My Mom had this rule about dinner time. Our family ate together, at the dinner table, on weeknights, no matter what. Even if the telephone mounted on the wall rang, it would go unanswered, which was I guess the 90's equivalent of a tech-free dinner. I never thought much of the rule except for when I had a school or church event that conflicted with dinner, and then either the event would go unattended by me or we would eat together later after the event.
Life in many homes buzzes around the kitchen and what comes out of it. Food is chopped, meals are baked, silverware clinks, glasses filled, all in preparation for something that brings togetherness. We all need to eat, so we plan and prepare and chop and arrange all in anticipation of this concept of togetherness and shared need. Dinner. Breakfast. Snack. Lunch. Late night munchies.
Eating together - the simplest of concepts, the most complex of schemes. When Heidi LeGassick mentioned she was interested in the idea of documenting her family dinning room table and its’ role in the life of her family, I was intrigued. Getting my toddler and twins to eat dinner with Andrew and me requires just putting food on the table, three high chairs and compliance happens…occasionally. But a family with teenagers that eat most meals together? I'd guess this is more of a rarity these days than most are willing to admit.
Interested in exploring more, I invited myself over for lunch on a school day. Homemade lasagna, arugula salad, iced tea and ginger chocolates were on the menu. Music was playing. The dinning table was set with placements, plates and all the food was in bowls. My showing up for lunch was a last minute thing; I really did invite myself over. None of this was a charade for me. Just a normal lunch with two working parents and their teenage kids, home for an hour to eat, connect, then go back to work.
Togetherness is prioritized in this family, but most especially at the table. Heidi and Matt told me about how life in their family revolves around the table. Homework is done, essays are written, computer games played, cakes decorated, the dog is scratched underneath the table, laughter is had, family fights, too, board game won, meals eaten... all of it encompassing this idea of togetherness being prioritized. "The table is really the heartbeat of our family," said Matt, as he passes me the lasagna.
The table was bought in Thailand... the mismatched chairs drawing Matt and Heidi’s attention. The family then moved to Borneo, Indonesia where the table began to weave its’ way into their family story, surviving a flood and developing a distinctive crack. When the call for jobs in Saudi Arabia came, the table moved with them. Children grew into teenagers, the table still the heartbeat of the home. "Bella's boarding school essay was written right here," Heidi proudly points to a spot on the table. "Whoah!" I think…that's a loaded sentence. How different will it be to sit at the table once Bella and Parker are away at boarding school, I wonder?
I'm back (invited!) the following week for homework and dinnertime. A science fair project and homemade Japanese food are on the menu. My stomach is growling. Mom & Dad are prepping Bella for her presentation while she builds her project board. The table is covered with glue sticks, paper, scissors, geometry books and sliced fruit. Statistics and Justin Bieber are discussed equally. Parker studies history across the table on the opposite side of the room. Matt joins him once Beiber comes up. Something smells amazing in the kitchen and I'm trying to ignore it. The lights come on over the table, a beautiful fixture with hundreds of glass teardrops that make the table sparkle. For dinner? Shoyu Ramen with fried tofu, Inari (marinated tofu cups) with sushi rice and Soy Baked Salmon. Edamame for an appetizer. Chocolate for dessert. All served, "With a side of sarcasm and eye rolls." Heidi's words, not mine.
I think Matt and Heidi would be the first to admit their family is far from perfect or that they've even figured out parenting teens. Teenagers, whether in Saudi Arabia or the US or Borneo, are teenagers. In my home, most problems can be solved by a diaper change, food, or sleep. Life is more complex with the bigs. Opinions and worldviews (and moods) are dynamic and ever changing. Navigating though these waters is tough, but I have a small suspicion that this table in this family has played a hefty role in shaping Parker, Bella, Heidi, and Matt into the family that they are today. Over the 3 meals I was with them, the table was the constant in the ever-changing family dynamic. Togetherness and community, as strong as the wood beams that make up the table.
As for the film, it was the hardest one I've ever done. I wanted to get it right, I'm hoping I got close. Three meals with a family isn't enough to convey everything, but I'm really hoping that something of what I experienced translated to film (below). Would love to hear your thoughts. ~Allison Redmon Photography