I was eating dinner with both my Mum and one of my brothers the other week and among the laughter and conversation, I found myself doing two things; I found myself watching my brother eat. I felt wonderment because he had a rather large dinner and he was making light work of it (vastly different from when he was a toddler and had an eating disorder that had him barely thriving for eighteen months on bananas, yogurts and the odd biscuit). Even now, all these years later, when I see him eat, I feel relief that he got better and I'm grateful, truly. But I also caught myself in a heart-warming litany of memories of my whole family around the dinner table.
I come from a family of seven; two great parents, an older sister and three younger brothers. And yes, my upbringing was pretty much as you would expect; sibling squabbles, trips to the A&E, sneaking out, sleep overs, study sessions, crazy birthday parties, long hot summers spent in the swimming pool...but some of my fondest memories were related to dinner time.
Dinner time wasn't strictly family time, my parents never batted an eyelid if we brought someone home for dinner, or if three of us each had a friend over; everyone had a seat, the TV went off...and we talked.
Rightly or wrongly so, no subject was off limits. My parents encouraged us to express our opinions, talk about our day, what we were interested in and everyone joined in and contributed to the conversation.
Food was usually a buffet type, help yourself affair, having five very different young people in the house, my Mum learned early on that we didn't all like the same things and it was the easiest way to keep everyone happy. But the conversations that happened brought the family closer. That magic right there? Cemented my sibling bonds, grounded me after a busy day, reminded me I was loved and made me feel safe.
To this very day, my Mum holds family dinners and we all make the effort to attend, easy I guess, as we all actually like each other and sadly I know that isn't the case with all families.
I didn't really appreciate it at that age. But I certainly feel it now. You might know what I'm talking about; that feeling that there's nowhere better right now then where you are, with the people that know you best.
It's a tradition which I shall keep when I'm lucky enough to have my own family, as I really believe I benefited from it socially and emotionally. I just feel a little bit sad for those that didn't get the crazy conversations that happened at our table. Anything from current events, sex, school fights, bullies, sports days, recognition awards, spliced with the hilarious moments like "Oh no! Tommy's fallen asleep in his dinner again Mum!" (To be fair, he was still in nappies when that happened).
So yes, dinners are an institution in my family, though run more to when we are all free and can make it. Busy adult lives and the addition of children, make it even more worthwhile when we manage it. The next generation are being brought into the fold and I'm feeling more grateful these days the more our table needs expanding! I'll tell you this, and it's from the bottom of my heart- don't be too busy to eat with your loved ones- touch base, listen, laugh and cherish the memories.