I don’t know why it has all come together in my brain this way.
Growing up, I remember being furious that this rule was put in place, even in middle and high school, that I MUST be present at the dinner table at least three or four nights a week. If I went out after that, that was one thing. If I ate or not was another thing, but my presence at the dinner table was required three or four nights a week. (I don’t remember which, so obviously it wasn’t as traumatic as I would like to pretend.)
As with many things I now reflect back on from growing up, I hated this rule at the time, and yet now I wouldn’t trade anything for it.
And a few nights ago, I joined some incredible friends from present day around their coffee table for dinner. At our home growing up, when I was huffing and puffing about having to be home for dinner around a table, we would every now and then sit around the coffee table, the same one I now have in my den, and eat pizza and watch TV together. I remember being angry that my parents could guess what was going to happen on the TV show, and I was likely more angry about this because I wanted to be anywhere but there at the moment.
But a few nights go, legs crossed over pillows on the floor, eating while sitting around their coffee table, I found myself in a kind of time freeze. The four year old daughter of my friends was pretending to make meals or be a drummer with her metal bowls and plastic whisks, and we were eating sushi with chopsticks out of styrofoam sakura to-go boxes.
There was much that reminded me, though, of growing up. The space for imagination and casualness, and play and informality. The insistence of good food even though it was spread out across a coffee table reminded me of how much has changed, and how little has changed at the same time.
And today, I’m in a counseling session with a family who can’t pay the bills so they share a home with another family. Four parents, five children, three minimum wage jobs, exponential stress. They were sitting in my office, a mom and dad, completely undone by the situation, and parenting skills to reflect the same. As they were talking, I found myself returning to the living room coffee table a few nights ago with incredible friends learning to be good parents, a four year old playing kitchen, and myself wondering how things will be remembered ten years later.
For all of us.
And most of all, I found myself glad that someone made me sit down for dinner three or four nights a week, no matter how unbelievable and unrealistic a request it seemed at the time.