Some mothers are very good about cooking daily meals for their families, especially if they have emigrated from foreign countries where family meals are still common, but American-born mothers have let this practice go more than we realize. I have been one of those moms. We moved cross-country in the summer of 2014, and since then I admit to having gotten very lazy about the dinner-time ritual. I could come up with a long list of reasons why, and they would all make sense, but the point is that for the past year and a half, dinner time has lost its place as a priority in my home, much to my children's dismay.
It occurred to me the other night that I had a problem, when my son complained that I never made dinner anymore. He was right. It had almost become a joke in my house, not that we never had dinner, but that I had become careless about taking the time to prepare regular meals for my family. Coincidently, I was also reading Leonard Sax’s new book, The Collapse of Parenting," and he stresses not only the importance of shared family meals, but that each and every meal counts towards raising a happier child. The New Year was around the corner and I said to myself, "Right, I'm going to make a New Year's resolution to have a home-cooked meal on the table every night of the week, rain or shine."
New Year's Day arrived. Our custom was to go to my mother's house, where we would uphold my Southern grandmother's tradition of eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the New Year for good luck. If you aren't familiar with this practice, it began after the Civil War, when food was scarce in the South, and black-eyed peas, which were used for feeding the animals, became the means by which many Southerners fed their families. It has been their tradition ever since, and I imagine we were probably one of the few West Coast families that followed the South in this custom. Anyhow, I announced to my children, since we were no longer within driving distance of Grandma's house, that I would be carrying on my mother and grandmother's tradition, and I would be cooking black-eyed peas for dinner that evening.
"Yuck," my son moaned, "I never liked Grandma's black-eyed peas. You never cook anything good anymore,” he lamented for the second time that week. His comment may sound ungrateful, after all, wasn't I cooking? But the truth is, when I did cook I usually just threw something together quickly to get the job done. What he missed was not only regular meals, but meals cooked with TLC.
"Really, Ma?" my daughter chimed in diplomatically. "Can't we do something a little more interesting today?"
"It's New Year's and we need to carry on Grandma's tradition, and on top of that, I made a New Year's resolution to have a home-cooked meal on the table every night that we were home," I said.
My son's eyes lit up and with a twinkle in them, he said, "Really? That sounds dandy!"
So, black-eyed peas accompanied with all the fix'ins it was, and enjoy ourselves we did. We chatted, we laughed, and we had a good, cozy time together. Afterwards, we cleaned up and sat around chatting some more.
It made me think about my own mother and how, after a long afternoon of playing with friends, I would come home to the smell of home-cooked food on the stove. It's a feeling a child never forgets, a feeling that all is right with the world. But, since then, with many women working and the hustle and bustle of modern life taking its toll, we mothers, don't always feel like we have time to cook a proper meal and connect as a family over the dinner table. However, we all have to eat to stay alive, and it is the one thing we have in common that we can do together every single day. If we make a conscious effort to make dinner time a priority, we will find that we can find time to cook and, consequently, we will also find we have happier children who feel that all is right with the world, at least when mom's in the kitchen cooking.