As if we were all allowed to play the Grand Theft Auto video games growing up. Christ. The games were essentially you, a child, living the life of a career criminal. The objective of the entire series is to literally complete as many crimes as you can. Whatever happened to Mario Kart? I just stole a helicopter and launched a rocket bomb at a city bus with a hooker next to me. My parents (and yours) literally paid money for us to become addicted to this game like the very junkies we beat up for bonus points.
So anyway, I’m about to jack a punk-ass homey for his paper and I hear a shriek from downstairs.
I put my AK-47 down and roll my teenage Buddha body up from our game room floor.
My older brother, sporting a modified afro and puka shells, pauses his Yellowcard CD in his room. Remember Yellowcard? What was with that guy with the violin? And it was like an electric violin. Dude, chill, you’re playing a violin.
My dad swings off the couch in our classically-freezing basement. He’s already downed half-a-bag of Old Dutch Ketchup favoured potato chips and is wearing a glove of red dust. His outfit is called “Dad on Thursday Evening”. It is nothing but gitch.
Mom is beating mashed potatoes, worrying that they’re too lumpy (they never were) and sweating like Chris Farley. She screams a third and fourth time, rightfully fed up with waiting for the three absolute idiots she’s about to serve another phenomenally-cooked masterpiece to.
We all meet at our main floor dining table. Families who don’t eat a dining table are broken.
Let me set a few rules for the non-existent family of my own: no television allowed at dinner, you must eat at the table, and if you leave any food on your plate, you will be banished from the home.
Then, my conglomerate sits.
The conversation starts with the boring and cliché “our day at school or work”, but then takes a rabid turn to teasing each other, or better yet, other people. My favourite thing about my family is that each member is uniquely gifted at critiquing the human species. Some may call it rude. But I think it is absolutely beautiful. To step inside the psyche of another person and masterfully pick them apart for the stupid choice they made or the stupid thing they said, is a talent, not a downfall. The Partridge family sang. The Easton’s mocked.
Even though we don’t all sit at the same dining table anymore, nothing’s changed about that. Whether it’s an old story from decades ago or the weekly gossip, everyone still brings their best material on the latest shit-talk.
That’s our thing. Not your family’s thing. Your family likes talking about the Jets, or Netflix shows or when you have to go to the grocery store next. My family likes to talk about you, and that one time we saw your mom pick her nose and eat it.
Dad always told us you can’t choose your family. Such a simple and perfect thought. I think sharing a meal together is the quintessential demonstration of what your family represents. Some are boring, some are fake, some are absent. Mine’s a perfect mix of everything right and wrong.
Not that I can choose, but I wouldn’t want to sit down with, or be raised by, any other type of psycho. Even if I have to pause my grand theft auto shooting spree.
There was a new girl in class. She wore lime green Converse high tops, had long brown hair streaked with blonde, and was taller than all the boys our age – just like I was. Our brothers played on the same hockey team, so after a few weekends of hanging out at Holiday Inn hotels and sharing French fries at the arena, we became inseparable.
Although we had a lot in common, there were a few things we differed on. She liked boys who wore toques all year long and hung out at the skate park. I fell for the typical athletes who smelled like Axe and wore baseball caps everywhere they went. She liked Joe. I loved Nick. Her family ate supper in the living room, and mine sat around the dining room table.
At that point in my life, I had witnessed plenty of unfamiliar feasting practices. At one house I visited, we ate small bowls of salad before the main course was even out of the oven. Some families sunk into their suede sectionals and ate plates of fettuccini alfredo in front of Family Guy. I’ve watched moms scrape piles of perfectly good food into the garbage bin before loading the dish washer. I’ll never forget the first time I looked around a restaurant and realized everyone had placed their napkins over their laps except for me, the sloppy pig posing in pantyhose. Even now, I watch my boyfriend finish his vegetables before he even thinks about touching his steak. What’s with that?
Unless we were at the hockey rink having a pizza pop while Dad tied our skates, supper time at our house was around a worn out golden oak table with six chairs, one for each of us. Having already eaten an entire loaf of bread with peanut butter and jelly in an after-school psychotic snacking rage, we came to the table, starving.
CSI Miami was within earshot for Dad until Mom asked him to turn it off. A jug of milk sat on the ground, under the table after we had all filled our glasses. If Mom bought chocolate milk (which was rare) she diluted it with regular milk to make it last a bit longer, kind of like how she combined the Honey Nut Cheerios with the Original Plain to make our cereal less sweet. She distributed the vegetables onto all of our plates despite grumbles and gags. Cheese covered broccoli was her go-to.
Other than my on-and-off vegetarian phase, I was the least picky eater. Chris hated onions and could sniff them out from miles away, no matter how finely mom chopped them and softened them into the depths of soups and sauces. Drew had some major issues surrounding bubble gum, bananas, and fruit that wasn’t cut right before his eyes. I’ve seen Brent cry over some accidental mustard getting on his bologna sandwich.
Our weekday meals were a rotation of spaghetti and meat sauce, smokies with perogies, ham & canned corn, tacos with ketchup, or some sort of meat from the freezer. Once a year during lent, Mom liked to traumatize us with baked white fish on a Friday night when we were used to pepperoni pizza and Cokes from the garage refrigerator.
We never once said grace, and a lot of the time we were grumpy and hormonal, but most of the time it was good. We told stories about substitute teachers, got scolded for swearing, and fought over the last slice of almost everything.
The way you ate food with your family for the first 18 years of your life is going to become another little important piece of your 5,000-piece puzzle as a person. To my friend with the lime green shoes, my “normal” probably seemed stiff and formal. And what I thought to be a surface level, somewhat boring essay topic, turned out to be a deep reflection on how different we all are. How weird we all are.
They say a strong family has well-worn seats at the dinner table, which might be how I was raised but that doesn’t mean dinner seats can’t be on sofas, just as long as you’re all together.
And no one spills.