What are you doing Friday night? Going on a date? To a baseball game? To a movie or the theater?
I’m going to dinner with my family.
Yup, I really know how to live it up! But honestly, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.
The tradition was founded circa 1964. Every Friday night, the whole family piled into the sedan and feasted at a Mexican restaurant. Friends and extended family sometimes joined the fun, and after dinner the festivities continued with board games and card games back at home.
Fast forward a few decades, add significant others and five grandkids (including me), and the pattern continues. It’s now a different Mexican restaurant, but still the same one every week. The staff knows us so well that our drinks are delivered as soon as we arrive and we don’t even have to specify our meal order beyond “the usual.”
Ketchup waits on our table to dilute salsa for little mouths that are still in spiciness toleration training, and the scheming minds behind these little mouths know that if they do eat something spicy, a sugar packet emptied directly onto the tongue will quickly quench the burn.
We all learn geometry as our grandfather, an architect, cuts the massive cheese crisp into precisely equal slices, regardless of whether he divides it by 6 or by 13.
What Were They Thinking?
Five kids in a public restaurant? How did we find one that tolerated us week after week? I don’t know, but the experience did teach us how to behave…and still have a little fun.**
We learned to sit without our elbows on the table and with our napkins in our laps, and though our family was eventually assigned our own permanent table in a back room, we were never actually asked to leave.
We kids learned to work together toward our goals. We lobbied for ice cream for dessert and wrangled pennies for the gumball machine, which would deliver two gumballs if we turned the handle all the way in one fell swoop, but only one gumball if we took two tries to twist it. It was in the little kids’ best interest to be nice to the bigger kids so they’d help with this impressive feat.
And That’s Not All
We learned colors, numbers, and strategy in exchange for bragging rights. We learned to take turns and we learned to master poker faces. We learned to be good winners and losers.
We learned to get over our tiffs and not hold grudges. We saw kids and grownups alike overcome differences by forced proximity.
Our family supported each other through marriages, divorces, layoffs, and medical scares.
The only attendees at risk were new significant others who were given a trial by fire. The question was not whether we liked them–we liked everyone–but whether they could handle all of us!
As we grew up, got jobs, started dating, and moved away to college, Friday Night Dinner attendance decreased in the younger generation, but it was comforting to know that a core group persisted and we were always welcome.
Sadly, Grandpa died while I was in college and many of us moved out of town. No one picked up the torch in his place, and the tradition faded away.
During this time, though, I realized how valuable an investment those weekly dinners had been. I had thought it was just good food and tons of fun, but they really centered our family. Without spending this quality time together, I might not keep in touch with my cousins now. Seeing them only at major holidays would have kept us mere acquaintances–little more than strangers. Instead, I am grateful and confident in the knowledge that our ties are strong and we have each other’s backs.
Of course we’re not perfect. We’re awkward and could often use a thicker filter between our brains and our mouths, but we’re family and we’re all on the same team.
Now that a decade has passed and there’s a new generation with even more kids, our Friday Night Dinners have resumed. Instead of going to a restaurant, we now eat at a family member’s house where there’s a swing set and plenty of room for the kids to roam.*** We still play Rummikub. The kids still scheme to get extra dessert. And Friday is still my favorite day.
*As told by my mother, who is known to have a somewhat selective memory, but it was before my time so we’ll go with it.
**It’s possible that an uncle taught us to use straws to shoot frilly toothpicks into foam ceiling tiles and to squish straw wrappers and drip water on them to make the worms grow… much to the chagrin of our parents.
***Are we less brave than the previous generation or are we smarter?
What are your favorite family traditions and games? Let me know in the comments below.
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