Rushing Through Dinner: A Tale of the Twenty-First Century

white tableware
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The Littlest Miss had soccer practice and I didn’t sleep well the night before, so Kelly took her to her practice. In exchange, I made dinner. We trade off fairly regularly in this regard. Dinner was pasta and salad. Our dinners are rarely complex affairs. Given where the soccer practice was, I guessed that dinner should be ready by 6:15 pm. I timed it perfectly. The table was set and dinner was ready at 6:15 pm. Only, Kelly and the Littlest Miss weren’t back yet. They weren’t back at 6:20 or 6:25 either. It wasn’t until 6:30 pm that they got home. By then both Zach and Grace had finished their dinner and I was working my way slowly through mine.

The modern world has decimated the family dinner. We make it a point to eat together as a family every evening, but in reality we are only there at the table together for 10 minutes or so. This is no one’s fault. It’s the world we live in. I like to relax at dinner and I wish that everyone else would relax, too. Kelly is a fast eater and the kids have mostly followed her lead, with the Littlest Miss being the only one who eats slower than the other kids–but still faster than I do.

We could make a rule that says we have to sit around the table for at least 20 minutes, or whatever the appropriate interval would be, but it would be an artificial thing and wouldn’t feel right. Besides, the world won’t let us. There is too much to get done during the day. We don’t have a set time for dinner. We squeeze it in usually between 6 pm and 7:30 pm, working it around the various activities of the day. Sometimes I have late meetings. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays there are pre-dinner activities that affect the time: gymnastics, soccer practices. On the weekends there are other activities before and after dinner that force us to squeeze down the amount of time we actually spend at the table.

Not all of it is because we are shuttling about from various actives. The kids have school work and there needs to be time for that. They have reading that they do, and we try to read with them. Zach and his friends have a yard business and there may be a lawn he has to go cut. Maybe there is a parent-teacher Zoom conference scheduled for early evening. There is always something that applies pressure to the evening meal so that almost everyone feels obliged to rush through it. I am almost always the last one at the table. I try not to rush as a matter of principle, and to set an example, but it is a lost cause. I’ve come to accept that, even if I don’t like it very much.

Mondays are really the only days we have a chance for a leisurely dinner. But even there, the pressure is on. It is getting darker earlier, and Kelly and I usually go for an evening walk together after dinner. We prefer doing it with some daylight left in the sky. Then, too, there is limited time after dinner before the kids go to bed. They are not allowed on devices during the day but they have an hour between 8-9 pm if they’ve finished their school work and reading, and the house is in order. They don’t want to spend time at the table, they want to finish as quickly as possible to ensure they can get everything done so that they have their hour on devices. I can’t complain about this. They have long days, just like we do, and deserve their hour.

When I was a kid, I didn’t feel rushed through dinner. In the summers, I remember wanting to finish up so that we could go outside and hang out with our friends. We didn’t have as many scheduled events, although it seemed to me that we had more homework.

I imagine there are families who have leisurely dinners together, but it is hard to imagine it happening in our town, where everyone seems so over-scheduled.

The worst part, for me, is that preparing dinner often takes twice as long as sitting down to eat it. That just seems backwards to me. Still, we do our best. Grace usually asks everyone what their favorite and least favorite things for the day were. We joke around and talk for the few minutes we are all sitting there together. We make the most of it.

But it sure would be nice to have a leisurely family dinner now and then.

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