After one week in my new position, one thing is abundantly clear: families in crisis do not eat dinner as a family and most likely, they never did.
The girls at the shelter have "chores" they have to do each night. They aren't difficult chores - just basic household things around the kitchen. One of the chores is "setting the table" for dinner. The first night, the young lady with this chore grabbed a stack of plates and a handful of forks. She haphazardly tossed them on the table and threw a fork on top of each plate. There were no napkins, no knives, no spoons. Everyone gathered around the table to eat and started grabbing whatever they found in front of them, never passing the serving dishes, just reaching over each other. On my second night, I gently asked if anyone would be upset if I said a blessing before dinner. They all said it was okay with them, so I offered a quick prayer. Then the girls did as the night before, digging and reaching and shoveling food onto their plates.
By the third night, I noticed the same "table setting" was the norm - stack of plates, pile of forks, no napkins, no knives, no spoons, no manners.
By the fourth night, I had to say something. "Does anyone is this house know what it really means to 'set' the table?" I asked the girls. "Yeah," answered the youngest one who had the chore that very night and had just slapped down the plates and forks, "I just did it." "No, you didn't," I told her, "You threw down some forks and plates. They do more than that for customers at the Golden Corral and it's a buffet." The girls looked confused as I explained that when I was a girl, setting the table meant a napkin to the left of each plate, a fork on the left, knife and spoon on the right. There was a little song that my mom taught me, Emily, and Becky when we were girls. The little song helped us to remember how to "set the table." As a girl, I thought the song was fun, as a teenager I thought the song was "stupid" and as an adult, I think the song was brilliant. Establishing order in a household, even through something as simple and mundane as placing silverware on a table in an organized fashion is a step toward establishing order for an entire lifetime.
I don't remember in all those childhood years (and teenage years) that we ever had a meal together where all three pieces of silverware, and a napkin, were not present. I further explained to my girls that on a few special occasions, my mom taught us girls how to set the table with everything from salad AND dinner forks, to fine bone china, bread plates, dessert spoons, and all. "What's China?" asked the youngest girl in the house. Oh, brother. "You know," said one of the others, "that big country where they eat rice all the time."
So here, my friends, is another fine example of why kids are in crisis. Families no longer sit down to a meal together. Kids are used to eating out of boxes or buckets, or paper bags. No one sits together to eat and talk about their day, instead they just scarf up whatever is around to eat, and go on about their business of watching TV or entertaining themselves.
I am so thankful that I grew up in a family where meals together were the norm. During these family dinners, we talked, we laughed, we shared stories about our day, or we just passed the food around and ate together. And I am also thankful that I knew "the fork goes on the left, the knife goes on the right, the spoon goes next to that, and now your table's set."