The chair on the far right of the dinner table holds a sacred position -- it’s known as the tea keeper.
The job description includes sitting next to the pitcher of sweet tea (or sometimes lemonade) while other diners pass their cup and ask for it to be filled. The position was instituted after four towels and a dog cleaned up a few big messes.
Usually Shawn is the tea keeper, this slows down his food shoveling -- which helps assure seconds on the mashed potatoes even for the slower eaters. But if he is at work, then I’m the one spending half of my meal pouring refills.
Eating together around the table is a sacred, no technology allowed, tradition for us, and just like everything else in our family, it’s no solemn event. We burn the food. We spill the drinks. And usually we have a couple members of the family underneath the table waiting for something to drop.
And as the years pass -- so do the dinnertime trends.
The early days reminded me of waiting on tables after all the bars closed down on the weekends. They’d stumble to the table and teeter in their chair, fall asleep face down in the spaghetti, drool down their faces while staring into space, or just randomly smash an entire bowl of refried beans into their hair.
Not only that, but you literally have to teach these people how to eat. They don’t know how to hold a fork, and once they do, you have to tell them not to scoop the mashed potatoes with their fingers, put them on the fork, and then put it in their mouth.
"See, you can eliminate that whole second step."
He just looked at me like I was crazy, and most of the time, I was pretty sure I was going crazy. That’s how our family dinners were at first, but we just kept on with it.
Because we had a dream that dinner time would eventually become quality time. We figured that would happen once they started talking, but quickly found out the ability to speak does not guarantee meaningful conversations.
"Why is it called a fork?"
"Because God named it that."
And just like that, we reverted to the food throwing days.
There were other dinner trends, like when Logan thought he had to raise his hand and wait to be called on to speak. Honestly, we probably let that go on longer than we should have.
But as the elbow room got tighter, the discussions got deeper.
We talk about their days at school.
We tell bad jokes.
We google (the only time technology is allowed) whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable, or if Elmo is considered a muppet or if he is just a puppet (he is a muppet, by the way).
Stranger danger and peer pressure were discussed over hot plates, and late night pie was served around the table the night we explained that Papa would be fighting pancreatic cancer.
None of this is as organized as it sounds. Shawn works swing shift - that means we sometime gather around the table for brunch or even a late lunch. Sometimes Shawn just can’t be there with us, so that’s when we pray for his day and give thanks for his job.
Because that’s also something we do together around the table. And believe me, when we say our prayers, I’m just glad that God sees our hearts.
From Connor’s once daily prayer for "the amber-tees" after reading a story about a girl who lost her leg in a car accident, to Logan who put his hand on his heart and said the pledge of allegiance after we said amen--I believe God hears our prayers, and that some are a great source of entertainment.
Despite our foibles, we keep bowing our heads and gathering around the table. The years will keep passing, and maybe one day, I will be confident enough to pass the job of tea keeper to one of the kids.
I’ve noticed that some things are already being passed down, but I think that just might be because I’m getting old.
"But why is it called Minecraft?"
"Because that’s what God named it, Mom."