Sometimes its chicken piccata. Fancy and new. Sometimes, its leftovers or pizza. Easy and ordinary. But always, during COVID-19, it is all of us, sitting around the table enjoying a family dinner together.
There are four humans and two fur babies at each of our family dinners. We wait until everyone is seated to eat (except for the dogs; they move around the table, going back and forth to the kitchen, hoping to swoop in on a dropped morsel from one of our plates). Begging at the table is discouraged, but sometimes unavoidable. The meal itself is sometimes the main event, but often, it is our reflections on the day, shared as we eat and drink, that bring out the health benefits of our time shared together.
I am so grateful for this newfound time together. During dinnertime, my oldest child, nearly 20 now and a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, reflects on how she’d rather be on campus, but that she is also making the best of it. My son, a junior in high school, shares that he is enjoying a more flexible schedule that lets him sleep in and do schoolwork on his own time. Of course, he talks about gaming with friends and missing soccer. My husband, who usually works from home, talks about projects and proposals that are now virtual, with all work trips cancelled for the next few months. Mostly, our time is filled with the mundane, but somehow, when we are gathered around the table, it is the sharing itself that makes our time together feel special.
We have one family meal tradition that carries on, and is perhaps even more important now than ever. One by one, we go around the table and share one thing for which we are grateful. It may be spring flowers, or a Zoom call with friends from college. It may be our Papa, who is practicing safe habits during this time and giving us some reassurance that he will not get sick. It also includes our gratitude for good jobs, a warm home and Wi-fi so we can all carry-on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga, outdoor walks, runs and cycling. Those activities have health benefits too. But the value of family dinner isn’t about burning calories, shrinking my waistline or even breaking a good sweat. It is more about the precious intangible benefits. Soon, both kiddos will be out in the world, and my husband and I will be empty-nesters. I already know that I will look back on our family time during the pandemic as a gift, forced by stay-at-home orders and social distancing, but welcomed by a mother who felt that time was moving too fast in the hurried pace of our former lives.
Our family dinners may add inches to my waist, but our connections and our identity as a family unit, supporting and listening to each other is more than worth it. As a matter of fact, I’ll take seconds please.