Family Meals, Pandemic Style
By Anne Wolfe Postic
Family dinner didn’t really go anywhere but, in our house at least, it happened less and less often. For our family of five, sports, work, choir, school, nights out with friends, and all kinds of activities and commitments seemed destined to stop us from sitting down together for a meal at least once a day.
The pandemic brought that meal back.
Our oldest two sons came home from college in the spring, around the same time our youngest son was transitioning to the remote school that has become the norm for so many young people.
As I write this, many of our children are back in school, some full-time, some a few days or hours a week. Most older students, including ours, are back at college, even if they’re attending class online from apartments and dorms.
When I learned our boys would likely be in the house––all day, every day––I panicked. Of course I love them, but our home is my office, and I really value my alone time. Among other things, I like to do laundry in my underwear, not exactly appropriate for the sole woman in a houseful of dudes. And I like to sing, loudly and badly, often in my underpants. (Yes, there’s a theme here. This theme may have something to do with the fact that I’ve never been crazy about being tied to an office, with people.)
Starting in March, the grocery bill quadrupled. Before, even when everyone was living at home, we didn’t all eat three meals a day, plus numerous snacks, there. We ate at work, at school, with friends, and on the go.
Suddenly, every time I went to the grocery store, I felt like I was making a mortgage payment. And the food haul disappeared in what seemed like hours.
The cooking didn’t bother me. As a food writer and recipe developer, I love to experiment, and the dudes are enthusiastic testers. But without time to style a dish for Instagram or get creative, cooking wasn’t quite as relaxing or inspiring. And it was constant.
But within a couple of weeks, I realized how lucky we were. Although we mostly fended for ourselves during breakfast and lunch (and spent roughly 2.3 trillion dollars on sandwich meat, eggs and bread), we always sat down for the evening meal. I looked forward to the time together and gained a new appreciation for the awesomeness of our “children,” who are really more like adults – really cool adults I enjoy hanging out with.
Our meals got simpler, and my husband start grilling regularly. He really is excellent at it and will get out there in almost any kind of weather. To save money, we didn’t do regular takeout, although it was tempting. We decided to treat ourselves on Friday nights. Because we all looked forward to something new, we’d start talking about where to get Friday takeout early, occasionally while we were eating the current week’s Friday takeout.
What I’ll remember about our pandemic meals has nothing to do with food. The meals were often hastily thrown together pasta dishes, casseroles from the freezer, or sandwiches made from leftovers. The evening meal was the best part of my day. We saw each other all day, since the kids were filling in at my husband’s office and I wasn’t going much of anywhere, so our conversation moved beyond the mundane and into the realm of thought.
Because we weren’t out doing anything, we talked about movies, books and TikTok videos. I learned more about sports in general; the rest of the family learned more about my only sport, golf.
We talked politics and told childhood stories. I drew the line at video game recaps, and they drew the line at my feminist rants (though they did indicate agreement, along with a sincere desire to move on to another topic, which I thought was fair). And we laughed, so much. (Boy, are our sons funny. This was my only parental aspiration and it was thrilling to check that off the list.)
The older boys are several states away now and we miss them. As an aside, our youngest son was definitely having some empty nest syndrome, with both of his sidekicks away at school, and he seemed happier than anyone to have them back. Now that we’re in the habit of togetherness, we text more and talk on the phone. We’re more connected, in spite of increasingly full calendars.
Pandemic family meals reminded me who we are as a family, and I’m not giving that up, no matter where we all are.