Now Hear This …
by Susan Besze Wallace
It’s dinnertime. One son announces he must poop as he screeches back his chair. Another child hovers but can’t land, dunking food in a swimming pool of dressing, asking again why they call it “Ranch.” The eldest keeps his upper body still but bangs his sneakers on the table leg while he tells his seventh knock-knock joke.
I have nice boys. Loud boys. When dinner hits, chaos ensues. Everyone talks on top of each other, and I am a maternal pinball — pinging from fridge to pantry to table to potty — trying to get what everyone needs. Just a season. They’ll learn manners. I’ll learn to sit. They’re just kids …
A study says kids who eat with their families are happier and healthier and so much more. But managing this coming together time with little people is tough. I’ve tried several things to reduce messes and increase manners, but it’s slow going. We’re seeing some light when it comes to talking on top of each other — a habit worth breaking since it happens everywhere.
Some nights, smiling is all you can do.
When you’re up for trying something new, here are a few ideas to calm the crazies.
The Talking Stick. At one recent meal, my second-grader mentioned his Native American unit and “The Talking Stick.” He and I shouted in unison, “We need that!” He ran for the blue-beaded-feather “thingie” he’d made in the tradition from Native American council meetings. The only person allowed to speak is the one with the stick (or other object). We’re still passing that feather, and even my youngest honors its meaning and anticipates his turn. A wand, a small bear — just about anything will work.
Highs and Lows. You can’t script dinner with kids, but they will want to stick around longer if they’re engaged. Ask everyone to share the best and worst of their day. Include Mom and Dad to nurture your child’s outward view. Ask everyone to name something beautiful God made or something orange they saw. The possibilities are endless. There also are cute conversation starters you can buy. Use them as an incentive to get another bite of vegetables in before your child can choose a card.
Blow out. The good kind! With safety in mind, light a candle for dinner. There’s a reason restaurants create a peaceful ambiance with flickering flames. Talk about who was a “light” in your day. Let the eater with the best manners blow out the candle when everyone is done.
Quote ’em. Bring a notebook to the table to keep track of this amazing time of commotion. You’ll want to remember when your child declares he wants to “be a fixer” when he grows up, hangs a noodle off her nose or asks where the people in the Bible went to the bathroom. The need to jump up for something is diminished when conversation is focused.
Author and former MOPS leader Susan Besze Wallace fantasizes about earplugs once in a while, but usually takes it one sticky table at a time with Zach, 8, Luke, 5 and A.J., 4.