, then, she spilled a drop of water on her shirt. And her life collapsed around her ears.

That's when Brian and I left. We stood on the porch for a minute, collected ourselves, and without even consulting each other walked back in with the same plan in mind. I took hold of Maggie and headed to her room. Brian took hold of Leo's hands, signed all done with them, and removed him from his seat. We read them bedtime books, tucked them in, and said goodnight. It was 6:00.

We do occasionally have a lovely meal. But more often than not, it resembles this one. Most of the time, I can tell myself that this is normal, but some nights, I'm just exhausted. I stayed up too late last night, it's raining and will be for days, I have pressing deadlines and and piles of laundry to do, and a night like this just did me in. And all the beer was warm. Is it too much to ask for a cold beer at a moment like this?

So, tell me, if you're reading this, what does dinnertime look like at your house? Does everyone say please and thank you and eat the food served gratefully? Or (oh, please, oh, please) does it look like ours? Do you sometimes just want to run from the house? Or stay and show them what screaming really looks like? I could, you know.

15 comments :

  1. I have to thank you for sharing this. I'm sure a LOT of people's dinners look/sound at least a LITTLE bit like this. I don't have any sage advice, I don't go to any organized meetings but my whole life motto is "Fake It Til You Make It" in every way, but I will tell you what works for US. This might not work for everyone, all kids are different, just like all adults are different, but this helped us a LOT. My kids are their worst at dinner, they're tired, sometimes over-stimulated, don't want to sit still, etc., so we started just making sure they have healthy breakfasts (the 2 & 4 year old BOTH have 2 healthy(ish) breakfasts), a healthy .lunch, and dinner is pretty much a free for all. Anything they'll eat, a few bites of meat, fruit, whatever, is just fine and when they start getting very loud, they're done. They can GO play. This is the only way we can have any kind of semi-peaceful meal. My husband gets home late, we don't get much time together, so for US it's important that this time is, at least not complete and total chaos. Again, might not work for everyone, but our lives got a lot more pleasant.
    The first few times we told the kids, "Okay, you can go" and put the over the kitchen gate into the front room, they thought it was a trick. The 2 yr old bolted before we changed our minds and the 4 yr old just kind of looked at us confused. Now, they don't always want to run away and play, a lot of times they want to sit on Dad's lap, and they can even be sneaked into a bite of his carrots. They do breakfasts and lunches in their assigned seats, so I'm not sweating it. Good luck! We all need a little luck mixed in w/all the other ingredients of Parent Soup!

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    1. Joy, thanks so much for your detailed and helpful response. Sometimes I find myself deeply engaged in a battle that I really out not be fighting. My kids do eat pretty healthily at other meals, and dinnertime is just HARD. Your response reminded me that sometimes I really need to pick my battles, and sometimes surrendering on one front helps in another way.

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  2. I don't want to scare you, but dinners at our house often turn into fighting matches between our kids and mine are MUCH older than yours 10, 14, and 16. Maybe it's because they are all boys, but a peaceful meal is rare in our house. I hope that makes you feel better on some level? I guess the difference is the screaming and complaining about the food will probably end, but when they reach the teen years, take cover!! :)

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    1. Ummm, sort of? And sort of not. At least I am not alone amongst mothers of children of all ages!

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  3. Let's just say that Kidzilla didn't get that name for nothing. Dinnertime often has battle lines drawn - or at the very least it's a constant barrage of "stop doing that" or "do not interrupt an adult at this table one more time" in ninety seven variations. After holding it together all day in school, Zilla often just needs to let out a little steam or wiggle around and burn some energy. We try to remember that there are reasons - really legit reasons - for the way our evenings go some days. We work constantly to field those balls as they come flying at us. But then there are just as many nights when we really do have a lovely time together and things go swimmingly. It's important to us to be together for dinner, though, since breakfast is generally fast and on the run (something I want to be different) and lunch is away from each other at work and school. It really just depends on the day - and I really think that it's all completely normal.
    The one thing I am always grateful for, though, and never have to battle Zilla about is her eating habits - she loves fruits and vegetables and is a pretty adventurous eater. I can't complain about that! The worst thing we have to say is "for crying out loud, child, please stop eating vegetables and have a piece of meat or something!"
    No worries - it's all normal. You are a family of vibrant personalities - do you really think dinner is going to be calm and placid? No way. It's like that here, too. We're messy and noisy even when things go perfectly well just because we are who we are. And that's OK. No worries - you're doing it right. And all too soon, you and the Dude will be wishing for a little noise at the table because they'll be off on their own eating dinner with someone else.

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    1. Well, see, I LOVE this response. Because Kidzilla sounds so amazing with her love of fruits and vegetables. I need to be reminded that she's not perfect as my children are not either.

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  4. Dinner is often a shitstorm in our house. I even feel like it's gotten worse... Now, he just gets up and runs lap with sauce and crap on his face, refuses to eat, asks for a bottle of milk (he's 4 1/2 and we give it to him because you know, pick your battles). To be honest? I'm jealous you put your kids to bed at 6pm. To me? that seems healthy and normal. My kid's been going to bed between 9 and 10 which is KILLING ME. And your husband and you rock. For real. That you both had Vulcan mind melt about the bedtime? Awesome. For real awesome. xoxo
    And it will get better. I remember idyllic dinnertimes, too. My mom might laugh about that though. Also don't tell on me but sometimes, we use the iPad as a bribe. *cough*

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    1. Well, 6pm is not typical. Nor is the Vulcan (definitely just typed Vulvan, which is hilarious) mind meld. Oh, and the iPad is a totally worthy bribe. Works every time!

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  5. Also I wish you were on Twitter. That's all.

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    1. I know I am so behind the times on this. Promote it to me.

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  6. I think we need to ask Mama and Dad what they remember. I remember you not wanting to let me link my arm with yours, and this making me want to do it more. This was an effective way to make you very mad. I remember plenty of volatility at the table and with the associated chores. Now, Miles is asleep for our dinner because we get home from work so late, but both boys switch into some kind of mania around 5:30 and everything becomes MORE: running around faster, throwing things, yelling, and there is no more listening. Drives me bonkers. It's like that bewitching hour for infants is back. I like all these suggestions! I like the idea of taking pressure off dinner in general. Tell me what else you come up with.

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    1. I remember the arm thing. And I remember cooling my food in front of the AC with Sam. Dad says he remembers offending people with questions about homework. :)

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    2. Yes! I meant to mention that! So offensive to ask about my day and "How do you stand on homework?" None of your business, sir!

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  7. Dinners never seem to be like the fulfilling, serene quality family time they do on TV in Hamburger Helper commercials, where everyone is smiling and nodding in approval of the culinarily life changing foodstuffs laid before them.

    Maybe I should start making Hamburger Helper more often.

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    1. I feel certain it will do the trick. :)

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