My son Jaren has been gone this week on a youth trip with our church. He has gone on this week-long spiritual vacation for the last two years. As much as I enjoy having some “me time” I do miss my son being here at home. I get bored and frankly, get lazy. He keeps me on toes, running here and there, cooking, cleaning and whatever else moms do with their children. I’ve only made one partially home cooked meal this week which is unusual for me. Yes, I’m kind of old fashioned that way.
This is one tradition I’m glad got passed down. My mother was a good cook and always seemed to enjoy cooking for her family. She took pleasure in it, whether it was a simple and easy meal or a grand holiday feast. Having dinner around the table with my parents and siblings is one of the fondest memories I have from childhood. And with everything else that I experienced, this may have been the saving grace that helped me persevere. The Family Dinner Project
Cooking didn’t come naturally for me at first. I was the younger sister so I didn’t get the hands on experience that my older sister Colleen got. I have evolved over the years. I am an eclectic cook. I like to make my ethnic foods, mostly Italian and German and classic American cooking. But I also like to try new things. My Texas friends have taught me many delectable Southern, Soul and Tex-Mex recipes, which are all my son’s favorites. I’ve gotten pretty resourceful on a tight budget and have learned to make good use of my leftovers.
A couple years ago, Jaren came home from school and told me his teacher posed a question to the class. His teacher asked, “How many of you have dinner at the table with your family every day?” Jaren said he was the only one to raise his hand. He said he looked around …surprised. He said his teacher was equally surprised. Then the teacher asked how many of them have dinner with their family once a week…once a month. Jaren again was the only student to raise his hand both times. And lastly the teacher asked “once a year” and added and/or if they have dinner in the living room. Finally a few students raised their hand. This started a conversation among the class.
I admit, I had felt guilty and even angry at times about what was missing in my son’s life. I had internally focused on what he didn’t have; like having only one parent (or family member) of Jaren’s (with a few exceptions) sitting in the stands at the soccer games, the basketball games, the football games, the school recitals, the choir concerts, the special performances at church, as I saw dual parents, siblings, and on occasion, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins showing up for the other kids. I’d wonder, as my son tried to find me in the crowd and wave at me, did it matter to him or if he even noticed. In addition, not having extended family around throughout the year or for years, some due to distance, some due to racism, and some I really don’t know why because they have had or have access to Jaren and many, many opportunities to participate throughout the year, has left me feeling concerned for my child and the impact this could have on his emotional intelligence.
So when Jaren came home and told me about the class conversation, it changed my perspective. I could see how this conversation impacted him as he realized how different our traditions were as compared to his classmates. This was a turning point for me and I think for both of us about how we viewed our family. I began to see my role in Jaren’s life differently. My focus changed. I realized that it doesn’t matter if there are ten familiar faces in the audience or if I am the only family face in the crowd my son sees. What really matters is that when Jaren looks out into the audience, that he sees me, his mother’s smiling face, looking up at him and seeing how proud I am to be his mom.
I began to see what Jaren has and the traditions that I have created for our family. While we may not have spent birthdays and calendar holidays throughout the year together with our biological family, we spent it with loved ones who loved us unconditionally, who made every effort to include us in their spur of the moment cookouts or planned out traditional holiday dinners.
More importantly, I realized that it doesn’t matter if Jaren and I are eating at home or dining out at a table for two, whether our meals are three course home made meals or frozen entrees put together with can and box goods, or Friday night pizza in the living room in front of the TV, as long as we are making time to be together. And it’s more than just about cooking my son a meal. It’s about him knowing that he is my priority and me doing my best to make him feel protected, safe and loved.
To some, this table may look old and worn. To me, I see little hands learning to eat, warm meals and birthday cakes, conversations and funny stories, disagreement and even tears.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, if this is true, then a table must be worth a million or more.