We are a family that has the pleasure of dining together on most days for all three meals. Working from home means that even the busiest work days find us eating together and having time to connect throughout our day. It is a blessing that we sometimes take for granted.
I am focusing on creating meaningful traditions around our rhythm that the children will embrace and that signal to all of us to slow down, connect, and be present. Dinner time (which normally signals the end of to one grown-up's work day) is the perfect meal to focus on and infuse with a bit more ritual and rhythm. Here are a few things that I treasure about our dinnertime rhythms:
Work Together: The children take responsibility for setting the table. I put away my Grandmother's vintage pottery dishes for a few years and picked up a simple white set for $5 at a rummage sale. They are simple, sturdy, and when one breaks we can say "Sometimes things break. Are you okay? Let's get the brooms." instead of "Arg! Those are vintage! They were my grandma's."
The children also help me cook. I have trusted my children with small sharp knives for a long time. (Beginning at different ages because they are very different children.) They have often helped with meal preparations since they were old enough to stand at the counter.
I have recently started a new approach to involve them in meal preparation that works beautifully. Instead of "Do you want to help make dinner?" I offer, "It's time to make dinner! Do you want to chop the peppers or saute the onions?" If you offer a task they love they'll jump at the chance to join in.
Small Tools for Small Hands: Sage loves vintage blue spackle-ware. He thrifted this small metal pitcher (and more recently I thrifted these small drinking glasses). The pitcher won't break if it drops and is light weight. Each meal Sage fills our glasses from the pitcher and then refills the pitcher and places it on the table. During the meal the children can easily refill their own glasses as needed and gain independence. We also keep small knives, aprons, and kid-sized spoons and spatulas in our kitchen to make working together joyful and easy for all.
Low-Down on Storage: We store dishes and child-sized drinking glasses in a drawer (rather than the standard upper cabinets) so that the kids have access to their own tableware. A small and simple change but so much independence is built with these small choices. My kids never ask for water anymore. They just self-serve.
Nature Table: A simple centerpiece, we've created a mini-nature table to enjoy during our meals. (I made this one out of a vintage cake plate making it easy to clean around.) The content of our nature table changes frequently – especially during this time of year – to reflect the changes happening outside our door. Soon flowers will be nestled in, pussy willows, felt eggs, and small wooden or woolen baby lambs or chicks. We keep it simple and enjoy the magic of our nature table with every meal. I can't tell you how much I love this.
Candle: The ritual of lighting our candle before the meal is one that the children share. Most nights Sage lights the candle before we sit down and Lupine blows it out at the end of the meal. These are the bookends to our time together. While the candle burns we are together, focused on each other and our nourishment. The children and I sometimes make beeswax candles, and when the candle is homemade this ritual is even more special.
Meal Blessing: We say an Earth-based blessing at each meal. We vary between the two following blessings, sung while holding hands in a circle around the table:
Thanks to the Earth
Thanks to the Earth,
Thanks to the sun,
Thanks to the rain for all they have done.
To bring me my food
So strong I will grow
And loving this life
from my heart I will show:
Blessings on the Meal.
Variation on a Christian classic (replace "Earth" with "God" if you wish):
Oh, the Earth is good to me
And so I thank the Earth
For giving me the things I need
The sun and the rain and the apple seed
Oh, the Earth is good to me.
A traditional prayer or spoken blessing is equally effective. It is a moment to be still, express gratitude, and think of something bigger than ourselves.
Sweet Spot: No, this isn't dessert. Every dinner time we talk about the "sweet spot" in our day. What was our greatest joy in this day? This is my favorite part of the meal. I am often surprised by what we each share. This moment of reflection by each member of the family often spins off into great dreams and plans and the conversation carries us along a joyful journey through the meal.