As I write this post, my husband is strapping four bikes to the top and back of our station wagon, and the kids are getting in their last LEGO fix before we drive up to San Francisco’s family camp outside Yosemite. We went for the first time last year, and we were a bit uncertain — curious about the meals, mostly, and wondering if there’d be good choices for our vegetarian family (and my choosy boys).
And we loved it.
When we started talking about our plans for this summer, Camp Mather was at the top of both kids’ lists. “What do you look forward to most?” I asked them.
“The food!” they both answered.
Ben loves to hack the salad bar and Eli loves cocoa at every meal. And while I still wouldn’t put the actual food at the top of my list of Top Ten Reasons to Love Camp Mather, I do put the experience of eating there at the top of my list. I find I can’t wait for my twenty-one meals at camp, and I will report back (with pictures!) next week.
“Mama,” he said quietly, sneaking up behind me, “I want to make a recipe.”
I looked around the kitchen. My dad was messily stirring together a batch of carrot muffins, while Tony was assembling a marinade for the mushrooms we were taking to a barbecue later that day. I had an apricot-upside down cake in the oven and two lined strainers — one of ricotta cheese, one of vanilla ice cream — dripping into bowls. I pictured pouring the whey into the ice cream machine, the unhappy grimaces at sour ice cream, and made a mental note to try not to confuse them.
There was this one night we had dinner together, when we all found our way into the kitchen from our separate places–one from soccer, one from swimming, one from work–all at the same time.
That night, together, we were more than the sum of our parts.
A husband, a wife, a daughter, a son. Usually, on weeknights, we spin in our separate orbits, with our own interests, desires, events, activities, chores, work, projects, needs. But that night, the spinning stopped, and we focused on each other when we weren’t expecting to and the result was pure joy. Which is, of course, why people make such a fuss about family dinner. Because it can be a gorgeous, grounding thing. Sure, it can be hard and hair-raising. But it is a thing worth fighting for. A thing worth preserving when you can. A thing that can be composed, a thing that can bring composure.
Grow up picking berries: blueberries in New Jersey with one grandfather, raspberries in Connecticut with another grandfather, blackberries at the end of the driveway at home. Eat them fresh all summer, cooked into jams by your grandmothers, baked into pies by your mother.
Take this all for granted.
Usually, when Ella comes home from practice, she’s not hungry. The hard practice, the hot nights, the substantial lunches or snacks that are part of our hobbit regimen–these add up to a light dinner. Some nights, we talk until something shifts and she recognizes hunger, more often she’ll shower and return to the table when she’s ready. But one night there was no dinner. As in not one single thing made it on to her plate or into her mouth.