Dinner

Dinner in my house is not only “the most significant meal of the day”, but also the loudest.  Screaming around the dinner table is not a fault, but a necessity; otherwise, what’s the point?  You don’t need to gather the family members around the table to eat; they are not going to chew your food for you.  You gather them to communicate, or, in our world, to scream at each other.  It is also considered a form of entertainment, in which everybody should participate and have fun.  Once, my son’s teacher asked the kids how many of them liked having dinner with their families.  Only a handful raised their hands.   My son was puzzled; he did not understand why?

When I come through the door, I am not greeted with “hello”, but with “what’s for dinner?”  I barely have a few minutes to wash my hands, and put the meal on the table.  Everybody is starving; but too many important daily events should be discussed.  Therefore, food consumption and conversation happen simultaneously, with the dog barking, utensils falling and beverages spilling along the way.  Minor inconveniences are being taken care of while I am listening to the captivating story of enacting the dance from “Romeo and Juliet” in my son’s English class.

He prepared the mask a day before – some scary, alien-looking character from the “Doctor Who” (the fact that Doctor Who lived in a slightly different century was not important).   His teacher paired boys with girls and showed the 16th century dance moves they had to mimic.  My son is not good at dancing.  I’ve tried to practice with him few times, but he still has a lot of room for improvement (to put it mildly).  Once, when I put on the waltz on our new vinyl records player, he agreed to dance with me.  Then my husband took over, criticizing my methods, and my son’s robot-like movement.  He instructed him to relax, loosen up, and pretend that he was dancing with the girl of his dreams.   My son responded that he could not do it, because his dad was too hairy to be the girl of his dreams.  That was the end of that.

The students only had to bow and go in circles, but my son’s partner ”looked like she would rather kill herself than dance with him”.   I asked him if they said at least one word to each other at any point of their involuntary encounter.  He responded: “Why? What is there to talk about?”   “Romeo and Juliet” was our dinner partner for the past week.  We discussed the purpose of teaching Shakespeare in High School, the underage sexual activity of the main characters, their preferred methods of killing themselves, the language changes, etc.

My younger son jumped in discussing the advantages of being popular in school.   He has a lot of friends and considers himself quite popular.   However, there is this one kid, who is “a liar” and “thinks that he is better than everyone else.”  He is also manipulative and tells the teacher on kids.  This tiny red-head is a mandatory part of a daily news brief.   The other issues on the agenda include the tests, the grades, the list of class cheaters, stories told by teachers, current political climate, degradation of society, human psychology, historical injustices, education system, anything else that comes to mind.

I am trying to teach my kids manners.  They’ve learned to eat with a knife and a fork, to keep the elbows off the table, to chew with the mouth closed.  I am not that lucky with interrupting.  Every time my older son starts talking, my younger son talks louder.  Then my older, claiming that he started first, turns up the volume.  My younger, without any hesitation, increases the level of noise even more, saying that my older is talking too long, and it is not fair.  I am trying to stop the screaming by setting up the time limits, so that everybody has a chance to talk.  This strategy, used for Presidential debates, is not good for my household.  It turns out, I am a lousy moderator.  It seems to work in the beginning.  But the first speaker would not stop talking, claiming that his time has not expired yet (even though he has not looked at the clock).   Now, we are back to square one.   Can they just eat?  Is this normal?  Does it happen in other families? May be I should read another parenting book? Is there an expert who can help?

At some point, the decibels reach the point when my brain stops processing the information.  I am consuming my calories mindlessly, observing the screamers’ mouths open and close, their facial expressions changing, invisible electricity filling the air. I enjoy my meal; I am at peace.  Eventually, the sound intensity goes down, and I realize that I have no clue anymore what they are talking about.  I announce that it’s time to finish up and do the homework.  But I am wrong, because it is not the time to do the homework; it is the time to have a dessert.   For me, it’s the time to clean the table, and maybe, just maybe, while doing that, I will be able to exchange few words with my husband without interruption.

Someday, we will have a quiet dinner; just the two of us enjoying a candle-light gourmet meal, but by that time we would not remember how to talk to each other anymore.  We would crave the noise and the craziness, the school dramas and the political debates; but all that would be gone. I guess we have to enjoy it while we can.

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