There's a lot of "Stop filling your belly with milk and eat something," and "No, it is not disgusting. You should just try it," and "Use your fork please," and "Can you please actually SIT in your chair?"
There is a constant retrieval of L.'s cup of milk from the floor. There is cutting of pizza and meat, shredding of string cheese for a high chair tray, and spooning of smooshed veggies mostly into the mouth of a one year old.
There is catching the baby before he crawls out of his useless belt/latch up and over the tray.
There are requests for cereal instead of "this gross stuff." There are repeated trips to refill ketchup. There are taunts and potty word laced insults thrown across the table. There are occasional objects thrown across the table. There are sleeves used instead of napkins.
And of course, there is often spilled milk.
Oh, and very occasionally, there is eating. Not just from the plates of the adults, but also from the four year old and the six and a half year old. I can never predict it, but sometimes inexplicably, N. will eat two helpings of rice. And others, O. will ask for ANOTHER taco. Sure, there are the proven winners, though we can't always count on those, and even the chicken nuggets or corn dogs or breadsticks go untouched.
Sometimes the fact that the meat is pink or we call the broccoli dinosaur trees is enough to do it. Other times we cut the sandwich to look exactly like the vampires O. has been drawing for a month and he won't touch it.
I've read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about how to raise good eaters. I've implemented almost all the strategies (I won't go into all of them today) and still we have some struggle nearly every night.
But here's the thing. We haven't given up yet. We haven't yet caved to the cereal for dinner on a regular basis. We're still around the table together nearly every night.
We're not a sports family yet, maybe not ever. We don't have a thousand activities pulling us in different directions in the evenings. When J. is home, his office is in the basement, so I don't have to hold off starving children until he can make it home through rush hour traffic. I know we are blessed and fortunate that it is relatively easy to get us sitting down at the table together.
The only nights it doesn't always happen are those when I'm the only adult in the house. Even then, if I can't always get my own plate ready in time to eat with everyone else, there's still some form of dinner happening. I still try to have everyone sit down.
One of my mom groups is studying a book about the value of the family dinner. I don't need any convincing or research to let me know that it's valuable. I know it is. Amid all the yelling and cajoling, some of my favorite moments of the day happen around the dinner table. O. tells a story about school, or makes an observation about life in general; N. makes up a joke and falls of her chair (again) laughing at it.
Today's monthly meeting focused on tips for helping to make dinner time possible, and more manageable. We talked about making freezer meals, about planning menus, and how even a little detail like lighting a candle every night can help set a calmer mood. We decorated a little jar filled with conversation starters. I put on our table today, and the kids were thrilled with it. "There's so many papers in there. So we can do this every day for the rest of our life? Like even until we're dead? Will we still be doing this when I am ten?"
Tonight's conversation topics: "What was the best gift you ever gave someone?"
"What was the nicest thing someone ever did for you?"
"What is your favorite room in the house?"
Each of the kids had thoughtful and surprisingly kind answers to these questions. They were much easier for them to answer than for J. and I, who I think struggled a little.
The kids still didn't really eat anything. (Oh well, there's breakfast tomorrow!) But I'm grateful for the conversation we shared, and thankful that we are a family that shares a meal together every day, and that I'm becoming more aware that it's not about the food.