Thursday, February 2, 2012

I Know He is More Than Just a Fish

The other night, Molly walked into the kitchen and  announced that she was going to write a story. This is not unusual for her because writing has become a part of Molly. Storytelling is what she does. She sat herself down at the desk in the kitchen and her pencil started moving while I was cooking dinner. Now, no one ever sits at this desk. It is one of those built in desks with a counter top to match the kitchen. I usually sit down at my desk in the study to do my work, check emails, pay the bills, check schedules, and of course check Facebook and then Pinterest, you know, the important stuff. Molly wants to make this space her own. She wants to move the electric pencil sharpener to the desk just in case she needs it. There's not much room to write. Since we never used the space, that is where we decided to put our fish tank. A few minutes later, I hear, "Mom, do you want to hear my story?"

She reads with expression...My Fish by Molly Nealon

It seems that my fish is just swimming around the castle all day, but I know he is doing more. He might be a knight who is guarding a princess. He might be looking after all the other fish. Maybe he's even trying to escape. He might be trying to get into the castle. He might think that something is wrong. 
He might be a spy the way he looks at me. 
I know he is more than just a fish.

Now the mom in me loves this story, but the teacher in me loves it even more. "Molly, I loooove your first sentence because you hooked me into your story. You gave me something to think about...I started wondering, hmmm, what are those fish really doing?" I love that this girl can look at an ordinary fish and see beyond what she only sees with her eyes. This is a lesson we all can be reminded of every now and again. 

I start thinking about a facebook post from a number of months ago I wrote about making dinner. 

They think I'm only making dinner...but I know better. They get frustrated with me when I read from a book that gets us talking about "stuff"...but I know better. They get crabby with me when I won't excuse them from the table until everyone shares their high and low of the day...but I know better. They think I'm only making dinner...but I know better...I'm making memories.

Everyday, right around 4 o'clock, I start to hear the question, "Mom, what's for dinner?" Cooking dinner is not always my most favorite thing to do, especially now that everyone has gotten older and everyday I am driving someone to some kind of practice. The sports change with the seasons. Right now we have basketball practice Monday through Thursday, indoor soccer, dance, piano, horseback riding, and girl scouts. This is typical for families with kids my age, change the sports a bit and some of the activities but a normal schedule. So how do you have a family dinner when there is always someone missing at a practice? Well, for us our dinners are late. My usual routine is to feed them a snack before we run out the door to their practices, but we have family dinner each night when they get back. This sometimes means 8:00. But it is the only time that we are together as a family. It is the only time that we get to share our day with one another. I want our dinner table to be a safe place for them. A place that they can be themselves, a place that they can share the good and the bad, a place that they may learn from each other's mistakes as well as each other's accomplishments, a place that they can tell the latest joke they learned from a friend, a place we sometimes laugh so hard we start to cry,  a place that we can also have those serious family meetings. You can't do any of this if you don't have dinner together.

So when the kids ask me, "What's for dinner?" I feel like the fish in Molly's story. I know the kids are only hungry. I know they want to know if we are having something "good" that night. I know I am only the "lady" with the food. But I am going to "hook" them. To me, family dinner is more than the food they see on their plates. It is more than nourishment fueling their bodies. I am creating memories and building relationship with my children and they are building relationships with each other and they don't even know it. 

Things We Do at a Nealon Family Dinner

1. High/Low Game...everyone shares their best part and worst part of their day.

2. Word of the Day Book...When we write in the Word of the Day Book, we share this at the dinner table.

3. Sometimes I read from Today I Will by Eileen and Jerry Spinelli. It contains 365 quotes from children's books and then some words of advice. It sometimes helps get a conversation started. We may not know all the books the quotes are from but we can certainly discuss them. 

Today's quote is...

February 2nd

"What about the consequences?"

          by Laurie Halse Anderson

Consequences? You mean, like, I can't do bad stuff and get away with it? You mean if I break the law-whether it's parents' or police law-there's a price to pay? You mean the stupid, inconsiderate, foolish decision I make today could bit me in the rump tomorrow?

I understand that the answer to all the above is: Yes.
I understand that there's a connection between what I do today and what happens tomorrow-- or even the rest of my life. So I'll make today's decision a good one.

4. Ask the question, "What do you know today that you didn't know yesterday?" A lot of times they'll tell you something from school, but every once in a while they'll share a little pearl of wisdom, an "ah ha" moment that they had. These are the best! Sometimes they share something that will just make us laugh, like when Shannon shared, "Today I now know that Toby Mac is NOT the same thing as the famous novel about a whale, Moby Dick." When I asked her who was Toby Mac she said, "I still do not know...but I DO know he is NOT Moby Dick."

5. Yesterday I was reading a magazine with these great stories about memories from family dinners. One person wrote that her mom had a book with the famous events from that date. It would get the family talking and if the mom didn't know about one of the events, she would pull out her beloved 1976 Encyclopedia, and they would all learn about it together. I might have to add this one to the mix. I know there are websites that have "This Date in History."

What do you do at the dinner table? I am always looking for new ideas.

We don't do all of these every night. Each night looks different than the night before, but the thing that remains the same is that we are all together. The point is to have 45 minutes together with no TV, no cell phones, just each other and hopefully to walk away from the table knowing something you didn't know yesterday about someone in our family.


And if you're looking for a good storytelling, every year The New York Times Magazine usually features stories of famous people that have died that year. This year they chose to share the stories of ordinary people. These are their stories. I read them yesterday while sitting in the salon getting my hair done. may need a box of tissues. My favorites, I think, are The Uneasy Rider and The Anniversary.

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