rituals: the family who tray tables together stays together (erin s. lane).

Oh y’all: ready, set, go is all I have to say.  Meet my friend, Erin.  My real-life, once-upon-a-writing-conference-roomie who makes me want to wear my hair in a messy bun and scrunch up my legs in yoga pants, all the day long, not because she does the same, but because she frees me to be me.  And don’t forget to buy and read and spread the word about her book (and come back Friday to win a copy for yourself).  In the meantime, pull up a tray and enjoy. 

Flickr Creative Commons: Lauren Baker.
Flickr Creative Commons: Lauren Baker.

“Do we have any family rituals?” I ask Rush, a pencil dangling from my mouth. We’re sitting across from one another at the dining room table. Two binders as big as pizza boxes are in front of us. We’re doing homework.

“Sure we do,” he says, but his eyes don’t lift from the worksheet in front of him. It’s the same one I have in front in me.

I put down my pencil, waiting for him to answer, showing he’s not off the hook. He picks up on this.

“We like to stay in fancy hotels on our anniversary?” he offers.

“That makes us sound so bourgie.”

“What about our collection of Dickens’ Village houses we put out at Christmas?”

“Dickens’ Village? I think these are traditions, not rituals.”

“You’re right.”

‘We’re hopeless.”

“I’m hungry.”

I push my chair back from the table and head into the kitchen. He follows. Standing on toes, I pull two square bowls off the shelf and place them side by side on the counter. He’s opening the fridge now, pulling out the pot of soup we made yesterday. Our movements are like a small orchestra, our instruments the sound of drawers, a ladle, the microwave. Bee-eep.

Then – “Table or tray table?

It’s a question neither of us had to ask growing up. It was always the table for him and his two brothers. It was tray tables for me and mine.

We kept them in the coat closet on a standing rack. I don’t remember us ever having three of the same color. Instead they were a mismatch of blond and burgundy wood. Come dinnertime each night, Charlie would unfold them, two in front of the couch and one in front of the chair we called Heaven, while I trailed him with paper napkins. Mom would yell out from the kitchen, “Is Wheel on yet?” and we’d yell back, “Nope, still Jeopardy.”

I thought I was the envy of all my friends. While most were trading conversation at the table, we were leaning over ours shouting, “Big money! Big money! Big money!”” From time to time, some well-meaning adult at church or on the news would preach the value of sitting down at mealtime to talk. But I thought that only applied to families who weren’t talking to one another all the time. On the way to school. Over the phone at work. Curled up like parentheses before bed.

Now when Rush asks “Table or tray table?” we trade pleading glances. We’ve talked enough today. Talking is one of the strengths we listed on our worksheet for potential foster parents.

“Tray table,” I answer, and his shoulders relax. He grabs his bowl off the counter and heads into the living room. I follow. There’s only one tray table for the both of us, a steel-framed one in the shape of a C. Mismatched wood makes my skin crawl these days.

We place our bowls on the table side by side and sit down. When he turns the television on, our knees are touching. Together we face forward, our gaze fixed on the same glowing horizon.

We’re not hopeless.

We’re hungry.

Lane_Author PhotoErin S. Lane, M.T.S., is author of the new book Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe and co-editor of the anthology Talking Taboo: American Women Get Frank About Faith. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she facilitates retreats for clergy and congregational leaders through the Center for Courage & Renewal. You can find more of her writing at www.holyhellions.com.  Cara here again: I mean, don’t you just want to pull up your tray table and EAT?  I love how these not-so-boring rituals make the story deeper.  Thanks for sharing, Erin – and show her some love by leaving a comment below.

*FYI: contains Amazon Affiliate links.

11 thoughts on “rituals: the family who tray tables together stays together (erin s. lane).

  1. Ha, same here, we got 2 tray tables for our kids when we were renovating our kitchen but now they love them (obviously). We try to balance it out, but the lure of the tray is fierce 🙂

  2. Some of the greatest bonding I have done with my dad has existed via sports on TV over dinner. it taught me about sports enough that I could carry on a conversation with him about them, and to this day, I wouldn’t change a thing. Fun way to share your ritual with us!!

  3. I really liked this, especially because my husband and I eat in front of the TV (or in our case, a Netflix episode on the laptop) pretty often, and I feel a slight shame about it. But it’s true–we talk all the time! Before dinner, after dinner, bedtime, throughout the day on G-chat… Thanks for your perspective!

  4. I’m late to comment here (I’m late to pretty much everything these days) but I just love this. I’ve always felt somewhat guilty when we sit down to watch TV together with plates on our laps. Like it’s not something a Good Christian Family would do. But so many evenings we are just all talked out. And actually this space becomes special, just as Erin wrote.

  5. This is awesome. My family ate around a table, but at times I found it unsettling, especially if I was in trouble. But at our shore house in NJ, I loved sitting around the table with 10 or more people, table stacked with Jersey tomatoes and sweet corn. Now, my own family lives in community, so we either eat in a large commercial-looking dining room with various neighbors every day, or in our tiny room, the three of us with a pizza and tray tables, watching Doctor Who or Star Trek, our Friday night tradition (ritual?)

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