It’s not out of life’s character to move quickly, to come and go while often leaving a path of destruction not unlike the upended houses and thrown cars that get in the way of a tornado. Right now emails are coming in faster than I can respond to, we’re signing my little girl (my baby!!) up for preschool, I’m tripping over clean clothes spilling out of the confines of the basket and the dishwasher is loaded and unloaded more times that I can count in a day.
“In our next house I think we need a bigger dishwasher.” Gabe said while unloading yet another round. We’re both trying to seek some sort of sense in a season that has us both gasping for air.
These things happen. I’ve seen seasons come and go numerous times, particularly while being a parent. Just when you think you have a schedule figured out – baby is sleeping through the night, we’re getting three healthy meals on the table a day and we’re able to rest at the end of day – then suddenly something shifts and the new schedule that we took great pride in is pointless. Then in struts a new season without warning.
In our house we’re experiencing some shifting, a new busy season, and it’s provoked many moments of Gabe and I sitting on the couch staring blankly at the google calendar trying to make sense of the week. Nothing about these changes are bad – it’s multiple birthdays that call for multiple parties, book writing, new job opportunities, the start of wedding season, travel – but it’s enough to fill up the moments in our day and have us needing to seek out our priorities that don’t always get a time slot on the calendar.
The to-do list was growing by the minute last week and the 50 unread emails in my inbox were taunting me with their bold type but I knew we needed dinner. The sort that has food setting on multiple platters along the table. The kind of dinner that we ask the kids to set the table, with napkins even. They may be paper but even so a folded paper napkin with a fork and knife resting next to its crease somehow elevates the meal beyond the harried throw something on a plate because the kids are hangry dinners. Those happen too. But this time I was seeking the sort of dinner where we sit around the table and linger until the conversation dwindles and even then Gabe and I stick around for awhile while the kids carry their plates, with much of dinner still on it, into the kitchen then run off to play.
It seemed such a simple thing, in fact it was. Dinner was little more than braised chicken thighs with a bright white bean salad speckled with fresh mint, salty feta and peas that burst with spring. But sitting down to dinner reminded me that in the midst of chaos and new seasons it is vital that we stick to the routines that bind us.
It’s for this reason that our date nights are scheduled. If they weren’t their absence would go unnoticed until Gabe and I realize that something isn’t right in our marriage. These weekly nights that breed connection are like our preventative medicine – as exercise builds a strong body better ready to fight when sickness comes – our marriage is the stronger for our weekly dating exercise over a sprightly cocktail and satisfying meal.
The same is true for family dinner. I don’t want to communicate to our kids that we only have a nice meal together when there’s time. No, we make the time for it. And while I know the reality is that some nights we just can’t all linger at the table together, it’s important for our family that it’s most nights.
As we sat around the table over dinner I remembered the days when I longed for family dinners around the table. Baron used to sit in a little seat with an attached tray on the floor in our kitchen as he mumbled his way through black beans and purees of all kinds. Then when he was finally able to sit at the table with us for dinner, Roman had his turn in the little chair. We’d just sit down to dinner when suddenly Roman would start to cry and moan and demand something other than the mashed banana I was feeding him. I would leave the table with Roman while Gabe and Baron enjoyed dinner.
“When will we ever be able to eat as a family?” I lamented longing for those idillic dinners that I so eagerly wanted with our growing family.
Then came Ivy and again our meal time was split between a preschooler eager to talk about his day, a potty training and not eager to sit still toddler and a baby who didn’t want to sit on the sidelines or sit (unless in someone’s arms) in general. During those days it felt like dinner would never happen around the table. We ate in shifts and in between messes.
And then it happened, really without me even noticing. Sometime last year we were all sitting around the table.
“How was your day?” I asked Baron excited to hear about his day at school while at the same time remembering how often I was asked that question at the dinner table.
His generic response was the same as mine often was, “good”. Soon the conversation expanded beyond one word answers and we’d have to remind the kids to actually eat their food in between sentences.
Even still our dinners rarely last longer than 10 minutes, are often met with moans from all the green stuff I’m serving and much of the time is spent cleaning up spilled milk and sticky fingers. But it’s happening. We’re around the table most nights creating the habit and building the ritual. If we don’t build that into our schedule, regardless of the season we’ll one day realize that our opportunities for those dinners have passed. How terribly cliche of me but I’ve come to realize a new cliche – the cliches are true (and now I shall not say that word again because I really don’t like it).
While the romantic in me doesn’t like the need for “scheduling” time together – whether it’s date night or family dinners – the practical side of me, albeit however small that part is, realizes that in order for these times of connection to happen they need to be scheduled. The importance of those times outweighs my disdain of scheduling.
White Bean Salad with Peas and Mint
serves 4 as a side
1 15 oz can or 1 1/2 cups white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
zest and juice from half a lemon
1/2 cup crumbled feta
salt and pepper
Combine everything in a bowl. Add just enough olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper, lots of pepper, to taste.
If you are making this ahead combine everything except the mint as fresh mint tends to wilt and turn black once cut. Stir in the mint just before serving.
I like this with a bit of bread for a light lunch or served alongside chicken as a main course. Makes a great, easy picnic side dish.
*This post was inspired by the new book from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, called Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. It’s simple weeknight cooking centered around the family and dinner together. The recipes are simple yet creative and enticing. I can not wait to try the zuchini noodles with pesto.