Getting the family together isn't always easy, but it's worth it
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In some ways, it felt dishonest for me to write today's story package about family mealtime.
Is eating together as a family important? Yes. Is it helpful for physical and emotional health? Yes. Does my family do it often enough?
Um ... no.
I began reflecting on the creativity my childhood family -- especially my mother -- exhibited in getting us all to eat together.
Until I was 10 years old, my dad worked in the region's steel mills, which meant working "turns" -- daylight one week, 4 p.m.-to-midnight the next, and midnight-to-8 a.m. the next. Mom teasingly called him "The Bear" during midnight shift. No one's body ever adjusts to changes like that.
On the side, he was farming 200 acres -- raising about 100 beef cattle, growing field corn and taking hay off the fields. Summer "vacation" for him consisted of baling hay and launching a storm of epithets at perennially busted equipment.
Dad's workload didn't decrease any when the Pittsburgh steel industry collapsed and he lost his job. My parents decided to grow fruits and vegetables, build a farm market and transform their farm into what is now known as Triple B Farms in Forward, where people go for pick-your-own crops and school field trips and a fall pumpkin festival. And although this meant Dad was working at "home," he often was in some field someplace and working harder than ever. Mom was working doggedly, too, as the market manager, field trip organizer, PR lady and accountant.
Somehow, through all those years, Mom made meals a family a priority. It was never easy, and it didn't always happen. But at least the message was communicated to us kids that this was something we tried to do whenever possible.
This meant that little tummies sometimes got hungry. We often waited until after dark to eat dinner when Dad had come in from the fields. (Did you know tractors have headlights? Sometimes his work wasn't even done at dark.)
Often, we ate breakfast instead of dinner together as a family. Mom would get up and make us a good hot breakfast, and Dad would drive us to the school bus stop a mile away.
Or we'd have "quality time" even if we weren't eating a meal together at the same time. When Dad worked 4-to-midnight in the steel mills, Mom would fix him a hot meal around 3, and I'd "serve" it to him. I was about 4 or 5 at the time. I'd carry his plate to the table, calling myself "Waitress Joan" and wait for him to ask for another glass of water.
"What's your last name, Waitress Joan?" he'd ask.
"Joan!" I'd say, exasperated that he didn't know this.
In the early years of running pumpkin festivals on the farm, we'd be out until well after dark and I'd come to the house with a full load of homework left to do. All of us were exhausted. Once I could drive, Mom sometimes sent me down to the Monongahela McDonald's for Big Macs and fries. I'd come home, dump the fries in the toaster oven (nothing is yuckier than cold fries) and slap the burgers down in front of my tired family. It wasn't nutritious, and we were barely conscious, but we were eating together as a family.
It might be time for me to do some reevaluating now that I have my own kids. My husband's unpredictable hours at a hospital job make it hard to schedule family mealtimes.
But it's not as if I didn't grow up getting some instruction in how to make it happen one way or another.
First Published November 1, 2012 12:00 am