Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday Dinner

Lately I've been trying to have a traditional-ish Sunday dinner, with a tablecloth, candles, and some version of roasted meat. I like the idea of my kids remembering a once-weekly meal where we actually used table manners. There is no rapping of knuckles in our house, if the fork is not held properly, but I figure it's never too early to civilise your kids, to some extent. I tried to make Yorkshire pudding once, in honour of my husband's English homeland, but quickly decided that they're just stupid (because I didn't succeed in making them).

The IDEA is so far from the reality, however. The house is fragrant with, say, a roasted chicken and potatoes. I've prepared two additional veg dishes, steaming carrots before tossing them with a bit of butter and brown sugar, say, and maybe some bright broccoli. Beeswax candles cast a warm glow over the pretty place settings. I call my charming children to the table. I waltz gracefully to the table with a boat of perfectly smooth gravy...

And before I even sit down, some sort of hell breaks loose. Someone slaps someone, tempers flare, or someone refuses to sit and eat. My husband I start to chew with forced calm, which turns to irritation, which generally ends with someone getting a timeout. Things tend to spiral downwards from here. I'm not looking to train my kids to be perfectly behaved little automatons, saying please and thank you and placing a napkin on their lap. I don't pressure anyone to be flawless. I just want to eat what's on my plate without listening to screaming and fighting.

Lately I've caught myself taking these failures of my plans personally. The litany of every martyred mother's thoughts echoes through my mind: "WHY do I bother? I just thought we could have one NICE meal a week, but I guess I was wrong...Is it too much to ask for HARMONY in my home?" Apparently, yes...yes, it is too much to ask.

Thinking about that question a bit deeper leads me to remember that joy and harmony are not created through unreasonable expectations. And let's face it, having any kind of semi-civilised meal with three children under the age of 6 is unreasonable. The most peaceful meals in our house are the ones that I slap on the table, on each child's favourite coloured plate...no tablecloth and no candles. Often, cutlery is optional, or ends up on the floor. Optional, too, is clothing.

Leftover spaghetti washes off skin much easier than out of clothing.

The meal wouldn't be complete without at least one spill, intentional or otherwise.

Violet pouts while Margot tries dipping her plastic cucumber slices in spaghetti,

then cracks up at something her brother did.

The floor, and table, after a meal with my kids.

Consider this lesson learned. When my husband built a fire outside to burn some brush this morning and suggested hotdogs for dinner, I didn't hesitate to say a resounding, "Yes!" I did steam some broccoli to balance out the many-horrible-things-about-hotdogs. Finally, I found what I was seeking: peace and harmony at mealtime...because the kids ate outside by the fire and I ate inside by myself.

14 comments:

  1. I think every mom can relate to this post. I personally yearn for one lovely meal, and one lovely family portrait...both seem very far away at the moment!

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  2. Hee hee!

    It really does get easier as they get older.
    Easier and somewhat cleaner, but not necessarily more civilized. Are they ever civilized at home in the presence of their parents? It's only when they've been dining somewhere else that we hear about how well-mannered they are. Pardon? Are we talking about the same children? No really, this child?

    Hugs...

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  3. My parents,are parents of 4, always used to say that "it isn't officially a dinner at our house unless someone eats naked, or someone vomits(or references it),or passes gas (or references bathroom activities) or engages in fisticuffs at the table".

    Now that we are all grown up and have children of our own, it once again is the standard of a meal at my parents home. With 21 people to dinner, often all 4 factors come into play. When children are involved, it is always an adventure.

    Someday you will miss the fighting and the chaos, at least that is what my mother tells me. "It is so quiet around here at dinner time" my mother says. I just tell her she and dad can eat in the nude every night, as long as we aren't there, and it will be just like old times.

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  4. Oh, your posts always make me laugh. Mostly due to the fact that could be written about my own home/children/family/guilt/ etc :)

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  5. I should add that mine are outside at the moment, around the fire with their Dad. I really should call them in for baths, but I'm not going to. They are happy, the house is quiet, and I'm going to knit instead!

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  6. Now that we are "with toddler" again, suddenly chaos insues at our every meal together...do toddlers EVER sit at the table and eat?
    I would be proud of the fact that you manage to feed them at all! Celebrate the small accomplishments and leave Sunday dinners to the Queen or people who have nannies!
    xo maureen

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  7. I love this! I posted about our little guy in a similar way a year or so ago {http://www.gypsyforest.com/welcome_to_gypsy_forest/2009/01/dinner-at-my-place.html} It is wild and crazy at out table too! PS - LOVE your portraits below.... stunning!

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  8. lol, I love the last picture! You're right that we often have unrealistic expectations, which sets us up for disappointment. Congrats to you for finding some peace amongst the chaos!

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  9. If it's any consolation, I gave up on trying to expect my toddlers to sit quietly or neatly at the table. (as you may remember) our meals were similar to yours with someone naked, someone crying, food on the floor, chairs and MAYBE in the mouths they were intended for. BUT- now at 9 and 12, they can sit and say please and thank you, and carry on conversation, and ask to be excused. You are right to recognize that some expectations are unreasonable. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try it now and then, but always with a sense of humour and shrug of the shoulders thrown in, too.
    (I have also learned that by Sunday evening, I am too tired from the weekend for a big, work-intensive meal, so we do it on Saturday and then warm up leftovers or have grilled cheese on Sunday!)

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  10. Ah Stephanie, we can all relate! That last picture is so cute, it actually made me laugh out loud. The food on the floor looks pretty familiar, too. My grandfather used to joke to my grandmother (when their 5 kids were small) that they should install a drain in the center of the kitchen floor so they could just hose down the floor each evening. Sounds like a good idea to me!

    We had a fancy Thanksgiving dinner at my place yesterday, and while I didn't mention it in my blog post, there were a few tense moments. It happens!

    Laura @ Getting There
    http://gettingthere.typepad.com

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  11. Ha.
    As often is the case, I find myself chuckling along with your post.
    It is all so close to home.

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  12. Mama you are wonderful, really, really wonderful, your children really will remember all these amazing times you create, all those laughs through the mess, all the fun .. perfect x

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  13. So true...it does get easier when they get a bit older. I would completely scratch the candles and tablecloth idea for now...I still have not gone back to that and mine are 12 and under...much less stress for you and you can still have a nice meal. My kids love our sit down meals, they have learned to set the table the "fast way" and the "right way". They have assigned seats which does away with some of the fighting about who they sit by. They also made up a game called "love 'round the table" where we occupy ourselves buy having to think up something nice about the person to our right or left. Sometimes it ends with dumb jokes told by my husband but they love it all the more. It will get better. This stage is the HARDEST when you have 3 little ones.

    After the kids are in bed break out the candles and table cloth for a late night snack and a bottle of wine for you and your husband. Having our designated "our time" gives me something to look forward to every day, even if we just watch a show, it's both of our saving grace.

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  14. I loved this! Any attempts to have a quiet, peaceful meal at our house end in my husband shouting down the six kids. It is actually quieter if we just let the kids yell and we don't add our own voices to the din!

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