What’s It Like to Eat at Your Kid’s House?

Something—some mention, some sound, some elusive flavor—reminded me of Captain Crunch yesterday. Captain Crunch, those indefinably flavored rectanguloids best known for scraping all the skin off the roof of your mouth as they stubbornly held their crunch even in the face of the deepest bowl of milk.

Thus the name, I guess. But in addition to the flavor, Captain Crunch means something else to me. It means breakfast at Stephanie Ellis’ house, the girl who lived across the street from me, one year older and so much cooler, with a big sister who was even older and cooler still. I can’t have eaten at Stephanie’s very often, because she befriended me only through circumstance, and there were plenty of better prospects around the block. I could go on at length about Stephanie’s coolness—she took dance lessons, and had a kind of square vinyl box in which to carry her shoes and leotard, and her dog once had puppies right in front of my eyes and I got to keep one—but what really struck me about the pictures that rushed into my head at the thought of the Captain Crunch cereal were the strength of the memories that revolved around eating at someone else’s house.

At Stephanie’s house, the Captain Crunch. The milk, not skim like ours, the different bowls, the lack of place mats, the plants in macramé hangers all around the kitchen. At Nicole’s, the heads bent in prayer before the meal. The kool-aid with dinner. The vegetables, not just touching the meat but all right in there together in one sauce. At Karen’s, I don’t remember the meals, but I do remember the ash trays and the good-natured constant give-and-take.

At my house, we ate together every night. I set the table, always the same. We sat in the same places, my parents and I, and I was allowed to have my food the way I wanted it, which was to say composed of nothing but meat and starch not, under any circumstances, touching one another. I liked it that way. I liked my milk skim and my meals predictable. But the adventure of eating somewhere else couldn’t be denied. It was almost certain to be, from my perspective, inedible, but it also might be Captain Crunch.

No matter how you eat with your family—around a table, mostly breakfast, served family style, plated for each person, take-out, elaborate meals or a succession of pasta—the ritual of that meal runs deep. When you have another child over for dinner, you can step out of your own seat and glimpse it from theirs. Where do they hesitate? What did you serve that they haven’t had before? Do they look for a napkin habitually forgotten at your table, drink water or milk or reject both? Talk or sit silently? Reach for the food or wait to be served?

When researchers tabulated the amount of time spent in a home with all parents and one or more children in the same room at the same time, they found that our togetherness occurs most often around a meal, and the activity we participate in together most frequently is eating.

When you watch your ritual through someone else’s eyes, the meaning of that becomes so clear. These are the memories, building up, right here. This, the way you are eating together, this is the way you are. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to have any adjective attached, because it just is. This is it. This is your beautiful house, this is your beautiful life. You don’t have to do anything about it other than see it for what it is, once in a while.


My big news this week: one book draft, turned in. Now I wait for editorial feedback, which could be anything, really. I mean, it probably won’t involve flowers and balloons, but beyond that, anything could happen next—but yay me just the same. I turned it in three days ahead of deadline. I can do anything.

I called it “How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving (Almost) Every Minute” but there are about six other possible titles. Then I guested on Cyma Shapiro’s radio show and had my first chance to defend the idea that being a happier parent is a worthwhile and achievable goal, even when life’s serving you up the really tough stuff. No matter what the title, that’s the topic, and I love it.

It’s been a good week for reading. Here’s a couple of books you might want to grab:

My fave recent fiction read, Small Admissions from Amy Poeppel, is entertaining, light, funny and literary—and a juicy glimpse into a world I don’t know–all at the same time. Plus, it’s interesting from a writerly point of view, with great dialogue and a really different motion and feel, which I now realize is because the author is also a playwright. Good stuff.

 

 

My fave recent fiction read, Small Admissions from Amy Poeppel, is entertaining, light, funny and literary—and a juicy glimpse into a world I don’t know–all at the same time. Plus, it’s interesting from a writerly point of view, with great dialogue and a really different motion and feel, which I now realize is because the author is also a playwright. Good stuff.


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