If you are a helicopter parent, you already know this. Statistics prove that sitting down and eating with your kids at dinner ensures they will be successful and smart people. Hands down. They learn manners, the ability to speak and communicate and it fosters a strong relationship with parents.
I can’t tell you how many New Years have come and gone with my annual resolution to have family dinners, EVERY night, home made, nutritious and peaceful. But it wouldn’t take long before I would flame out (my record is around a week). Charlie's early years were the worst. He would huck food from the high chair and the other three would rapidly lose interest after two bites at which point they’d start doing laps around the table. Alpha and I would sit in front of our food shouting to each other about our day trying to hear above the din.
It was torture, far more effective than anything the CIA comes up with. I willingly went against the stats, fed them early and put them to bed many times before Alpha even got home. (7pm was really my limit.) And although I felt a tinge of guilt when my husband and I sat down for a civilized meal that we weren’t producing the communicative, successful kids I should, I got over it pretty quickly.
Like most things in parenting, it's a slow evolution that you don’t notice until you hit a serious milestone step that grabs your attention. It was New Year's Eve, around 7pm. Teddy had taken pride in setting the table. Liv had poured the drinks and we were eating Alpha's specially made chicken fajitas. Talking about our New Year's Resolutions.
Liv kicked it off with something thoughtful. “I want to get 1% better at water polo every time I practice,” she said. Alpha and I caught each other’s eyes, both surprised. That would be one of our resolutions. Olivia went on to tell us about an inspirational woman who spoke to her 6th grade class. She opted to play men’s baseball and had to push herself to get 1% better each time she played so she could successfully compete with the boys. Olivia, always offering gems to the family, set a remarkable tone for the table.
Charlie, the food hucker, went next. “I want to get better at skiing,” he offered up. Now Charlie had just torn up the slopes at Mammoth Mountain. Leaving his two older siblings in the dust. “How about bike riding?” I challenged him. “That could use some work.” (Three days prior, our fourth child (age five) had dragged his bike out of the shed, pumped the tires and nagged Alpha to no end to teach him to ride it without training wheels. When he couldn’t get his Dad’s attention, Jackson took him out and taught him the basic concept.) “Oh yes! I will be an amazing bike rider this year!” he smiled at us.
Jackson announced he wanted to lose weight which made the whole table crack up. I laughed the hardest because this kid has really arrived to the adult world. The fact that he even knows most people resolve to go to the gym more on New Year's is a wild thing for me to comprehend. Once he had everyone’s attention, he raised his skinny arms and said something about lacrosse (it’s always lacrosse) and his training. But I couldn’t help staring at my oldest, at the other end of the table, growing up.
Teddy was last. No matter how much we told him we wanted something serious, he laughed and giggled and couldn’t figure out one thing to talk about. We spoon fed him answers about his writing, math even the piano. Ultimately, because he couldn’t take the exercise seriously he was assigned KP duty and required to clear the table and wash all the dishes.
And it was there, on the coach, that I realized how amazing 2014 really was. The dinner ritual of setting the table, having a conversation and cleaning up after was not such a lost cause in the Peters’ house any more. The New Year's conversation was a long one -- we even had lingered well after the food was cold. There were no laps around the table. It was all so good.
A few minutes later, Teddy, poking his head from the galley, asked me, “Mom, you didn’t give us your resolution. What is yours?”
“Teddy, don’t you know? I don’t do resolutions because you never keep them!” I told him. He looked at me in surprise, burst out laughing and went back to washing dishes.
Sometimes you just have to resolve to let things happen on their own time.