Being There for Dinner

The boiling water bubbled over the saucepan. Sssssss! The stovetop hissed.

Grace screamed. Anna followed suit.

“Everything’s OK,” I said, grabbing the pot. I drained the just-cooked pasta in the colander in the sink.

The timer on the oven began beeping: the meatballs. The girls crowded into the kitchen.

“Girls, you need to move…”

The front door opened, then closed. “Dad!” The girls rushed out of the kitchen. Someone tripped and fell on the way; crying ensued.

Welcome to the end of the weekday in many families’ homes, right? Mine. Maybe yours too.

For a while, I would finish making dinner around 6 o’clock. Stanton usually would be home by then. I’d set the food on the dining room table, encourage my family to help themselves, and then retreat to the kitchen to begin cleaning up everything that had gone into preparing the meal.

And, I won’t lie: I often would enjoy a few minutes’ peace to eat by myself without one of the girls climbing into my lap or grabbing from my plate.

Then one evening, about a month ago, I glanced at the dining room table. Anna was sitting on Stanton’s lap, snuggling against his chest. Smudging his dress shirt with her sticky fingers, but they looked cozy and happy nevertheless. Grace was talking about her day at preschool, her eyes wide and excited.

I glanced at that dining room table, and…I missed my family. I wanted to join them. Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

Such a little thing, such a Captain Obvious moment—to sit down for dinner with the people you love the most. Probably not even worthy of being written about, right? But I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed doing it. Clearly, I hadn’t done it all that much, because it resonated with me. Sitting face-to-face with my family, instead of standing alone a room away—what a difference.

Pots and pans and even some Play-Doh littered the kitchen countertops, but I ignored the chaos in the kitchen and sat down with my family for dinner.

A couple of weeks later, I was at the library and came across this book title: “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” by Miriam Weinstein. It was calling my name; I checked it out. During the next few days, I read through it. This book has a wealth of insights, but the ones that most struck me were these passages in which the author quotes theologian Bill Huebsch:

“‘Things work out when you cook and wash dishes together. It’s hard to sit down to table with someone you haven’t forgiven…In most of our lives, meals are also memorials. Almost everyone, when they speak of their lives, they speak about meals’” (pages 146-147).

Wow, I thought. And, yes.

Family, food, forgiveness, memory, life—all intertwined.

When my daughters are older, I’m not sure what they’ll remember about their childhood, or our family dinners. Like all parents, I hope they have many happy memories. I do know, though, that I want them to remember that I was there, at the table with them, instead of missing in action in the kitchen.

I’ve been trying to make this happen. Not every evening…but more often than not. Because life can get hectic. You can’t always be the ideal version of yourself.

Yet.

Being There for Dinner

“Don’t Blink” was a hit country song by Kenny Chesney, about 10 years ago. I heard it just the other day, and these lyrics have been replaying in my head ever since:

“…When your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip it over and start again”

The theme of the song, of course, is that time goes by in the blink of an eye.

When I’ve been sitting down with my family now, I’ve been looking at them, really seeing them. There’s something beautiful about making eye contact with someone you love, and holding that gaze, and connecting. Really connecting.

“‘It’s the facing each other that’s important’” in how we eat, according to scholar Witold Rybczynski in “The Surprising Power of Family Meals.” “It’s the fact of sitting face-to-face, inviting interaction, give-and-take, that matters most” (page 87).

Family—food—face-to-face. Pretty simple.

Something I’ve learned, as I’ve gotten older, is that the simple stuff is the good stuff. This past Sunday, I made Hamburger Helper for Stanton and the girls for lunch—Stanton’s request. “It’s been years since I’ve had Hamburger Helper,” Stanton said.

“Huh, I wonder why,” the foodie in me replied (the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun).

For years now, I’ve been experimenting with gourmet and/or novel recipes for my family—herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, lime chicken tacos, everything I wrote about here. Why would I bother with Hamburger Helper, when I could prepare something amazing from scratch?

…the foodie in me can be a bit stuck-up, and not much fun…

I made the Hamburger Helper. Sat down with Stanton and the girls. Anna took a bite: “Mmm!” Stanton was ready for a second helping within, it seemed, seconds. And Grace declared that she liked my Hamburger Helper almost as much as the frozen pizza I “make.”

The simple stuff is the good stuff. Family. Food. Face-to-face. Hamburger Helper or herbed lamp chops with homemade ketchup, it doesn’t matter.

As long as you’re there.

I want to be there.

What about you, friends?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

The Stories We Don’t Tell

I have two concerns with every blog post I write: 1) Is this piece narcissistic? Have I focused too much on myself and my personal experience, or have I done enough to share something of overarching value—something that might make a positive difference in someone else’s life? And conversely, 2) have I shared something I shouldn’t have—something sacred?

Life these days can feel like there’s no such thing as oversharing. We’ve become accustomed to 24/7 news cycles (although we usually tune in to the networks and narratives we already agree with). Our infinite wireless connections give us the capability to share, thumbs-up, angry-face, comment on and caption everything and anything, wherever we are, anytime.

There are lots of stories out there, individual as well as global, and they are constantly being told and talked about.

But what about the stories we don’t hear? And the ones we don’t tell?

We don’t have to tell all, do we, friends? And maybe, sometimes we shouldn’t.

The stories that are sacred to me are the ones I experience on a deep, quiet level with my family. Moments that have a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the doorknob. Scenes from my life in which I feel joy, or sorrow, or the presence of a higher power—and to narrate that experience would be to besmirch the sacredness of it.

You probably have these experiences too—the ones that make you pause before you click “Post.”

benches

A few months ago, I wrote a rough draft of a post about moving from Texas to New York. The working title was “10 Signs You’re Not in Texas Anymore,” and included social-culture tidbits like, “Texas is a bit more ‘bling,’ while New York (upstate, at least) loves L.L. Bean.”

I worried that my post might come across as “poking fun at” either place, rather than “just for fun” about both. So I shared the rough draft with family and friends from both regions. Some of the “signs” prompted them to affirm, “Mm-hmm.” Others made them laugh. “Maybe this will go viral,” I said, half-joking.

Then someone noted that it would have to be snarky in order to go viral.

He was right: Snarky rules. It’s right up there with screen names and online personas, soundbite-heavy broadcast journalism, and hashtag-friendly campaigns (from advertising to political…if there’s even much of a difference).

Snarky isn’t my style. So I’ve saved this “10 Signs” story for face-to-face conversations, to limit any potential misunderstandings about two unique places, each amazing and special in their own right.

With all the sharing that does happen, we might turn to overemphasis and emojis galore (or, if we’re writers, clickbait headlines) to attract people to our stories. “Come on, folks—pay attention to me!”

Every now and then, though, it might be helpful to ask ourselves, “Is this a story I should tell the world? Or is it one better saved for face-to-face conversations?”

In the beginning, we told stories to explain the unknown. We didn’t have blog posts or phones or YouTube. All we had were one another, gathered around a fire—together.

If we were gathered together, like that, today—right now—would we speak in extremes? Would we lodge ourselves on opposite sides of the fire, or would we acknowledge the shades of gray that are part of life? Would we talk to one another?

Would we tell our stories, from the heart, about what matters to us? About the experiences that have shaped us? Would we share the moments that we know not to simply lob online?

For many of us, I think the answer would be, “Yes.” Yes, we’d really talk to one another.

We probably would find some common ground, too.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

I Almost Shared This Picture – But Then Wrote This Post Instead

What I most appreciate about Facebook probably is the same thing as you: keeping in touch with friends from the varied chapters of my life. I enjoy seeing pictures of new babies and four-footed family members; cool restaurants as well as at-home recipes to try; and reunions of all kids—family, school, work, neighborhood, you-name-it. These social-media moments are fun, and help me feel close to college partners-in-crime, old colleagues, etc. that I no longer chat with every day.

As much as I can, I participate in this social-media communion too. I share pictures, mostly of my ever-growing daughters. Our recent move to upstate New York has been providing fresh backdrops—nature preserves, museums, parks—that I hope are interesting for folks.

Some friends recently told me, “You all look so happy!” And that’s true; we are.

Yet.

We can be so happy—and look so happy—while still struggling with a challenge or two.

Thus, I almost shared this picture:

i-almost-shared-this-picture-11-18-16

Yesterday afternoon, Grace and I baked cupcakes for her preschool class Thanksgiving party (happening later today). Grace started to frost them; I took this picture. As usual, I emailed it to Stanton and both sets of grandparents.

Then I thought about sharing it on my Facebook page. The editor in me even came up with an insta-caption: “Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?” Followed by my signature smiley face, of course.

🙂

But.

Overall, it had not been a picture-perfect day. The night before, Anna had been up with a cough. When I finally settled her back to sleep, Grace woke up crying—a bad dream. Stanton was out of town for work, so I had no parenting backup. I was late for my yoga class, and just minutes after I took that picture, Grace had a temper tantrum because I told her no, she couldn’t eat the remaining frosting from the 15.6 oz. container for dinner (talk about a sugar rush!).

I love scrolling through my friends’ good times and celebrating along with them, and getting their positive vibes in return.

Every now and then, though, it might be healthy to take a moment and acknowledge that life is a beautiful journey of ups and downs. Happiness can coexist with imperfection. And we’d never know JOY if we didn’t dance with sorrow too.

My daughters bring me joy every day of my life. I am deeply, deeply thankful for them. They’re also the reason for my gray hairs, and my coffee addiction.

This is my moment.

P.S. Who doesn’t love Funfetti cupcakes?

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

Would You Like to Try Our Kiosk?

I walked into a popular fast-casual restaurant the other morning—my “office” for the next few hours. My car keys in hand and my laptop under my arm, I headed to the cash registers.

“Good morning, ma’am,” a friendly employee interrupted me.

I smiled hello.

“Would you like to try our kiosk?” He gestured to the new iPad-like device up front.

“Um…”

“You can order for yourself,” he explained.

“Um…no, thank you.” I smiled good-bye. Then I continued on my path to the cash registers. A chatty young lady (her name tag said Ashley) greeted me and took my order (breakfast sandwich and small coffee).

Is it old-fashioned or out-of-style to want to talk to people? To prefer human interaction to touchscreens?

Is interpersonal communication going the way of Pokémon cards, VHS tapes and landline phones?

“Would you like to try our kiosk?”

Honestly, sir, no. I’d much rather spend a few minutes in conversation with the cashier up ahead. The real-life human being who can ask me how I’m doing, and then let me return the pleasantry.

I’m not a crunchy-granola-type person (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I have a smartphone, I’ve self-published e-books, I shop online. I appreciate technology.

People matter though. Human interaction matters.

“How are you doing today”—maybe that moment of communication makes a difference to a company’s bottom line. I don’t know. I do know, though, that there’s value in human connection and the empathy that that connection stimulates.

Communication makes a difference too.

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.” (Rollo May)

Which would you choose, friends, a person or a kiosk? Tell me why.

Would You Like to Try Our Kiosk

Photo credit: StockSnap.io

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.