The Family Dinner

Noun: A social activity common across countries and cultures involving the reluctant coming together of parents, children, grandparents and siblings to celebrate.

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Typical Participants: The Recalcitrant Child, The Arguing Couple, The Hearing Impaired Elder, The Attention Seeker, The Fussy Eater, The Enthusiastic Drinker, The Officious Organiser, The Designated Driver.

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Common traits: repetitive conversation topics, excessive drinking, overeating, under-stimulation, kumbaya, delusion, arguments.

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For our family, the Family Dinner is our mother’s means of enforcing regular contact with her children and grand-children. Enthusiasm for the Family Dinner is at its most intense at the top of the family tree. From that point engagement rapidly decreases to the level of excruciating agony for the youngest grandchild. At age 15 he is in his peak stage of disinterest and social awkwardness.

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Anecdotally (there has been little clinical research on this social ritual) this lack of enthusiasm is a common characteristic at most Family Dinners only shifting when all grandchildren reach drinking age.

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Typically, the eldest grandchild takes charge, positions himself strategically in order to dominate both attention and conversation and seems to thrive during the event. As the sole adult of the youth tribe he feels and behaves in a manner of superiority.

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The solitary granddaughter is distracted by her phone and frustrated by the lack of both instagrammable and snapchatable opportunities. In our family, this child is also the subject of much scrutiny due to her fairly recent lifestyle change to one of The Vegan. This is the pinnacle of The Fussy Eater, only eclipsed by The Chronic Celiac.  I pity the families trying to feed The Chronic Celiac.

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The Arguing Couple is the most eagerly anticipated by participants of the Family Dinner in a schadenfreudian manner. Rarely is this mantle carried by the Patriarch and Matriarch, their passion for an enduring argument has been dimmed by the passage of time – decades of disagreement tamed into civility and good behaviour.

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A common trait of The Arguing Couple is to deny the rift. This denial is easily quashed with the application of alcohol.  A strategically thrown barb, preferably by an inlaw or sibling can also fuel emotion.

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Meanwhile the Officious Organiser is busy preparing food, arranging table placements and generally trying to manage the haphazard nature of proceedings into some semblance of order often with mixed success. The Officious Organiser may carry the dual mantle of Designated Driver which makes them doubly maligned and highly unlikely to be enjoying themselves. In our family, this person is referred to as Un-fun Bobby in a nod to Friends.

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At some point during many Family Dinners – after dessert and before any tears start, there will quite possibly be a Kids’ Concert.  This is usually led by a younger Attention Seeker and guaranteed to be of high entertainment value to the grandparents and of little interest to anyone else.   It’s particularly special if the Designated Driver was, in their much younger years, once the Attention Seeker.   This repressed memory may now surface forcing the Designated Driver to forgo their responsibility and reach for the wine.  The spouse of the Designated Driver is probably already too far gone to drive so a hurried discussion follows and Uber wins.

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The Enthusiastic Drinker meanwhile looks smug knowing all along the Designated Driver would re-neg and is quick to ensure as many embarrassing repressed performance memories are surfaced.  For someone who drinks so enthusiastically, the ability to remember random detail from the very distant past is astonishing.

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Doing the Dishes signals a wrap up of proceedings, though once upon a time, the Hearing Impaired Elder (also a Teetotaller) would ring the Cow Bell to disperse the crowd.   The whereabouts of the Cow Bell is a mystery so Doing the Dishes is the new norm.  With Eskies packed, expensive wine and craft beer safely retrieved from the exploding fridge – at the insistence of the host – and Uber booked, the Family Dinner draws to a welcome close.   As the door shuts behind them, the Matriarch turns to the Patriarch and says “thank god that’s over for another month!”