Here’s something to talk about over dinner

September 15, 2012 | Life Lines

Just realized I never posted my September Life Lines column. Here you go…

We were sitting at the dinner table the other night, passing bowls of pasta and salad back and forth, when the kids asked if we could pull a card from “The Meal Box” (Loyola Press), a deck of 52 cards with questions designed to prompt interesting dinner conversation among family members. I had originally used it as part of a product review I was writing, but it ended up being a hit with the kids, so it stuck. And it sure beats fighting over who didn’t empty the cat litter and who didn’t put away toys in between bites of food.

Typically the cards are exercises in creative thinking. Here’s one of our favorite questions: “If you could build a private bridge or tunnel that would take you directly from your home to any place at all, what would it connect you to?” Two people chose Rome — one directly to St. Peter’s. (Gee, I wonder who that was?) Two people chose Paris — one directly to the Louvre and the other with a special exit allowing her to head to Grandpa and Grandma’s house in New Jersey at will, and one chose Disney World.

Then there was the question about what background noise you would choose to be constantly playing in your head? Dennis and I both picked the ocean. Noah picked his iTunes library (shocking). Olivia picked the ocean as well, and Chiara picked birds, which we unanimously decided would definitely not include crows. 

But the last time we did the Meal Box, we were in for a bit of a surprise, and, I have to admit, a little discomfort. Each of us had to go around the table and say the thing we consider most special about every other person. There was a moment of awkward silence as everyone stared down at our plates. This was a serious question, one where Disney World couldn’t be the easy answer.

Dennis got the ball rolling with some thoughtful observations about yours truly and our three children – one who confronts his fears with determination, one who approaches every single day with joy, and one who is totally fearless. Then it was my turn. As you can imagine, this exercise gets harder and harder the farther down the line you go because all the good stuff gets taken. But it was easy to hone in on my youngest daughter’s sweet disposition and snuggly demeanor, my middle child’s role as a true Renaissance girl interested in – and good at – just about everything, and my teen’s high standards and ideals – for himself and for our world.

Then came the moment of truth: The kids had to say nice things about each other and about us. As we slowly went around the table with some silly answers mixed in with the serious stuff, I could feel tears welling up. Olivia told Chiara she was special because she is funny and is always there for her. Chiara told Olivia she’s special because she plays with her all the time. Noah said I was special because I’m always supportive of him, and Dennis is special because he teaches him what it means to be a man.  Added to the mix were comments about my bringing spirituality to our home, Dennis’ willingness to do everything he can for our family, and, I think, even a comment about my curly hair.

For at least ten minutes we went around saying nice things about each other. That’s not a bad return on a little deck of cards. And the seriousness of that particular draw didn’t scare the kids off; they were clamoring for another card the next night.

Try it tonight at your own table. Have everyone say what they love most about every other person. You just might be surprised and teary-eyed by the time dinner is over. And not because someone spilled a glass of milk.

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