It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and we’d all just spent a long weekend bonding, playing Heads Up, and crashing from a perceived excess of tryptophans. We went back to school and work, responding bitterly to the 5:30am beep beep beep, and resumed our ritual of after school chorus, swimming, bowling, and driving. Even with the recent concentration of family time, the dinner scene in our house was alarming. Blue sat at the dining room table, which he recently co-opted as his private desk, eating ravioli while taking a homework break to watch That 70s Show on his laptop. Lashes sat at the little bar that straddles the kitchen and the living room, eating while watching television. Curls stretched out on the living room couch, not eating due to a headache, and watching not only television, but also something on his phone. Dimples sat at the bar, next to Lashes, with his phone propped up on his porcelain container full of corn, so he could see whatever he was watching at the perfect angle. Meanwhile, G sat at the kitchen table, where no one else joined her, working on her laptop after having prepared dinner with headphones in her ears while watching a show on her ipad. Observing this, I did what anyone would do in protest; I headed to the computer screen in the “quiet room” to write this. At that moment, six people shared a dwelling, but nothing else. No stories about the day. No jokes. No complaints. Red was at NYU, and I’m willing to bet that she was commemorating dinner time by scrolling through Instagram or Finstagram or texting a friend to make plans. What have we done?
It’s the polar opposite of the Thanksgiving G and I spent before the kids returned from their fathers’ for our Saturday turkey dinner. We drove to Philadelphia where we spent the holiday with my mom’s cousin and his husband at their vast, exquisite home. What was more striking than the individually lit paintings adorning the high walls was the absence of screens. No television in the sprawling living and dining space. No computers. Barely a cell phone. We sat in formal chairs and talked.
On a few occasions following Thanksgiving weekend, I was reminded how important it is to sit together around a table. On Dimples’s birthday in early December, G, Red, Blue, Dimples, and I (an uncommon combination) sat down with various Japanese delicacies, and while we were consumed with sadness and shock because G’s father had suddenly passed away that morning, there was conversation, laughter, a song parody, and even an impromptu stand-up performance. This just doesn’t happen when everyone is in his or her individual space. On Christmas, when eight of us, including G’s ex-husband, took our places at the table for a second consecutive night, one of the kids remarked that he couldn’t remember another time when he had eaten with G and me for two nights in a row. Ouch. Our lives are nonstop. With four, sometimes five kids at home, there are practices, games, pre-meet psych parties, rehearsals, and debate meetings well into the night. We don’t often have the ability to eat as a seven-some, and the truth is, sometimes G and I covet our late dinners in front of a Netflix show on the biggest screen in the house when we can relax and lose ourselves in a story of medieval kingdoms (we’re a little late to Game of Thrones). There is something to be said, though, a lot to be said it turns out, at the dinner table when the screens are finally, even if temporarily, laid to rest.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she teaches Special Education and Basic Skills at a local elementary school, writes poetry and columns about her family, and directs The Writers Studio. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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