DIANE MAKAR MURPHY It's dinnertime, and the livin' ain't easy

I'm looking at this person, and he's the last person on Earth I want to eat dinner with. If we were playing that game where you pick three dinner companions from history, I'd pick Hitler, Attila the Hun and William F. Buckley to join me before my son.
I want to say, "Look, if it bothers you so much to make time for your family, don't bother coming to dinner. In fact, don't bother coming to dinner again until you're 22 and you're married with two kids and a dog. THEN, come to dinner. Or maybe you should wait until YOU have a teen-age son, and you'll see the value of the family dinner!"
So now, you see, we're finally both on the same side of the argument. Josh doesn't want to come to dinner, and I don't want him to, either. But instead I say, "Be here at 5:30."
Now, 5:30 rolls around and he does too, arriving at 5:29 with two friends. This is good, because it gives me someone to be pleasant to ... his friends. Not him. Him, I'm mad at.
Highly praised: I've read ad nauseam that family dinners are essential to family unity. I even wrote a feature on it once, interviewing, among others, a dear friend who truly valued dining with her three sons. "Even if we have pizza," she said, as I recall, "we sit at the table together."
Family dinner is a time to share what happened during the day. It's an oasis amid the daily rush. Yada-yada-yada. I'm convinced, already. Then why doesn't it work as well in practice as in writing?
OK. Confessional. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. The dishes I create are lousy. I cannot wax eloquent in reference to them. They stink. Forcing people to attend my dinners is tantamount to sending a subpoena to a poisoning.
Furthermore, or probably as a result, I hate to cook. Sometimes, when I have made a big fuss -- "Family dinner time is 5:30" -- I don't even know what I'm going to make at 5:25. Then, I have this neat trick I do. I scream, "Oh no! Make it look like I DID something!"
Quick fix: Then Hannah, my daughter, and I run into the kitchen and make a four-minute meal. Salad in a bag with sliced tomatoes. Bread on a plate. Butter out. Water on to boil (for pasta). Open a can of spaghetti sauce and dump it in a saucepan. Medium heat. Frozen veggies into the microwave. Quick. Set the table. There.
"Hi, I'm home!"
"Great. Dinner is almost ready."
Secondly, life intrudes on family dinners. Soccer games, after-school clubs, speech practices, music lessons -- an air traffic controller would be a welcome addition to a family with children. You find yourself making an exception, then another and another, until sitting down together is the exception. Then you display your iron glove, "Dinner is at 5:30. No exceptions!" and all teens stand aghast.
"But ..." they venture before you cut them off.
"No exceptions."
Tables get turned: But then YOU have to work late, or go visit family, or are invited to dinner, and the crack in your fierce "no exceptions" fa & ccedil;ade appears. The family dinner hour begins to erode.
When I was a kid (please read with a wheezy, grumpy old voice), our dinner was on the table at 5 p.m. every single weekday and Saturday.
On Sundays, it hit the place mats at 2 p.m., just after church, with a reprisal of leftover chicken in Wonder Bread in time for Walt Disney at 7. Clockwork. There was no psychobabble about togetherness involved. That's just the way it was. And we showed up -- and we LIKED IT!!!
But then, too, my mom could cook.
Ah, well, round and round I am destined to go. Lately, I've been wondering if it really has to be dinner you share daily with your family. Could it be a card game? Or maybe breakfast? I can do toast. I'm good at toast.

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