Saturday, August 30, 2014

Family, Dinner and the Dissolution of Americana

A yellow Formica table is the focus of numerous frames in the movie, The Bridges of Madison County.  The table, a slice of Americana, says to the viewer, “In a normal family, normal people, in normal times; there’d be talk and laughing around me.”  Today in our homes the kitchen table is no longer the center of meal times. Life isn't shared there; bread isn't broken.

Is there magic in a couple or a family sitting around the table at meal times?  For children and teenagers the statistics are solid, according to a number of reports issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), children who eat at least five times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home. Beyond that the blessing comes in connecting.

Growing up I ate dinner around a round white Formica table in a kitchen with walls painted orange (hey, it was the 60’s).  Mom fixed dinner then served my sister and me.  I don’t remember my dad joining us—ever.  When I got older the home routine ended so I began showing up for dinner regularly at my best friends’ house.  He was one of four children and his mom prepared terrific dinners.  Their dad was always home for dinner.  These were rich times of sharing, laughter (lots of laughter) and significant connection.  That family has stayed strongly connected through all these years.  Mine---not so much.

A quick aside here regarding technology.  Part of the rich ritual of gathering for dinner is that of talking.  So it doesn’t count if everybody is at the table with their own devices, downloading their apps and updating their own Twitter feed.  It’s about relating while eating.

The Formica table holds its rightful place in the belly of the home, in the center of the kitchen.  Strong relationship and deep bonds are formed here over food.  Granted it’s not a magic formula.  I’m certain families that eat together crash and burn.  Still, the families I know that eat dinner together are the ones strongest together.

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