One afternoon just before such a visit, I felt ready. Our home was filled with the delicious aroma of turkey and homemade bread, the house was relatively tidy, and my five young children were scrubbed clean. Just as I finished the last of the preparations, the doorbell rang and in walked Grandma and Grandpa.
We exchanged hellos and hugs and then sat down at the dinner table, blessed the food, and began to dig in. I’d like to say our dinner involved an orderly passing of the various dishes accompanied by nothing but soft, polite chatter. Not so.
Instead, our kids were busily reaching across each other, trying to secure their fair share of a chosen dish. And rather than gentle chatter, there was lots of talking and very little listening in return.
I didn’t give it much thought until my mother-in-law proclaimed, “This is chaos!”
I felt a bit defensive at first—“No, no, this isn’t chaos,” I asserted. But she insisted, “Yes, this is definitely chaos!”
I didn’t say anything more but tucked her comments into the back of my mind to process later. That night I lay awake mulling over my mother-in-law’s assertion that our dinnertime was chaos. Chaos seemed such a strong word to use but perhaps if I tried to see the experience through her eyes, I would understand.
What were dinners like at my in-law’s house when it was just the two of them? I can imagine my in-laws sitting at the table chatting amiably about their shared day and how they enjoyed that morning game of golf. I’m certain that they politely pass the various dishes without any mad dash for the Jell-O out of fear that the other one might eat it all.
I compare that relaxed mealtime scenario to what my mother-in-law experienced at our home and can see how she would reasonably conclude that our mealtimes are chaotic.
The good news is that the pandemonium my kids create at dinner isn’t all bad. First, the kids are clearly enthusiastic about the meal I prepared or they wouldn’t be so concerned about getting their fair share. And, even better, their lively talk tells us that they’re glad to have Grandma and Grandpa over for a visit.
Many of our best family memories have been created at the dinner table, even amidst the chaos. Among them are the occasions when our babies have practiced but not perfected feeding themselves with utensils, when Dad has shared stories from his childhood, and when one of the kids has told a surprisingly funny joke.
I look forward to the time when my husband and I can share meals that allow us to calmly converse without interruption; that time will probably come faster than I can imagine. For now, my husband and I work to calm the mealtime chaos in our home by encouraging our kids to use softer voices and to exercise patience while waiting for their favorite dishes. As we do this, I can’t help but look around the table and marvel at how much love and energy is present in this one place. Yes, there may be chaos here, but it’s nothing compared to the joy.