Ever feel like everyone has this super together family life and yours is just one throwdown away from becoming a Jerry Springer episode? Do you imagine other families are connecting in meaningful ways while yours is basically using a series of well-timed grunts and eye rolls? Good news: You're not alone. There are exactly 17 perfect families in the world and they are all fictional families in Coke commercials. The rest of us are living in what I like to call... reality. And, as you know, the Reality of Family Time is nothing like a commercial. I'm pretty sure the good people at Coke have never actually met a family.
We are big on family time because we have no short-term memory. We go into it every time thinking it will be this magical time of communing together. We break out the games. We plan a big family dinner. Then we remember.
The Myth of Family Game Night
This sounds like a great idea... unless you've ever played games as a family. Then you know it's a bloodbath waiting to happen. Remember playing Monopoly as a kid? Ah, the original sibling hating-maker. And let's not forget Risk... the enchanting game of world domination. I've flipped enough Monopoly and Risk boards to steer clear of those with my kids. But for reasons I can't explain, we foolishly play the game Sorry!, which is basically the prototype for The Hunger Games set on a board. The entire premise is to make someone cry. I'm pretty sure that's what the instructions list as the object of the game. It teaches some lovely skills of advancing yourself by using every opportunity to destroy the soul of your opponents. Fun to see your kids plot against each other! And, as an added bonus, you get to painfully watch your younger children completely suck at counting spaces and realize there is a good chance they will be living in your basement for a long, long time. Soooh-rrrrry!
And don't kid yourself. It doesn't really matter what game you play. Uno seems sort of benign, right? Wrong. I get a tic in my right eye from everyone angrily yelling GO at each other because no one can keep track of their damn turn. Oh, and if you are winning? Forget it. Everyone gangs up on you to crush your spirit.
My main goal during family game night is to throw the games so each kid gets a chance to win. This is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes I accidentally win, making them all cry. I've never understood parents who don't let their kids win. Don't they know they are like 30 years older and the entire match-up is unfair to begin with? All I want is peace and for the game to end before I'm old enough to sprout hairs out of the moles on my face. As I pack up the evil pieces, eye still twitching, I somehow keep it together and say, "That was fun," and wonder if anyone believes me.
The Myth of Family Dinner
I'm pretty sure I watched too much TV growing up, because I dumbly thought we'd have these perfect family dinners where we'd all harmoniously prepare the meal together with classical music playing in the background and set the table with a familiar, fun, choreographed dance. During dinner, we would civilly take turns sharing the highs and lows of our days. Then we'd blast, "Heard It Through the Grapevine," as we danced around the kitchen, Big Chill style, clearing the table, loading the dishwasher and wrapping the leftovers with hip bumps, spins and high-fives.
Ummm. Yah. Not so much.
The reality is something very, very different. Just thinking of something for dinner gives me hives. We are sick of everything. And, why, why do we have to keep feeding them? When the kids help, it's instantly an argument about who gets to break the egg, followed by a harsh condemnation of my parenting. Suddenly, I'm on trial about which child I love the most. I am tempted to make them compete in inane games to prove their love to me. Perhaps a game of Sorry! to settle it once and for all? Instead, I open wine, stay quiet, and congratulate myself on my stellar parenting. And, by the way, there is no Bach playing. Instead we have the Frozen soundtrack on repeat. I can't even tell you how much I don't want to build a snowman, with anyone, ever. Go away, Anna. Seriously.
It's during the setting of the table that I'm treated to an assessment of how unfair everyone's particular jobs are and who isn't pulling their weight. George is totally not pulling his weight, so I idiotically put him in charge of beverages, and watch helplessly as he spills milk everywhere. Now I'm on my hands and knees cleaning up milk and would argue that crying over spilt milk is not only useful, but very necessary.
I'm always amazed, and maybe even a little impressed, by the things they can find to fight about. Who is going to sit where can quickly become a Lord of the Flies situation. Sometimes, it's fun to stay out of it and take bets on who will win. My money is on Lily every time. Trust me.
During the actual dinner, I get to hear about everyone's day, again, for Dan's benefit. It's fine, because my job isn't to listen. No. It's to moderate who is talking so they aren't interrupted. I have to point at each of them when it's their turn. I'm the goddamn conductor of family dinner. I need a baton, a whistle. Dan would help, but he's too busy monitoring what George eats, which is basically nothing. My husband's singular focus at family dinner is what our 8-year-old eats. I honestly don't care what he eats and even if I did, I'm literally too busy telling Grace to sit up straight because at her rate of slumping, she's going to have a hump by the time she's 25, maybe sooner. Finally, Dan and I align our forces to yell at Lily for having spent the total sum of the dinner prepping her food, like on one of the food shows she watches, instead of eating it.
The adorable clean-up? Forget it. I just want them to go away.
The Reality of Family Time
So, why do we do all this family time? I think we read an article that said it keeps your kids off drugs. I swear if they do drugs, I'm going to be so pissed. Seriously, though, we do it because it's fun and ridiculously real. For the record, we are nailing "real" here. I speak fluent eye-rolling and have a viable second career as a wrestling referee. "She kicked you because you bit her? Fair fight. Carry on." Despite Coke's obsession with the perfect family, I get that the times we were a mess will be our fondest memories. I honestly can't wait to sit around a table with my grown children and reminisce about our seriously nutty family dinners. Maybe I'll break out Sorry! for old times' sake and see who cries first. It will be me... longing for them to be young again and living in my house, making me crazy. Although, Sorry, I won't miss the eye twitching at all.
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