“Last night after dinner, Thomas, my 7th grader, said ‘do you remember last year at this time when we were having all of those elaborate dinners?’
“It’s not that we are a family who doesn’t eat together…we’ve always done that. But after the pandemic closed work and schools, and before we really had a handle on the horizon (would we be home for 3 weeks? 3 months? 3 years?), there were a few months where we really tried to create an interesting life solely within the confines of our home. The “elaborate” meals were part of that (theme nights!) as we strived to bring a sense of occasion to dinners that might otherwise take place in the pajamas we’d woken up in earlier that day. What did it mean to sit down at the dinner table together and talk about our days, when our entire days were together?
“We needed to up our game. So there were campfires and long distance food deliveries from much-loved restaurants in cities we could not visit, “fake Chipotle” burritos made from leftover steak (a few nights after “steak night,” my boys’ favorite). We had a large white-board calendar in the kitchen and we used it to plot out the weeks’ worth of evenings, giving us something to look forward to (and the predictability we all craved). We ticked off Easter, then Mother’s Day, then Father’s Day, and a couple birthdays, Fourth of July…occasions we would have normally spent with our cousins and grandparents were now spent decorated with the previous year’s streamers and gently used cake topper (40 again!). Our dining room table became a ping pong table, the dogs wore clothes, we put our backyard furniture in the front yard so we could enjoy seeing our neighbors walk by each evening (after the afternoon dog walk, but before dinner). Our commitment to playfulness lasted through the summer, maybe even as long as Thanksgiving, but by January we were played out. Despite best efforts, the adults were tired of propping things up and welcome opportunities to engage with outsiders crept in. Dinner together remained but the zhuzh was gone…things were almost back to normal.”
Perhaps a better normal involves recognizing what to hold on to and what to release.
Each week through the summer we will share a short reading from the Parent Wellness Compass Book to invite reflection on the new patterns and rhythms of family life in the new normal; this week’s feature is “The J Curve,” a concept used to explain how change evolves. May God bless your family with new family practices that nurture body, mind, and spirit in this new normal.