AT8A0632 1-2.jpg

Dinner Conversation | The Smith Family

What happens around the dining table is just as important as what’s on the plate. This month we pull up a seat with the Smith family.

Each week, the New York Times Sunday business section includes an interview with an executive. And nearly each week, those business leaders talk about the lessons learned around their family’s dinner table. Thrift, honesty and the pleasure of a hard day’s work. “On time is late”; “say yes to new opportunities.”

We’ve been in the family dinner business for about 19 or so years, and we aren’t so sure we’ve provided CEO-worthy life lessons. We’re more Don Rickles than Dale Carnegie.

When the kids were young, a lot of what we talked about at dinner could be described as “Mom and Dad remember comedy.” We made a video of our son Wyatt at the table when he was about three doing the old vaudeville scene “You must pay the rent/I can’t pay the rent,” with a slice of yellow pepper as his evil mustache slash damsel-in-distress hair ribbon. The kids have still never seen “Animal House,” but they can recite the “See if you can guess what I am now” scene with perfect Belushi inflection. Surely there’s some value in that?

Then there’s that old dinnertime favorite, “Kids complain about their perfect lives.” (And its predictable reaction, “Parents tell them they have no idea how good they have it.”) Teachers giving homework, coaches making them run laps, school policies, Texas driving laws — the specific offenders may change, but our children believing that the world is unfair and stacked against them in some form or fashion has been a sad constant.

Then, of course, there’s plain old household business. Did you remember to look for your jacket at school? Did you talk to your science teacher about that project? Do you have a lot of homework tonight? There are lots of days where dinner is the only chance we have to get anything out of them. And we are REALLY tired of replacing lost jackets.

In the past few years, family dinners have morphed into a movement. We’ve got family dinner challenges and “world’s largest family dinner” days and reams of studies and news stories about its benefits. Family dinner evangelist Laurie David describes her experiences at the table as “cheerful, significant and meaningful.” That seems like a high bar to clear on a Wednesday night, doesn’t it?

Around our table, a more likely topic of conversation is “Great band names, but not really.” Here’s how it starts: someone uses an adjective and a noun. Fragile Bully. Precious Falafel. Giant Sand. Evan responds by saying “That would make a great band name.” Note: none of these would actually make great band names. This is like a Zen koan for our kids to unravel. (Bonus points to anyone who knew that Giant Sand was a real band! A real, tragically named band.)

One friend of ours doesn’t believe in family dinners. They sit down together when they can, but often, her (teenaged) boys are left alone with no planned meal. She believes those nights instill important self-sufficiency skills. After all, they do need to know how to prepare food for themselves soon enough. And if she makes regular time to be with her kids in lots of other ways — mornings, after school, weekends — then why should she get all hung up on dinner?

Well, yes. As every parent knows car rides are also a great opportunity for conversations about what’s really on a kid’s mind. Or games of catch. Or jigsaw puzzles. Or walking the dog. And yet our friend reports that she has limited her time with other kids’ parents because they give her so much grief over the dinner issue. “One mom has even gone so far as to ‘jokingly’ tell my kids that CPS was going to rescue them someday,” she said.

Come on, people. Dinner conversation is like any conversation: sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s dull, sometimes it’s intended for no other purpose than the quotidian management of young lives. And bad things—like depression, anxiety or addiction—can still happen, no matter how many family meals you sit down to.

Sure, we’ve had a few great dinner conversations over the years. Maybe even some that would meet Laurie David’s standards. One memorable evening a few years ago we got on the subject of what it means to be an American. “Guns, and fried stuff and the walkers that fat people use,” was Wyatt’s answer, and while that sentiment betrays a dark cynicism about our nation’s character and habits, we also had to applaud its insight and specificity. Especially from an 11-year-old.

We hope that family dinners with our kids taught them that humor diffuses tension, that they shouldn’t be wary about asking for help and that they can persevere through even the most challenging relationships. But it’s also possible that all we did was expose them to creative swearing and Evan’s breathy and self-satisfied impression of Wiz Khalifa’s mother on the phone (don’t ask).

Maybe they’re turning out OK in spite of us, not because of us. Either way, everyone’s got to eat.

CREDITS

Photographs by Annie Ray

RELATED ARTICLES

  • 0f8dfbf1-b6d6-4c56-b842-05d45acda39c.gif
  • image1.JPG
  • Elite 25_300x250.gif
  • unnamed-37.jpg
  • Copenhagen_Feb2015.jpg

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY

eNewsletter

currentIssue.png
June_Cover-108x108.jpeg
  • 1cb151d1-621d-47f9-941e-7259eea04612.gif
  • Subscribe.jpg
TRIBEZA BLOGS
Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 2.07.04 PM.png

As the warm weather begins to set in and patio parties hit our calendars, we can’t help but embrace that summertime has returned to Austin. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be celebrating the return of the season with decadent ice cream, healthy smoothies and icy cocktails from your favorite local spots.

For those days when it’s too hot to venture out, we went to Austin’s sweet treat professionals and compiled the ultimate collection of DIY recipes to make from your home. Click through the galleries below to learn how to make everything icy and sweet, from poptails for date night to ice cream sandwiches for a dinner party.

more
unnamed.jpg

The spring edition of the Renegade Craft Fair returns for its seventh year in Austin May 14-15 at Fair Market. With over 125 makers on the roster, the scene is sure to be bustling with local artisans and DIYers slinging their unique, one-of-a-kind wares. In addition to great shopping, the RCF offers activities, special showcases and plenty of food and drink options for visitors. This year, celebrate your hard work shopping with a snack from Burro Cheese Kitchen and Lucky Lab Coffee Co. before commemorating the afternoon with some snapshots from Magnolia Photo Booth Co. But before...

more
TRIBEZA04.jpg

Inspired by the beautiful outdoor living spaces featured in our May feature The Space Between, we went window shopping and found some great outdoor furniture and accessories to liven up your outdoor patio, porch and pool. Flip through the galleries below to see how you can add a pop of color and style to your outdoor hideaway.

more
6cac5c5a8c8ab233e90140848463bee7-d1026fbadb4e268d7fc0f385121f57a3.jpg

JUDE GALLIGAN

Hundreds of people are moving to Austin each day, and downtown is one of the major hubs of growth for the city. Local real estate expert Jude Galligan discusses smart urban growth and what to expect this year as the skyline continues to evolve.

Your blog keeps Austin updated on the latest news in downtown. What is the most exciting development happening right now?

From my point of view, the most exciting development is the Waller Creek District Master Plan. Decades in the making, this transformative project came to life after designers competed for the contract. It is finally coming to downtown, bringing an imaginative chain of parks,...

more
IMG_4713.jpg

As you flip through the pages of our February Love Issue, one thing you’ll notice is the beautiful blooms that pop up throughout the magazine. We got some major googly eyes for the bouquets featured in our "Real Weddings" features, and earmarked the TRIBEZA Wedding Guide for even more Pinterest-worthy petals.

Instead of letting all that inspiration go to waste, we tried our hand at flower arranging to see what we could create. Since we consider ourselves floral design novices, we asked a few top designers...

more