A “New Normal” Dinner

The kids and I had a “new normal” kind of dinner last night.  We sat at our kitchen table for supper, which is a rare occurrence since Shawn died.  It is difficult for me to sit at a table that I once envisioned being filled with four chattering children and their strong, proud father at the head.  The big table feels empty and lopsided as if we are missing half of our family.  Yet, I know that meal time is an important value that I want to instill for Madelynn and Jordan.  And the only way it can be established as a tradition is if we actually practice the habit. 

Slowly, the desire to make a meal, set the table and engage in conversation is coming back.  We have survived the last two years with me standing by the kitchen island; toddlers propped on barstools as I dance between my kids coordinating the meal, cleaning as I go and balancing a to-do list.  Maybe it is an unconscious way of ignoring the hurt of one more thing in our life that was disrupted.

Last night was different. 

I instructed Maddi, my endearing two year old, to set the table.  With
enthusiasm, she put enough forks on the table for seven people!  She
kept counting and planning where everyone would sit and finally decided
to put away the extra forks as she discovered we only needed a total of
three.  Jordan was in charge of filling the water glasses.  I sat in
Shawn’s old chair, not planned simply circumstance.  But, if I think
about it, someone needs to lead our children through the meal and I
know that someone is me. 

As we ate, I was challenged to stay seated.  I wanted to jump up and
put something away, grab a napkin, take my vitamins.  I kept thinking
of everything I still needed to do until I quietly told myself – sit
down!  Some things can wait.  Most things can wait.  Teach your
children to sit during a meal.  Teach by example.  Teach them that we
don’t anxiously pop up and down in a frenzy (some of this comes with
the territory of being a mom and serving those around us.) 

Part of the commotion, however, is unnecessary.  I need to teach myself
to engage; start a conversation, listen intently, enjoy the flavors of
my salad and encourage my children to take seconds on their vegetables
(which they did last night and it made me smile to see them eating red
peppers!)  I will never forget Shawn telling me one evening the summer
before he died, “What if we told our kids that vegetables were a
dessert and they never knew any different?  Could we train them to
believe vegetables were the best choice?  Could we make vegetables
something they craved?”  He loved coming up with ideas for childrearing
and trying to break the status quo.  I wasn’t convinced his plan would
work.  But, I have to admit I have thought about it several times and
am not opposed to using creativity to promote good health for my

I think my children sensed it was a special night.  They both politely
asked to be excused and cleared their dinner plates.  In celebration I
told them that dinner wasn’t over yet.  Surprised, Jordan asked what we
were going to do next.  I told them it was time to roast marshmallows
over the candle we had lit in the middle of the table.  They looked at
me with pure excitement as if this made complete sense to them.  With
clean forks we each took one marshmallow to roast.  I was amused by our
experiment.  For the record, candles do not work as well as a real open
camp fire.  But, my children didn’t seem to mind.  They were completely

I used the time to talk about patience and roasting the marshmallows
slowly so they wouldn’t burn.  It was a lesson in discovering that “all
good things come to those who wait.”  Then I also discussed fire safety
and reiterated that only moms, Grandpa’s or Uncles are able to light candles and
that fires can be dangerous.  Jordan agreed and told me, “I need to be
safe with fire or my dad would need to fly down of heaven and see what
happens to me.  That’s what he’d need to do – right, Mom?” 

Our new normal.  Dinner without dad.  Still a family dinner.  Our new
family where we can still smile, try new things and enjoy each other’s
company.  New does not mean forgotten.  Normal is what we make it.  We
can eat dinner and keep dad close at heart.  That is what is normal for

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