Sometimes I feel like my life is confluence of success and disappointment. Or is that all people's lives?
I often think that I am some sort of mystery to myself. That I can't quite get in touch with myself. That others don't understand me. That I am misunderstood. Or simply confused. Other times my ambitions are more than met. My hopes answered. My friends and family are all around.
It is like this blog. Lame and empty. Ignored. Yet to anyone who reads it (or writes it) it is all there. Always already there. I see my quest to catch the real me. Hopes for family. Attempts to address legacies of neglect. Attempts to survive and repair the worst and live up to all the good fortune. Hoping to stand out. Hoping to be thought clever. A confluence of ambition and reflection.
A conversation at work about “What is your purpose in life?” led to several days of thinking, and after considering 4 or 5 very different answers to the question, I realized that this goal is a major part of my purpose in life. I thought about what I’d want to be remembered for when I was dead. I thought about what brings me reliable happiness and what really matters most, and the “purpose statement” I came up with is: “Create joy around the family table”.
I want family and food to be the materials I work with to create a meaningful life. At our house, food takes in lots of topics: ecology, health, culture, history. I want the table to be a platform for all those topics, as well as a time to reflect, to be generous and thankful. I want it to welcome new friends and reunite family. I want the table to spread that joy through all who eat there.
When I was younger, I was keenly interested in politics. I was ambitious. I thought I’d mark the world through words and laws and policies. As I’ve gotten older the ambition abated. I find myself more occupied with domestic matters, but not as a distraction, but rather as a more meaningful way for me to influence the world. I don’t want to dictate goodness with law, I want to spread joy, and I’d rather do it with food than with politics.
I typed out this goal “make family dinner a priority” not really knowing what I even meant when I wrote it. I just knew I had a longing for something and that I wasn’t already doing all I could to meet it. Out of the ignorant beginning, I think I found my purpose in life.
The last step I think I’ll take on this goal before I mark it done is to change my hours at work so I make it home by 4:30 to help plan and prepare our meal. When my work is more aligned with my real goals in life, I know I will have done what I needed to do to make family dinner the real priority it ought to be.
"What started as a simple idea turned into an inkling of my life's calling."
How I did it: It starts with caring. If you are thinking about this goal you probably already care about food and your family.
Congratulations! This act of caring is not so common as you might think. Not everybody is willing to make family life a priority ahead of work, hobbies, romance, or even television. But to combine this concern for family with food, in an era of fast food and diabetes, well you are truly in a unique class of people.
It wasn't always so. Our parents and their parents grew up with meals around the family table before the television or video games entered the home. They were likely involved with the food preparation or the setting of the table, as well as the clean up from the meal. They might have even said grace before eating.
In our house, the big effort was leaving work early enough so that the time spent preparing the meal didn't turn into a stress fest. It also required choosing simpler meals with more realistic preparation times.
As I worked on this goal, I found myself feeling more and more connected to traditions all around me. My grandmother was a food editor for a newspaper and a great gifter of cook books. I drew on these and her inspiration in my cooking. At the table, meals started with a saying of grace followed by each of us recounting our day. No meal was perfect, either in preparation, gastronomy, or even manners, but each meal fell into place, brick by brick, into a wonderful foundation. A desire for good family life had been a goal I did not know how to articulate. It found it's shape in nightly dinner, with all the mess and struggle. It became a joy.
Lessons & tips:
Find a way to rapidly decompress if you are coming home directly from work (I sit in the car for a few stolen moments)
Don't have anything stressful scheduled before or after dinner
Involve everyone in the preparation and cleanup
Resources: Here are a few cookbooks that I found helpful in tackling this goal.
"You already waste too much life energy watching television. Unplug it. Put it in the basement and get that time and energy back."
How I did it: My family never thought of ourselves as big television viewers. We had basic cable and a 32 TV in the living room. No other TVs.
When Tivo arrived on the scene we thought of it as a great improvement. It let us watch what we wanted, when we wanted. When our first child was born, the Tivo let us queue up the teletubbies for her. And that was the beginning of the end for the television in our house. Add to that the advertising, even the little corporate sponsorships before a PBS show, and we had several good reasons to pull the plug.
We canceled the cable bill (a great savings incentive on its own) and we unplugged the set and put it in our basement storage room. It might have taken a week to adjust to the different reality, but it was almost immediately better in every way.
Now that it has been 5 years with no TV in the house, I have to say it has been one of the greatest changes we ever made as a family. We all got more time together. More time for reading and playing games and talking with each other. We are less exposed to inane TV nonsense. My kids have never seen a reality TV show or a Hannah Montana anything. And that's a good thing.
We haven't eliminated video media out of ourlives altogether. We still watch movies or DVDs on a computer. In this format it is easier to control the content that is viewed and there is no tie to any schedule.
Irony of ironies is that we are now making plans for a family room with a big screen, but we plan on building it around an AppleTV and won't include cable channels or any sort of broadcast television. I think the real issue for us is getting rid of thinking about television as a thing you have to keep up with or follow. Screening a movie as a family has a totally different feeling than following a TV series. And of course being free of advertising is huge.
Lessons & tips:
Unplug and cancel cable in one swift move while you have the momentum. The hassle of reinstating cable might be enough to keep it turned off.
Move the TV out of the watching room, but store it someplace you can get to later. This might keep the TV fan in the family from totally freaking out.
Remind yourself often how much more time you have and how glad you are not to be watching ads or paying for cable.