After setting the table, we would all sit down to eat. Usually this started with a yell of ‘Dinner’s Ready!’ – from Mum or from whichever of us kids was helping with dinner. One of us always helped. Sometimes because we wanted to, sometimes because we were asked to – sometimes just because we wandered past the kitchen and Mum would say: Here, stir this or Here, taste this or Here, grate this.
The first to the table would pour the water for everyone. Never starting with themselves, always starting with Dad or Mum and then making their way back around the table – pouring their own glass last.
We would come to the table and sit down in our usual seats. I don’t really know why we had our own seats – but we did.
Mum would usually serve dinner in the kitchen – so The Helper would then bring the meals out. Again – a ritual here: it started with the youngest and finished with The Helper, and then Dad, and then Mum. Mum would bring her own meal out to the table.
We would all have our plates in front of us – taking a whiff of the yummy dinner wafting up to greet our faces. But we wouldn’t start – not yet. Not until Mum had come to sit down at the table.
We weren’t religious – so there wasn’t a prayer to start. But sometimes Mum would say “Cheers” and raise her glass of water. But mostly Dad would say: “Two, Four, Six, Eight – Bog in, Don’t Wait” and that would be our cue to start eating.
A few mouthfuls in, Mum would kick off the conversation – asking one of us kids: “What was the best and worst bit of your day today?” – and we would then take it in turns to tell a bit about our days. Mum and Dad would also tell us about their days.
This created a little safe space in which we might mention somewhere we needed a little help. We might say – “The worst part was eating my lunch by myself today” or we might say “The worst part was my maths test today”. And this would prompt some questions after dinner from Mum or Dad. Gentle questions of course, but because we had the safe environment to slightly open the door into our own day-to-day world – this allowed Mum and Dad to get a glimpse and they would peak inside and see if everything was ok.
Dinner would continue with a talk about what tomorrow would bring – what we had planned for the weekend.
At the end of the meal, we had to wait for everyone to finish everything on their plate. It was only in exceptional circumstances that you could leave the table before everyone else. I remember my little sister having to stay at the table once to eat all her peas. She was there for a very long time.
When we were very small, and in order to leave the table – we had to politely say: “May I leave the table, dinner was nice?” and Mum or Dad would say Yes.
This little phrase became infamous – due to my little sister (the one who wouldn’t her peas), being very brave one night. Perched on the end of her chair, she started to say the little rhyme: “May I leave the table, dinner was…” and before Mum or Dad had a chance to react she yelled out “YUCK!” and bolted from the table.
Let’s just say that Mum served peas with every meal for a while after that.