Fresh bread is on the table. The lemonade mixes with ice in a tall glass pitcher. These are the signs that it is the weekend. These are the signs that our family will be eating together soon. This is the best time of the week.
Our family attempts to eat breakfast together on the weekdays; but, by default, that is not a feast, but a quick refuel station, dominated by the tick of the clock, and randomly uttered commands like “Don’t Forget Your Homework.” Our family also attempts to eat dinner together on weekdays, but that affair is rushed by the homework, showers and lunch packs that await. Those quick meals put pebbles in the family jar, but on the weekends, I am looking for a boulder.
“Lunch is ready,” I say on this Sunday. I yell it, because it is both an accomplishment and an invitation.
I expect my kids (ages 12 and 7) and husband (ageless) to be magnetized by the dining table, but the only one that shows up is my husband. He can be counted to show up to any meal and eat anything in front of him with a smile.
“Didn’t you hear?” he says to the kids. “Lunch is ready.” But no one shows, and I am wondering if my children have ever experienced true hunger. Not that I have. Growing up in Uruguay, my family wasn’t rich, but we always had food. Good food. My dad would chop carrots, onions, garlic and tomatoes and stew them with beef. My mom would boil the pasta and toss a salad. Then my dad would tell me to put my leg down, because I liked to sit on it. “If you sit on your leg, then the food can’t travel there, and you’ll end up with one leg shorter than the other,” he would say, winking at my brothers.
My son and daughter finally make it to the table and begin eating. The fresh bread is gone in a second. The forks clink on the plates. And I appreciate this moment. We are all sitting at the table. We are all eating together. It is the weekend and nothing can come between us now.
“May I be excused?” my son asks, exactly a minute after he sat down and scarfed down the food on his plate. And it feels like someone took the pebble, which I was trying to grow into a boulder, and is ready to toss into the sea.
“No, not yet,” I say.
“But I am done eating,” he says. I can see that.
“Well, we aren’t here at the table just to eat, you know?” He looks at me with a puzzled look, mixed in with tween sauce. But I continue.
“Wouldn’t it be great if our chairs had seatbelts?” I ask them.
They stare at me.
“No. Listen me out,” I say. “Here is an idea: What if every time we sat to a mel, we clicked on our seatbelts. And What if we kept our seatbelts fastened for the duration of the meal?”
They are listening so I continue. “And what if we got up only after the seatbelt light is turned off?” I point at the light fixture above the table. Stroke of genius, I think. Seatbelts for lunch.
My son is pondering the idea. The clock ticks and tocks. My daughter is still eating. The pebble is back in my hand, growing.
My kids may not yet appreciate the value of our meals together, but I do. Now that my father has passed away, how I wish I had one more chance to sit at a meal with him and my mom, and my brothers. I would even put my leg down on the floor to make sure the food made it down there.
“If they had seatbelts,” my husband says, “then all that would happen is that they would walk around the house with a chair strapped to their behinds.”
We laugh. Scraps of food fly from our mouths. But everyone is still at the table. The clock is still ticking and tocking.
“So, mom, who would turn the seatbelt light off?” my daughter asks.
“I would,” I say. Tick, tock, the pebble is a large rock now.
“But, I have rights,” my son jokes, “I will take this to the Supreme Court!”
“It’s a Momocracy in here, kids,” my husband says. “Your mom is the Supreme Court.” Tick, tock, time is passing and we are together, eating and talking about how I want us to be together.
A big boulder squeezes its way into our family jar.