I really wanted to use an expletive in the title, but my innate "prose politeness" somehow prevents me from following through with it. I've just gotten up from another comical yet disastrous Jones family dinner, and I'm reeling with multiple emotions, namely disgust, frustration, and bemusement.
Every evening I fight many factors to accomplish the impossible task of sitting six Joneses down in the same space for longer than fifteen minutes. I consider myself a well-informed parent, and I've read many times that experts believe children not only learn social skills at the dinner table, but they also have more positive connections when they endure regular family meals. I sometimes allow myself to wonder what an "expert" might take away from one of our meals, but then the shuddering starts and I have to nix my visions.
Tonight's debacle revolved around spaghetti. The trick is to lure my husband into the kitchen and hand him plates I scoop and prepare to each child's liking and then pray he doesn't call the pigs to slop before I can get our plates fixed. Tonight was an epic fail. By the time I sat myself down, our oldest had ingested his entire plate of food in an action that can only be accurately described as "scarfing." It was almost revolting to watch, but I found myself marveling at his speed. I couldn't look away and froze, plate in hand, for a solid two seconds while a multitude of fleeting thoughts raced through my head.
"Man, there goes my chance to sit down. He's going to ask for seconds the moment my butt hits the chair. I wonder if he'll have a stomach ache later. His second helping is going to be wasted because halfway in, his brain will catch up to his stomach to tell him he is full. Stupidly slow hypothalamus. Why is Jason waiting on me to hand him a bowl and water? What is this? 1955? Wow, look at Hudson go. He's really eating, too. Crap, Lawson sat at Camden's spot at the table. Now he has the large helping but a tiny appetite. No wonder Camden finished so fast. Man, I'm hungry."
This internal dialogue ran its course within seconds, and as predicted, Camden asked for seconds the moment I sat down. As soon as I handed him his plate and tried to sit down again, Hudson asked for seconds. As I sat down a third time, Camden said he was done (with half a plate of spaghetti left) and asked to be excused. Around this time, I got the crazy eyes.
"No! You may not be excused. We will sit for a family meal and talk. Yep, talk."
It's connection time, baby. Topic: If you conquered the universe, what would you do? Ah, clever, Molly. You are so good. The first sign of trouble came when one child said he would kill everyone and allow aliens to take over the planet. Cue internal dialogue:
"Kill?! What, is he a sociopath? Why is Jason stuffing his face and acting like he didn't hear that? Why are the other two boys laughing so hard? Crap, Scout just rubbed spaghetti in her hair. Whoops, I know that look. She's got to pee (as she slides deftly off her chair and bolts from the room). Hmm, how do I handle this?"
The shocking response (delivered in typical boy fashion) elicited a reprimand from me on appropriate dinner conversation (and conversation in general), and I made a second attempt at finding a successful conversation starter.
If you had $100, what would you buy? Brilliant. Camden would buy a rocket ship. Little does he know that little purchase will be made of paper mache at that price, but I admire his lofty goal. Lawson would buy a house with a pool in the front yard AND back yard, and Hudson would.....wait. Did Jason seriously just get up in the middle of our conversation and lie down on the couch?
This act led to a reprimand about setting an example (better known as nagging) followed by protests that he's tired and his head hurts, but all I saw was an opportunity for shameless manipulation and guilt trips as I listened to the boys yelling hysterically and trying to top each other with ridiculous scenarios and purchases. Poor Hubs. No doubt his head hurt. I managed to chase down a rogue Lawson and Hudson down and drag them back to the table and then pulled Lawson out from under the table where he was undoubtedly feeding our crafty dog. I then lectured the boys on the importance of respecting others when they talked and using appropriate words and volume levels at the table so that their poor daddy could bear to sit and have a meal with them. Jason looked fittingly overwhelmed, which earned him brownie points.
"Tomorrow, we have FAMILY DINNER. A proper family dinner. Does everyone understand?"
(Imagine the stern mommy stare.)
"Now, what do you say when you would like to leave the table?"
In unison, "I enjoyed it, Mom. May I be excused?"
Cue obnoxious "Pokemon" theme song and three little boys singing contentedly along. Imagine a jaded but determined mommy eating a cold dinner alone at the table. Wash, rinse, repeat. I'll do it all over again tomorrow.