Family Night

Family Night

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Sunday Dinner for Thirty

by Mandy Green

“I remember wondering why your sister got upset if we couldn’t make it to family night. Now, if we miss one Sunday dinner, I think, ‘WHY? What am I supposed to DO? I’m so lost!’ Before family night, I had a life. But now if you aren’t at family night you just aren’t in.”

This is what my brother-in-law said a few months ago. This is the same guy who today makes up epic adventures at every Sunday dinner about kings who eat too much spaghetti and cousins who fight bad guys and ride off into sunsets. The same guy who is father to five of my blondest and silliest nieces and nephews.

This is the same guy who today makes up epic adventures at every Sunday dinner about kings who eat too much spaghetti and cousins who fight bad guys and ride off into sunsets.

How It Began

I am not sure what year the Sunday dinners at my parents’ house began, but it was around eight years ago. During this time I was a young mother, busy with a husband, a business, and a baby every year. We would go when we could, often staying overnight to make the most out of the drive. (Anyone who has spent three hours in a car with a screaming two year old and a hungry infant knows why we weren’t eager for round two on the way home.)

At that point, I wasn’t able to make family night every week, and I wondered how long it would last. How many times can the same 20-30 people have dinner together without getting tired of each other?

Turns out, the answer is lots of times. Eight years later, it’s still going strong. What started as a way to get together and reconnect as the various birdies left the nest has turned into a meaningful custom spanning three generations. Today, our Sunday dinner nights have expanded to include great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbors.

Just yesterday, my kids were discussing how it might look to strangers driving past my parents’ home on Sunday evenings. Some weeks there are eight-passenger vehicles surrounding the smaller (and cooler) cars that my parents and single brothers drive. Other weeks the road is lined with pickup trucks with big tires, American flags and Red Dirt Trucks stickers on the back. (This is because my brothers’ friends showed up to sit around the fire.) Still other weeks, you’ll see ten mini-vans out front because it just so happens that family nights are a great time to host birthday parties.

I wondered how long it would last. How many times can the same 20-30 people have dinner together without getting tired of each other?

Sunday Nights in Flu Season

And some weeks, especially during flu season, only one or two vehicles sit outside. On those weeks, the lucky families with no sick children have a smaller and quieter dinner. This has its pros and cons.

On the plus side, there’s quiet time visiting with Mima and Grandawg (as our children call my parents), but it doesn’t feel right if someone is missing. The first week we’re all together after an extended flu season is full of exclamations about how much nieces and nephews managed to grow. Once last year, various family members passed around an illness so long that we had two separate dinners — one for the well people and one for those who still had a fever.

The Generations Expand

Since this tradition began, all four of my sisters married and started their own families. One brother is engaged to a lovely young woman I will be happy to have as a sister-in-law. Our other brother is busy planning a life beside the ocean.

My parents now have twenty-one grandchildren, ranging in age from thirteen years to three months. More babies are on the way and are as anxiously awaited as the first. Being an aunt is one of the best aspects of my life;  I treasure this time to get to know each one of those precious little ones.

My parents now have twenty-one grandchildren, ranging in age from thirteen years to three months. More babies are on the way and are as anxiously awaited as the first.

Blessing for a Single Mama

For me and my children, Sundays are a haven of peace and fun at the end of chaotic weeks of school and work. We look forward to spending the morning at Mass and the time afterward to visit with friends. Come late afternoon, I put the finishing touches on my contribution to our Sunday meal while the kids get more anxious to leave. We drive the two miles to my parents’ house. If you’re between the ages of four and ten, it’s very important to be the first group of cousins to arrive.

Today, I am a single mama of six, and family night is more important to me that it ever has been. My children get to spend time with their six uncles. Whether it’s driveway basketball, races on the TV in the garage, or wrestling on the living room floor, I am so thankful for these six brothers who make such a strong impression on my kids. Four of them are my brothers by marriage, but that’s another benefit of Sunday dinner; the term “in-law” doesn’t matter anymore when they’ve had so many hours to spend proving they can be just as adorably annoying as real little brothers. (I had to say “adorably” to be nice, but eldest sisters everywhere will know what I mean.)

The time with my sisters and my mom in the kitchen is such a blessing for me. Those couple hours of idle chatter make up the majority of my adult interaction for most weeks, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.

Today, I am a single mama of six, and family night is more important to me that it ever has been. My children get to spend time with their six uncles. Whether it’s driveway basketball, races on the TV in the garage, or wrestling on the living room floor, I am so thankful for these six brothers who make such a strong impression on my kids.

Granddawg the Party Animal

My dad is the king of party setups. If it’s hot, he will have a massive fan set up outside the garage, or a small air conditioner in the bed of a pickup truck. If it’s cold, he’ll have a fire going in the pit outside. Four-wheelers with trailers full of grandchildren, lawn mower rides, bounce houses, and sprinklers are some of the fun our legendary Grandawg has rigged up for the grandkids. They love him, and if there’s not a three year old clinging to him, it’s an odd day.

Four-wheelers with trailers full of grandchildren, lawn mower rides, bounce houses, and sprinklers are some of the fun our legendary Grandawg has rigged up for the grandkids. They love him, and if there’s not a three year old clinging to him, it’s an odd day.

Why Sunday Dinner is Crucial

Sunday dinner at Mima and Grandawg’s house is an integral part of our day of reconnecting. Our own family has time at home to be unscheduled; we have time at Mass to immerse ourselves in Our Lord, our parish family, and our Communion of Saints family.

Then dinner is for mom and dad, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins – with music in the driveway,  garage-band jamming, husbands and wives taking turns changing diapers, skinned knees, “circuses” put on by the smaller kids, shooing people out of the kitchen before dinner is ready, and sitting in lawn chairs around a fire after dark.

This is the day we reconnect. After Sunday dinner, we are replenished, ready for another week.

Sunday dinner is for mom and dad, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins – with music in the driveway,  garage-band jamming, husbands and wives taking turns changing diapers, skinned knees, “circuses” put on by the smaller kids, shooing people out of the kitchen before dinner is ready, and sitting in lawn chairs around a fire after dark.

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