It’s Tuesday. Before I went back to work full-time and before our boys reached the “activity-sport-Cub-Scouts” stage, we called it Taco Tuesday. After viewing The Lego Movie for the umpteenth time, my older son begged for Taco Tuesdays. To gratify him, and to make meal planning easier, I acquiesced. I cooked taco meat with homemade taco seasonings. I sliced olives, shredded cheese, and let each boy assemble his own taco…or nachos….or burrito.
Then the era changed. We are now in the “Who has time to cook?” phase of life, and Tuesdays are the busiest day of the week. While I finish up at work, my mom hauls the boys from school to gymnastics. She helps them do a superhero-quick change from school uniforms to gymnastics uniforms and ensures they make it into the correct group to practice all of their Ninja-Warrior Skills. All the while, I’m lesson-planning, grading, emailing, erasing whiteboards, and wiping down desks with bleach-free, non-toxic virus-killing wipes.
At the exact moment that the hour and minute hands signal 4:00pm, I load up my backpack (because a Mom-sized purse isn’t enough), and drive across town to catch the last half of my kids’ weekly 1.5 hour lesson. By the time they finish, they are exhausted, dripping sweat, and ravenous. I endure a 20-minute drive home to a serenade of “Moooom! I’m hungry! I need something to eat!” and “But can’t we just stop at Starbucks? Or McDonald’s?” The idea of enduring my sweet cherubs and their polite requests for another thirty minutes while I cook dinner does not improve my mood one bit.
For the first few weeks, I tried to keep the tradition going. That’s what good moms do, right? We work so hard to create memorable moments and traditions for our kids that we forget how important our time with them is – forget that being with them is more important than anything.
As I watched the O’Brien family gather around the table for family dinner in Sunday’s episode ‘Grand Opening’ of Chesapeake Shores, my spirit warmed to the familiar scene of loved ones gathering to share a meal, while inviting new friends into the family fold. When Nell reflected that “the love shared around the table is far more important than the meal on top of it,” I thought about how our meals have morphed in the last few months: Taco Tuesdays have become Take-Out Tuesdays, and we make sure that the take-out lasts for another dinner round on Wednesdays. Sundays are Soup and Salad nights because I can heat up the soup, rip open a bag of Romaine lettuce and toss it in a bowl – time-saving with the added bonus of fewer dishes to wash.
Even the O’Brien family saw the bigger picture. An overcooked turkey turned into a precious family story about time spent together. What is important is the making of time for each other. What better place to share the day’s details, ask the important questions, and share a belly-laugh than at a table for four, or six, or ten?
The very first time I met my husband’s family was over dinner in my future sister-in-law’s home. I don’t remember what was served, with the exception of one crucial element: the crouton. Keep in mind, I am a socially-awkward introvert who absolutely hates being the center of attention, even on my own birthday. To christen me into their fold, the family challenged me to a crouton-eating contest in which I took center stage. The goal? Eat a crouton as quickly as you can by nibbling it like a squirrel. I tried to hide my face, to look the other way, but there it was – the challenge lay out there like an elephant in the room. Did I trust their love for me enough to play this goofy game? I’m proud to say that I met the challenge (although my face glowed fire-engine red in the process.) At that point, I discovered that sometimes love comes in the form of a crouton-nibbling contest around the family table.
Nell was right, my friends. The love shared on that evening, around that table, told me that my socially-awkward self at age 25 was more than enough. Now, when my family of four gathers every night in our own kitchen, it doesn’t matter if we are eating croutons, or tacos, or warmed-up chicken noodle soup. What matters is that I make that time, every night, to share life with my husband and my two little boys. In those moments when my older boy tells a joke that only 8-year-old boys find funny, we all still belly laugh. When my younger boy opens his eyes extra-wide and whispers to me “You’re the best Mama in the whole wide world,” or my sweet husband shares a wink with me while trying not to smile at the boys and their antics, I can almost see the love permeate the air. As Nell reminded me, those loving memories we create around the table are infinitely more important than the meals we think should be at the center of the table.