I have learned so much from this class and enjoyed myself immensely. So much so, that I am registered in the advanced class in the new year - focussed on publishing. I can't wait.
I have used these sparks to write about so many of the major events, or themes, in my life as a mother: The twins in the NICU, my birth experience with Rio, our loss (which I did not share on this blog), finding out about twins, gratitude for my hectic life, and finally this one - about the differences in parenting between my own mother and myself.
I didn't intend it to work out that way, but I am so thrilled that all of these sparks have represented all my feelings so well. The long essay includes another large piece of the puzzle, but you will see that yourself when you read it.
Alas, enough rambling - here you go: The Dinner Table.
“Your grandma would FREAK OUT if she saw your table manners!”, I say to my daughter in frustration as I am down on hands and knees, wiping up the milk she has spilled all over the table, floor, and patio door because she has been fooling around again. As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I regret them. Her grandma, my mom, passed away more than a decade before my daughter's birth. My mom is spoken of fondly, never as a threat or scare tactic. As a child I remember my dad telling me that his mom, in an effort to scare him and his brothers, would bring out a photo of their grandmother in her coffin and say “Nona will get you if you’re bad!“. That traumatized him, and I knew how wrong and twisted it was, even as a child. I will never resort to those kind of threats about my own mom, but really, I think she would freak out if she was sitting at our dinner table. Don't get me wrong, my mom was incessantly kind and reasonable, but poor behaviour, including lack of table manners, was not acceptable.
While my daughter may be well versed in please, thank-you and excuse me, she does not sit still at the table. Ever. It is a constant sore spot and causes arguments throughout the meal. “Sit still. Sit down. Sit on your bum. Get off the table. Get back to the table.” Every meal the script is the same. I assume my mom would be horrified at the battle the parents appear to be losing. But I wonder - would she be more flexible with the "no elbows (bums, feet or heads in our case) on the table" rule with her grandchildren than she was with her own children?
Manners are not the only difference between my childhood dinner table and that of my family now. For starters, my mom was always the cook, without exception. In our house my husband is usually the cook, with me chipping in on occasion to make one of my specialties that he doesn't dare reproduce. Would my mom appreciate my multi-talented, ever helpful husband for his cooking skills, or would she think I was not pulling my weight as a wife and homemaker by letting him contribute so much?
My mom excelled at traditional meals - meat, potatoes, and vegetables, richly and wonderfully cooked with lots of butter and other things that we are usually too health conscious to indulge in. Our meals often include ethnic spices and organic ingredients that would likely not have been available in the small town where I grew up. Would my mom enjoy the culturally diverse, savoury, and often pricey meals we eat, or would her practical side think we were spending too much of our hard earned time and money on our palates?
Grace started every meal from my childhood. Although I can still recite it in my sleep (Bless us o Lord for these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen) it is never spoken in my house. Some nights, when I think of it, I silently count my blessings, but never utter the words aloud. I often plan to start a tradition of telling each other what we are thankful for every night at dinner, but I never seem to get around to it. Would my mom think I'm ungrateful for the blessings that I have been bestowed or would she respect that I am not the grace-saying, practicing Catholic that she was?
The one mealtime similarity I confidently share with my mom is our appreciation for the ritual of sitting down together as a family. I can scarcely remember being at the table without both my parents and siblings, and Sunday dinners expanded to include extended family and friends. Now, unless my husband is working, we too share every meal. The preparation and enjoyment of our food is an important part of our day. Mealtime is a time to share some laughs and keep the lines of communication open, even if it is only uttering a few words between reminding our daughter to keep her bottom in her chair.
Before I know it, tonight's dinner is over. The milk has long since been cleaned up, the food has been happily feasted upon, and the table sits ready to be cleared. My daughter politely thanks the cook and asks to be excused. She then begins carefully carrying the dishes to the sink and the condiments to the fridge, knowing that she is not free to leave until her chore is done. I cringe as the cutlery slides off the plates, spraying my jeans with red curry sauce as it comes to a clanging halt on the floor. She is trying so hard to be a big girl and manage the entire stack. Every night, without fail, my heart swells as I watch her, only four years old but taking such pride and ownership in her job. Her inability to sit still is forgotten as I realize we must be doing something right, raising a mostly polite and grateful little girl.
I do things differently than my mom did, but the end result is still a happy, well fed family. Maybe grandma wouldn't freak out after all.