October 26, 2010

TV Dinners?

I practically grew up eating dinner in front of the TV. Remember? Back in the day… those TV trays? I can’t tell you how many episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard, Charlie’s Angels, The Incredible Hulk, and That’s Incredible! I watched while eating dinner in front of the TV.

Sometimes the whole family would eat in the living room watching TV. My dad often ate in front of the TV. And me? I loved it!

But this has been a rare – very rare – occurrence for my children. First of all, we really don’t have TV. We have DVDs and, now, Netflix that plays wirelessly over the Wii. (Very cool!)

Secondly, over the years I have come to understand how important meals are in family life. Meals are sacred. Life happens around the table.

All meals begin with prayer. We recall how good God is to us. How he has brought us into being, brought us together, brought us to this moment, brought us his gifts of life and love and food and shelter… All because he wants to bring us to himself in heaven. And we make sure to pray for the faithful departed who have gone before us, that they too might speedily enter into the glory of heaven. We always end our blessing before meals with “And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

We do have a couple of rules to follow while we sit around the table. Not to say that they are always followed. But they should be. Meals at our house tend to get very lively. That’s what happens when you have three little actors around the table. If left unchecked, this is what our meals would look like on a daily basis:

  • The kids scarf down their food before mom and dad even sit down at the table.
  • The kids either recite entire dialogues from movies or plays (over and over again). Or, in very loud voices, they sing songs from musicals (over and over again), sometimes competing with each other to see who can sing it the loudest or silliest.
  • One child makes another upset. Name-calling ensues, and soon World War III is happening right there around our table.
  • At least one child spends most of the meal getting up from her chair and dancing around the table, or doing gymnastics, or curling up on the floor with the dog.
  • While mom and dad try to eat, all three children beg for seconds (or thirds!) every couple of minutes.

If this were left unchecked, mom and dad end up yelling at the kids:

  • Wait until we pray before you eat! And at least let us sit down first!
  • Stop talking! No movie talk at the table!
  • Stop singing! No singing at the table!
  • No fighting!
  • Sit down! You are not to get up from the table unless you are excused!
  • Stop dancing around the room! Get up off that dirty floor with that dirty dog! No gymnastics in the house!
  • Would you please let mommy and daddy take a bite of their food before you start begging for more?!?!

That would not make for a peaceful and sacred meal, would it?

So, we lay down a few rules for meals. Can you imagine what our rules are? If you look at that list above, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure them out.

Now, we are not perfect, and there are many, many nights when we repeat over and over, “No movie talk at the table,” or, “Your mom is the queen of the house, and we have to wait for her to take the first bite,” or “Wait! Don’t eat until we pray!” That is to be expected, I think. But at least we don’t have to yell… as much as we used to.

cheeky

A gentle reminder of the rule usually suffices.

So, what do we talk about? Well, we try to keep our conversation focused on the events of the day, paying particular attention to what our kids think. I want to get to know them better. I want to know their thoughts and their feelings. And time around the table was made just for that. In a very real way, time around the table is a time of communion. It really is sacred.

There are times when I use meal time as an opportunity for family spiritual growth and for catechesis. Imitating an ancient monastic practice, I will read to the family while we are eating. Lately I have been reading to them a book about the Poor Souls in Purgatory (Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory). Appropriate, I think, since November is the month of the souls in Purgatory. I find that reading like this naturally leads to deeper conversation that goes beyond “So what did you do today?” I also find that the kids really like it when I read. They like to think about things in a deeper way, and to talk about them.

Yes, my food does get cold while I read. But I think it’s worth it.

What about you?

Does your family eat dinner in front of the TV? Or do you sit down at the table together?

Do you have table rules? Or is it pretty chaotic (like at our house sometimes)?

Do you have a goal as to what your table conversation should be about?

I’d love to know! Tell us about it in the comments below!

Image courtesy of jr conlin on Flickr.com.