Sometimes the best dish doesn't end up on the table

When I was a child, my family ate dinner together every night. It was just how it was done. My mother made sure that by the time I was 10, I could prepare a meal for the whole family by myself. I was more than happy to learn, as cooking dinner was preferable to the alternate chores of cleaning the kitchen after dinner or, even worse, giving my younger siblings their nightly bath.

Things are quite different with my kids. We rarely have schedules that allow all of us to eat dinner at the same time. Despite my best attempts, my 16-year-old would starve to death if he were required to make his own meals. The 12-year-old has mastered fried eggs, and claims that with eggs and cereal, he is set for life. The 10-year-old eats only ramen noodles, and the 8-year-old still believes a smile will make anything he desires magically appear before him. He's usually right.

I worry that my boys will never acquire the skills needed for independent living.

Last week we had grilled burgers for dinner, and it was the 12-year-old's turn to help. In true male fashion, he loves to grill. He was actually excited to help.

As "we" made the salad, he gave me the lowdown on what he was learning in his human growth and development class.

While we shucked the corn, I found out he was worried about looking too skinny at the field trip to the water park the next week.

When we finally got to the grill, he asked me questions that had come up during the human development class. They were questions I would never have felt comfortable asking my parents. Questions that could not be asked at a family dinner. He had great timing. We were standing in front of the grill – both of our faces were already red. Who could tell if either of us blushed?

Although I would never argue the merits of family dinners, I value the time my kids and I spend preparing the meals much more than the actual meals. During this hour I learn more about what is going on in their lives than I ever could at the dinner table.

Even if they never learn to cook – and it is not looking promising – the conversations we share in the attempt are some of the best I have ever had with them.

This week my 16-year-old made the salad, and I got the scoop on his love life. Life is good!

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