(photo by Sweet Mint Photography, Portland, Oregon)
We're a family of thirteen now. My husband and I have three daughters, three sons-in-law, and five grandkids. We used to have family dinner together every week, but that tradition somehow got gobbled up by busyness. The more people there are, the more complicated scheduling a time that works for everyone is. My husband and I are pastors, so our church schedule has to be considered. My oldest daughter and her husband are also pastors, so their church schedule has to be considered, and with a first grader school events now come into play. Our second born and her husband own their own very demanding business and kids that have school and sports schedules to consider. Our youngest and her husband both have jobs that have them often scheduled to work evenings. See? It's complicated.
Moving from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington was a smart move for us financially and it also eliminated my husband's daily commute fighting the traffic to get to and from the church office. However, it also meant we were no longer located near the midway point to our children. We are now living closer to our middle daughter, and a half hour farther away from the oldest and youngest. This has been the hardest part of the transition for me. I'm the nana who wants everything to be fair, and when our six year old granddaughter asked why we moved closer to her cousins and farther from her, my heart broke. It was this feeling of being scattered, of being separated by busyness, that made me send out a group text asking if we could find a night to start family dinners back up, if not weekly, at least a couple of times a month.
You'd have thought it was a holiday, the way I prepared for our first time together in way too long. I slow simmered pork in a homemade spicy verde sauce until it was perfect for shredded pork burritos. I made a big batch of homemade guacamole to be served with chips and salsa as our pre-dinner snack. I baked a pumpkin cake with maple cream cheese frosting for dessert. After all of that prep, I made an executive decision to go easy on myself and used paper plates and plastic utensils instead of dishes that would need washed after our meal.
It was the first time all of us have been together in our new to us home since we moved in last month. There are still unpacked boxes in a corner in my office, and don't even get me started on the ones in the garage. There's a mountain of hardwood flooring, still uninstalled, in the living room. But, it only took one family get together in this new to us house to make my heart burst with gratitude. This is the reason why this was the house for us! Space! A kitchen and adjacent dining room big enough for all of us to gather together. A large living room for all of us to hang out together in after our meal. Beautiful open floor plan space! Hallelujah!
What does a family dinner at our house look like? First of all, it's usually served buffet style. The little ones get their plates dished up first, and then the grown ups. Typically, mouths are full and plates are partially empty when someone says, "we forgot to pray!" Me, I just want to burst with loud thanksgiving as I look around me at this rich fullness I've been given. This whole, loud, noisy, wild and crazy crew is a grace gift from God beyond compare.
Oldest granddaughter, she's eating only the soft foods, the guacamole, the refried beans, a couple of bites of the rice, and a small sample of the cake for dessert. She's having to be careful since her tonsil/adenoid removal last week. Our sunshine girl has become a twelve year old half grown woman all too soon.
Oldest grandson had to be picked up and brought to family dinner late due to football practice. At age eleven, he's already so good at both baseball and football that Papa jokingly calls him our retirement plan. Me, I'm more proud of his kindness than his prowess. As he's eating his dinner he asks his six year old cousin how she's liking first grade and what her teacher's name is. He listens to her replies in a genuine and caring way.
The six year old is getting into that gangly stage. She's a grade schooler one minute and competing with her three year old sister for attention the next. She has a unique way of tugging on my heart strings. She sits on the barstool at the kitchen counter and writes me a note, "I love you so much", the first note with a real sentence I've ever received from her. I told you I am rich.
The three year old is bursting with personality. She recites a poem about a cat named Pete with white shoes, who steps into things of various colors, turning his white shoes blue like blueberries and other sundry things. She likes to perform. I'm dreading the day when her three year old lisp and mispronunciations disappear.
The youngest grandson, now seventeen months old, is small and wiry and fast! One minute he was up on top of the dining room table, the next he had disappeared and we found him locked in the bathroom with the water in the sink running. Thank God that the key was right on top of the bathroom door frame! He's a tornado and hurricane wrapped into one small, irresistible package.
After dinner everyone gathered in the living room, in spite of the mountain of hardwood flooring in the corner, the fact that the front windows are still curtainless and leave us all vulnerable to the eyes of curious neighbors, and the lighting is all off because somewhere in those boxes in the garage the lamps for that room are still packed away. Grandkids run in and out of the room, back and forth from the bedroom down the hall where their toys are kept. Conversation has to be loud enough to be heard over their playing, and it's frequently interrupted by them showing us something they can do. Last night, Papa and Nana got schooled on the whip and nae nae. Boy, am I out of the loop on what is cool and hip!
The house is quiet when they all leave. My husband vacuums while I finish cleaning the kitchen up. I'm tired, but my heart is full and happy. I'm already looking at the calendar and planning for when we can gather together again.