The moans and groans coming from our 7- and 12-year old daughters were humorous. A family meeting? The 12-year-old immediately said "What did I do?" Her little sister started to snicker, until she realized that this meeting could be about her as well. Why the assumption that a ‘family meeting’ is a bad thing?
Being "in the ‘know," I understood how this was exactly the point. My husband is taking a parenting class (we feel we are pretty good parents, but we’re also smart enough to know that teenaged girls are not something we’re ready for) and this was his homework -- to plan and run a respectful and inclusive family meeting. On the agenda -- choose something fun to do as a family activity. Good, positive practice for the time when the subject of our family meeting may not be so much fun.
Once they realized that they were not in trouble, the girls quickly became engaged. The eldest, true to her "testing" age tried to come up with the most ridiculous things she’s could think of (hunting purple elephants, anyone?). The youngest, our politically-inclined organizer, systematically went through her I-want-to-do list, lobbying the rest of us at the table to join her, and citing why it was a good idea. Fortunately, my husband was prepared. Why not a family Sundae Night?
While the thought of all that sugar and goo on a school night (yes, the only evening we had free was a Tuesday) made my teeth ache, it was brilliant. No one, not even the 12-year-old would be against ice cream decadence. It certainly would make your average, ordinary Tuesday seem like something special. The final vote was three out of four in favor of sundaes -- Margot was holding out for Craft Night, but Sundae Night was her No. 2 choice, so she went with it as long as next time SHE got to pick.
Of course, much fun was had. At the meeting, we’d also made a list of ice cream and toppings that everyone wanted to enjoy, no holds barred. Basic ice cream -- vanilla and chocolate -- would be enhanced with hot fudge, butterscotch, strawberry jam, bananas, potato chips and pretzels (gotta have that sweet/salty contrast), scads of candy, whipped cream and cherries. We planned a favorite healthy and light dinner (homemade chicken soup) and when dessert time rolled around, got out the smallest bowls we had to try and mitigate the damage.
Practice or not, it was a good reminder of how simply deciding to do something could change the feel of the entire evening. This Tuesday night stood out as something special for all of us. Dinner is often the only time families can connect during the week, and often times with busy schedules, this is even very difficult. Taking this sliver of time being very intentional about how you spend it ensures that you are making the most of it. Be it the treat of sundaes, sharing the two best things about your day as my friend Jill and her family do every night, weekly "breakfast for supper" as another friend would do when her kids were growing up, or any number of other things, it’s this attention to one another that reconnects us.
As it was Election Day, conversation while building our ice cream concoctions naturally turned to going to the polls, what Marielle had learned in her Humanities class about the Vermont Secretary of State race and the mock elections that had been held in second grade at Academy school. I don’t remember who noticed it first, but it was an interesting coincidence that we had used the democratic process to choose our family activity that was happening on such an important day. Time spent together doing something that we had all had an equal voice in choosing, creating a memorable evening while we shared and reconnected -- the benefits of this intentional evening were abundant and beautiful.
Remembering to take an active role in our choices and creating special times, whether you have a young, busy family or live alone, is an important part of feeling satisfied with our lives. Mealtimes are perfect for this - food has unique associations for each of us and by simply choosing to eat something that reminds us of a special time or place, shaking up routine by eating something unexpected, or indulging in a beloved food ritual, we can experience life a bit more vividly. We are able to pay attention to what it is that we may want or need, say, time to reconnect with family or some peace in the midst of a really busy week and make intentional choices to help us achieve a bit of that. How lucky that this family meeting helped us to remember the importance -- and ease -- of taking advantage of the power we have to choose to make memorable moments in our lives.