When I was growing up, dinner time was like a Pat Conroy novel or a David Lynch film. My father was a combo Henry Wingo/Bull Meecham, with a little Frank Booth thrown in. He'd warm up on my mother, "Are you going to eat all that?" and proceed to picking on either me or my sister, usually about "that look on your face" or "your tone of voice." Someone always ran crying from the table until, eventually, we learned to assume the flat affects that seemed to placate him. In any case, I was conditioned to avoid family meals, and, once I turned sixteen, I made sure I was scheduled to work every evening. Youth Prison Camp (my job at Six Flags) was preferable to the fish fries at my house.
During my first marriage, I managed to hover rather than sit at the table. I paced back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, refilling the iced tea, getting more tater tots, never sitting down. I don't think I realized, at the time, that this was an avoidance technique, but now, looking back, I see it clearly. After I married again, and was no longer a stay-at-home mom, mealtimes became tag team events, with only one parent in attendance. Biggy would take care of it (notice I didn't say 'cook') on the nights I taught, and I was able to avoid the full-family experience. In the past couple of years, however, we've tried to sit down together at least once or twice a week for my exercise in minor torture.
These people are completely devoid of manners, as hard as I've tried to teach them. The meal always begins with Lo crying. Maybe she doesn't like meatloaf. Or we've turned off Sponge Bob. More likely, though, JackMan has pinched her under the table or she's bumped her head trying to bite his leg. Then, Biggy will raise his voice and my palms will start sweating. Next, I dissociate altogether. It's not pleasant. But oddly enough, it's like childbirth: I always sort of forget, from meal to meal, just how painful it is.
Not tonight. I'm throwing in the towel. I intend to remember. Here, you see a man who sat down without his shirt, a boy who is preparing to tell his little sister where steak comes from, a girl who just finished burping the alphabet and is currently making aluminum foil animals, and a chihuahua who---does it matter?
(Note the absence of George. Smart girl.)
From this point, they're all on their own.