If ever I talk of eating as a spiritual experience, I am inevitably eyed with weary disbelief by parents of young children: ‘Honestly?’ they say, without the need for words, ‘You’ve clearly never been to my house!’
A few years back I came across an essay by Joey Horstman. He makes the same point, though with much more effect. Below is a brief extract from the introduction.
Leah and I don’t eat out anymore. This is not by choice. It is not a matter of taste or health or personal finances. Nor is it a blow against the corporate food industry or a triumph of family values and communion. We don’t eat out for one reason and one reason only: we have kids.
Parent, of course, know immediately what I mean. But my childless friends don’t. “What’s the problem?” they say, for they are unafflicted with little people.
For these people – these happy, carefree souls accustomed to “please pass” and “thank you” – let me explain that a child at a table is a bomb, not a person, and that disarming it requires more energy (and more towels) that it took to have the kid in the first place.
If you think a family meal is relaxing, a time of witty conversation and elegant repose, you are mistaken. You are naïve. You have visions of Norman Rockwell paintings dancing in your head – and you should have them surgically removed.
Eating with children is a fast decent into chaos. It combines the order of a soccer riot with the good will and harmony of a hockey brawl. To parents like me, the real miracle wasn’t that five thousand were fed with a few loaves and some fish, but that some kid in the back row didn’t yell, “YUCK! I hate fish!”
Joey Earl Horstman, ‘Table Manners’ in The Other Side, 33/3, 1997, 52.