I’m a huge proponent of eating dinner with my family—at the table, TV off, cloth napkins in laps (or at least nearby) every evening. Even if it’s just scrambled eggs and peanut butter toast, since my children were babies, I’ve been adamant that we all sit and eat together.
You’d think I was trying to make up for missing out on family meals as a child. And while I don’t remember my mother being much of a cook (sorry, Mom), we did eat together. Helloooo? Chinese takeout, anyone?
Sharing a meal at the table is a great place to learn new things about your children. I offer three examples of what you can learn at a table:
After breakfast on a recent Monday, I got up and began to busy myself with making school lunches and cleaning the breakfast dishes while my daughter used the opportunity to quiz her little brother on the civil rights movement.
First graders know everything. Especially when they are trying to impart their worldly views upon their almost-four-year-old brothers.
“Do you know who Martin Luther King Jr. is?” she asked. I had no idea he knew about MLK, even the preschool version.
“Yes,” the brother replied not wanting to miss out on a chance to demonstrate his knowledge.
“What is he famous for?”
“He got dead,” the brother replied.
“Yeah, but do you know why?” she continued. My delight that MLK is on the preschool agenda is hard to contain.
“A mean guy with a gun got him,” he said. Here, I’m a bit surprised at the level of detail provided by said preschool.
“And can you name a famous speech of his?” Her questions were getting harder. I kept busy not wanting them to know I was listening.
“Ummm … speech?” Clearly, he felt tricked by this question. Now my daughter was getting somewhere.
“I Have a Dream.” She declared.
“Honey,” I casually interjected, “What did Martin Luther King want to happen?”
“He wanted black people and white people to get along,” she said.
“But Martin Luther King’s skin is brown,” my son piped up.
We wrapped up with an explanation about why we call different races either black or white, or whatever, and the long and ugly history of racism and why someone was so scared of equality for all men and women that they resorted to a violent act. It’s a confusing concept to little people who only consider the varying skin tones to be a descriptor, something useful to describe someone like “she was wearing a red hat.” It isn’t used with any judgment or malice. It’s just a fact. My daughter had an experience in kindergarten where an African American friend of hers was not included in a game and my daughter perceived the reason to be because her skin was brown. It was an injustice that did not go unnoticed by my five year old.
Dinner Tuesday, we’re going round-robin telling interesting tidbits from our days. My daughter casually interjects that they had a “lock-down drill” during P.E.
“Normally, we are in our classrooms and we have to lock the door and go near the windows and get down,” she said. “But today we were in the gym and we heard the principal give the code so we had to do it fast.”
“No, that’s not right,” my husband said. “You’re not supposed to go near the windows during a tornado.”
He missed seeing the tears welling up in my eyes, and missed the name of the drill and assumed it was one of the two emergency situations we practiced for in 1970s elementary school: fire or tornado.
“No, Honey, she said lock-down. As in Lock. Down.”
“What? Ohhh … as in Columbine?” he asked. We were both incredulous, obviously having missed the memo in all the newsletters and notes sent home that preparing for an in-school attack of some sort was part of the educational repertoire.
It’s pretty harsh when you realize your babies are out in a world where Lock Down drills are standard.
That same night, Daughter and I alone at the dinner table after after the the two boys were excused. She’s telling me about the Pennies for Peace project under way at her school.
“We’re raising money for the war in Australia,” she said. “We’re supposed to bring pennies because one penny can buy one pencil and one dollar can buy some education.”
“Yeah, oh wait, maybe it’s Antarctica, or Asia,” the daughter continued.
“Afghanistan?” I offered.
“Yes! That’s it. Afghanistan. They need education for their kids,” she said.
“They do,” I said. The concept was familiar, reminding me of Greg Mortensen’s book Three Cups of Tea. My daughter and I discussed how difficult it was for children, and especially girls, in some countries to gain an education. She was shocked when I told her that in some countries, girls were not permitted to go to school.
She was engrossed in her complete disbelief that girls could be denied an education. I could immediately see that she was desperately trying to relate to being told she could not participate in something she loves so dearly. I realized she was close to panic when I reassured her that there was no way that would ever happen to her.
More broccoli, anyone?