Family Dinner

Happy New Year! We have a few exciting projects teed up for 2017, and at the top of that list is the addition of our guest blogger, Alison Cupp Relyea, to the TFC team. Alison is a a writer and mother of three children who taught elementary school for many years in New York City. Through teaching and parenting, she has developed a strong interest in gender studies, often exploring topics of gender and education in her writing. Alison and I met several years ago when I consulted with The Town School and she was a 2nd grade teacher.

Alison is a seasoned educator, a hands-on-hands-full parent and a skillful writer. Enjoy.


Family Dinner

In our overscheduled lives, family dinner becomes increasingly important to make that daily connection with our children. I know this, and yet this year, between hockey and swim practice, rotisserie chickens and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the moments we actually share both in preparing and enjoying meals seems more limited than ever. Luckily, I had a recent visit with my parents to prove once again the value of sharing a meal in shaping children’s understanding of the world. In a short conversation that grew organically, my parents demonstrated their gender openness in a way that surprised and delighted me, and I watched as my children’s understanding of the world around them shifted and expanded.

If I had been the only adult at the dinner table, which is normally the case, this conversation would not have happened. My children and I normally eat dinner together, before my husband comes home from work, and squeezed between homework, playdates, activities and bedtime.  The table is barely cleared, we use laminated placemats and paper towels for napkins if we remember napkins at all. While we talk and catch up, much of the emphasis is on getting my children to eat their dinner.


Photographer Theresa Thompson parodies Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want”

With my parents in town for my children’s holiday concert, I stepped up my dinner game to what I wish it looked like every day. We had salmon, asparagus and roasted potatoes and used proper placemats and cloth napkins. Water glasses were actual glass rather than plastic, and with my husband there as well, I enjoyed the company of three adults to share in the conversation rather than my normal company of my three children. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close for a Tuesday night dinner.

Everyone was eating, too, except for my three-year-old who couldn’t find one of his Iron Man gloves to go with his costume. I ignored him while focusing on the good mood at the table. My oldest child, Robert, seemed particularly happy to have his grandparents in town and out of nowhere starting singing, “I don’t want to know know know know, who’s taking you home home home home, and loving you so so so so, the way I used to love you oh!”

“He still loves Adam Levine and Maroon 5!” I commented.  

I expected my parents to ask what songs he would be singing in the concert tomorrow, or share their own favorite Maroon 5 songs, but instead my dad immediately said, “You know Maroon 5 is one of the bands that won’t play in North Carolina because of the bathroom laws.” He may have been talking more to my mom and me, but when an eight-year-old hears the word “law” he becomes very interested.

“What are the bathroom laws?” Robert asked, and while I thought my parents might try to change the conversation, they addressed it head-on. I didn’t jump in since Robert was asking them the question, not me. As the person who answers hundreds of questions each day, I took pleasure in being silent for once.

“See, some people are born a boy or a girl, but they don’t feel like that matches with who they really are, and North Carolina says they have to use the bathrooms that match how they were born,” my mom answered. It wasn’t clear that the older two children understood, but they were listening intently.

Women's And Men's Toilets Sign, Black On White

“There are chromosomes in our bodies that determine if a person is a boy or a girl. Do you know about chromosomes?” she continued.

“Yeah, sure,” Robert answered.

“So some people have certain chromosomes but really feel that they are a different gender, and they want to use the bathroom that they feel most comfortable using, but the law says they can’t, and Adam Levine doesn’t agree with that law so he doesn’t want to play concerts there until they change it.”

“Yeah, I mean, what’s the big deal? People should be able to use whatever bathroom they want to. Why would the law make them use the other one? That’s so ridiculous,” Robert complained. Eight year olds care a lot about fairness and this did not seem fair. My parents shrugged.

Someone asked for more potatoes and someone else didn’t want to eat her asparagus, and the moment passed as quickly as it arrived. My children knew more now about Adam Levine and had one more reason to like him, and I finished dinner so thankful for this moment.  When I look at my parents, I see people who are nearly seventy years old who cannot always relate to parenting today. They aren’t always thrilled by my children’s behavior or mine for that matter, but they love us unconditionally. When my dad made that statement, for an instant I had no idea where the conversation would go, but I should have trusted them to give information without judgement. After all, I was the child at their table not so long ago.

2 replies
  1. Jeanne Temple
    Jeanne Temple says:

    So lucky to have your parents close by to have these open discussions! Also my Mom would have focused on the “whose taking you home” lyric, 15 years older and Catholic she would have chosen that teachable moment!

    • Alison Cupp Relyea
      Alison Cupp Relyea says:

      Hi Jeanne,
      Thanks for your comment! Yes, there are so many teaching moments in song lyrics and at dinner tables, and we often let them pass without comment. I was glad my dad decided to start the conversation, intentional or not! I’m sure your mom’s angle would have been interesting, too.
      – Alison


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