Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dinnertime Downgrade

We were having a family dinner last Wednesday night, a tradition that we struggle to maintain like many families.  Activity schedules and work commitments seem to wreck havoc on our best made plans of eating as a group, but we do manage to accomplish the feat several times each week.  There have been meals when we have regretted the tradition (children can pick on one another), but for the most part, it is nice to gather as a team at least once a day.  On this particular night, Lucy sensed something or someone was missing.

“Where’s Marra?”

“She’s at work tonight”, came the answer.

Lucy took the information in stride.  Marra had started a lifeguarding job at the community pool, her first foray into the world of gainful employment.  We were proud of this accomplishment, and looked forward to her learning that we parents haven’t been so crazy her entire life.  Life outside our home can be unfair and difficult, we warned her, only to be dismissed as cranks.  We couldn’t wait until she had to clean the community bathrooms or scoop an escaped doodie out of the baby pool.  Maybe we are a little cruel to be taking such pleasure at the thought of her doing manual labor, but perhaps there some ‘tiger’ parent in us after all.

Back at the dinner table, the news that Marra was working that night momentarily stole my appetite.  Once we were five.  Now we were four.  While reserving a table at a restaurant would be easier (tables for 5 are harder to come by than tables for 4), our dinner table would be less fun.  It seemed like one of those moments when time tips forward irreversibly away from the past, never to return.  This was the beginning of the New Normal.  The family was spreading its wings as it should, but it felt at this moment more like it was breaking apart, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Having come from a large family, I had lived through the period of diminishing chairs at the dinner table.  I recall raucous dinners for eight, that scaled back to dinners for 6 once the older kids started going to college, then dinners that spanned hours as kids drifted in and out from after school activities, then 4, then…then I can’t remember how the family dinner ended.  It did end at some point. 
My oldest daughter has a job, and the slow demise of the family dinner has again begun.  This is the dark underbelly, the yang to the ying, of the circle of life.  I will relive the experience of the decline of the family dinner, but this time, from a different chair.  The first time, I was waiting for my turn to up and leave the table.  I wanted to have the job, I wanted to have the after school activities, I wanted to have the friends to hang out with.  Now, I will be the one who stays in the chair at the table.  I’m not going anywhere.  Everyone else is.
That is not really true, of course.  I am traveling through time to somewhere, just like the kids are.  I just feel like I am in a faster mode of transport, and if I blink, it will be a table for two.  As romantic as that sounds, we’ll probably both miss the family dinner hour.

Lucy was OK that Marra had work commitments on this night.  She obviously missed her sister, but this was a mere speed bump for a 6 year old.  She was now focusing on dessert, and the absence of a family member at the table will not distract her from that treat.  Wait until she figures out that someday, it will just be Mommy, Daddy and Lucy for dinner.  Hopefully, she takes that news in equal stride (but I doubt it).

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