Our family of nine – seven children and two adults – generally creates boisterous family dinners. We have many individuals who come together in various states of repair and disrepair. My challenge as chief cook and dish washer (Mom) has been to keep the joy alive. We eat together regularly, but it isn’t always fun.
Things were most crazy about 10 years ago. We had teenagers, toddlers and even a new-born baby girl all around the same table. At Thanksgiving Dinner one year, an important and enlightening incident occurred that I would like to share.
We were all gathered at the Thanksgiving table. The tension was high because some of the teenagers, very age-appropriately, didn’t want to be there, or were nursing some unspoken frustrations or grudges. And the toddlers were doing their crazy toddler things like spilling drinks, knocking each other over and being generally chaotic as they are.
I was stressed. My husband was stressed. If there had been a gauge for stress-levels above the table, it would have read ‘dangerously high!’
All of a sudden, something big and red came to the edge of my field of vision. It floated there for a while and then moved closer in a nonchalant way. I turned to look, and saw a large, red balloon floating gently towards the candle in the middle of the table. We all saw it and were fascinated by what seemed to be a magnetic pull between the balloon and the candle. We were effectively mesmerized by the inevitable! And in that moment we all forgot about ourselves, our grievances and fears. Time slowed down, and in what seemed like a whole minute (but was in fact about 2 seconds), IT HAPPENED! The balloon floated too close to the candle and exploded with a very loud BANG! There was silence for a long moment until the laughing and giggling started. The balloon experience had helped us regroup with hilarity, the Thanksgiving dinner proceeded, and we all had fun.
My conclusion is that sometimes we need something to bring our attention to the present moment, to become mindful of who we are with and what we are doing. A balloon bursting unexpectedly worked for our family dinner, but there are other (and less loud!) ways to help us be present at the family table. For instance, each member of the family could alternate choosing some music to play, either on a CD or on a musical instrument, as a way of gathering the family. The choice could be up-beat, or soft and gentle, and it could be as simple as a Raffi tune or some heavy metal. The choice would be very individual.
My second idea came from a clock I inherited from my own Mom in England. On the hour, this clock plays the bird song of whichever bird has been selected for that particular hour. I have also discovered various bird-song CDs on the Internet with lovely, clear recordings on them. So again, each member of the family could choose a bird-song to listen to while the family gathers, or at the beginning of the meal, and the others have to guess it. The younger children could have easy ones, like a cuckoo or crow, and the older children could be more sophisticated, with chickadees and so on. Effectively this would provide a focus for everyone, introduce something beautiful from nature and add a fun tradition to the family dinner.