Coming from a solid family of a mother and father, four daughters, a dog, a rabbit, and several fish (throughout the years), one would think that between the thousands of activities and a million things on the "to-do" list, that my parents would have zero time to cook, let alone have everyone sit at the table together in one place for a solid period of time.
But we do. Why? My parents made it a PRIORITY from, well, Day One of our family (which precedes even me).
My sisters and I might have been running around doing a thousand things in the day: karate, lacrosse, ice hockey, school clubs, school, homework, hanging out with friends, you NAME it, and someone in my family was probably busy with it. Especially when my older sister and I got our licenses, we were never home.
But more often than not, she and I found our way home by the time the table needed to be set. We always ate in the dining room, because it should not just be for special occasions. My mother never demanded for us to be home, never once made us come home for dinner, but more than five out of the seven nights a week, all six of us sit around that round piece of wood for at least an hour, talking about our day. After a group clean-up, we all start up our tasks again.
Maybe it was the great habit my parents started from the dawn of my existence, maybe it was the fear of missing out on some crazy story my dad would tell, but we always sat down facing each other, and not the TV.
I had not realized until I started asking that I realized it was not the norm. When my friends would take a seat at my table, they would be sort of… shocked. They would ask if this was a special occasion, and I would laugh and always apologize for how "crazy" and "loud" we were, but at least we weren't boring!
I had several friends who would come over and stay for dinner and tell me how lucky I was. I brushed it off, because, like, didn't everyone do this?
I asked about 15 of my closest girlfriends and the verdict was that less than half of them had a home-cooked dinner with their families (all together, sitting at a table talking) more than two days a week. Some even told me that they actually never sit and eat a meal together and that it was normal. I live in a place where it is more than possible with the lifestyle to do this, but there just isn't any effort put there, because apparently, it can't be more important than meeting for wine night for the ~third~ time this week.
Normal as it may be to some people, it isn't just the lack of sharing a meal. There are so many things that my sisters and I have noticed over the years that give it away, but the biggest tell is the complete lack of manners.
Manners are basic tabletop functionality that I guess just more than half of society has chosen to DISREGARD or not even try to seek out to learn. I used to get in trouble for correcting other kids' table manners. It puzzled me as to why I, a third grader, could use my knife and fork to cut food rather than stabbing it with a pronged piece of plastic like it was about to slither away and using my fist to firmly grasp the handle while I ate the entire chunk by eating around the plastic prongs. I think there was an intervention when I had begun to correct adults at their own tables.
I was an innocent third grader! Why was I able to use my manners properly and an adult couldn't? It was very simple in my mind. But the fact was that they had developed their own habits over their own lifetimes, and it wasn't my responsibility or obligation to try and change it. Parts of it may have come from no consistent examples, but I bet they were less likely to have sat at their childhood dinner table each night and be asked about manners because their children were doing the exact same thing beside them.
Sitting at the dinner table, I was scolded for anything as minor as an elbow resting on the wood, forgetting my napkin on the surface, holding my fork wrong, speaking with a full mouth, and so many other seemingly tedious habits.
So, my sisters and I have learned to silently ignore someone taking their fork in their clenched fist and shoveling their Mac and Cheese into their mouth while their elbow takes out the four people to their immediate right, a wrinkled napkin discarded on the table homeless, rather than nesting in their lap.
On a personal level, it's harmless. But when it comes to an interview over lunch, it could mean the difference of being hired or not. Table manners speak louder than business casual clothes or suits and ties and can tell a person exactly how someone was raised by just looking at how they cut a piece of steak and eat it.