Take Back Dinnertime

09/06/2011 03:15 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2011

Family dinner. Doesn't that have a nice ring to it? Doesn't it evoke images of kids with really good posture and parents who love all four food groups equally? No wrestling, no potty humor, and definitely no trick forks. Does such a thing exist?

If you are among the millions of people who read, visit, buy or otherwise ingest Real Simple, your answer might be no. How am I so sure? Because earlier this year Real Simple launched the Take Back Dinnertime challenge, in which we invited beleaguered individuals around the country to tell us about their dinnertime problems. And boy, do they have problems.

Of course, we all have problems: I am the mother of three boys, all three of whom love wrestling and potty humor at the table (often at the same time). More than anything, they love the trick fork. Let me point out that the trick fork -- which has an extendable handle -- does not figure in my imaginary family dinner. In my imaginary dinner, my family of five (me, adoring husband, three calm, cooperative children) sits down together every night to share stories from school and work; to take stock of the day and ourselves; to give thanks for the food, good fortune, and connection we all share. And absolutely no one is trying to steal food from someone else's plate clear across the table, because no one has a trick fork with an extendable handle.

In my real-life family dinner, the trick fork (which I gave to one of my children a few Christmases ago in a moment of parental insanity) figures prominently. It also represents a number of concepts that boys find irresistible: disruption, power struggles, stealth attacks, slightly sadistic supremacy over your fellow man/your sibling/any unsuspecting fool. And so chaos reigns supreme.

Still, I can't shake the imaginary family-dinner fantasy, a vaguely 1960s-sitcom notion in which family members politely take turns talking, sitting straight in their chairs, napkins folded in laps, all four food groups (if it's even four anymore; honestly, I can't keep up) nestled snugly on shiny, clean plates, nary a smartphone in sight.

I am finally old (or sane) enough to realize that the imaginary dinner will one day come -- of course it will. My children will be thoughtful adults. There will be no one scrambling across my lap as I'm trying to eat; everyone will be too mature to tell fart jokes at the table. In fact, all chaos will be gone. The trick fork will have been lost or taken away to college or given to a younger friend. And despite what I thought I wanted, I will genuinely miss it.

So maybe, in order to take back dinnertime, some of us just have to wait. For others -- many, many others -- the solution is close at hand. If you want to know more about Real Simple's Take Back Dinnertime challenge (I'm talking recipes, tips, videos, and opportunities to win free stuff!), proceed directly here.