Clara Lincoln, a student of Jill Weiler at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "You Are Who You Eat With" by Katherine Gustafson. She is our High School winner for the Spring 2012 writing competition.
Writing prompt: "Does it matter who you eat with and how often you eat together?"
Family Bonding: From Tabletops to Laptops
by Clara Lincoln
Before my parents’ divorce, we ate dinner together every night at 6:30. Dad would make something spectacular like cheese pizza from scratch and cooked over the grill, and we would start by saying grace. Our version of grace involved holding hands and saying what we were thankful for that day. It could be, “I’m thankful I didn’t have homework tonight,” or, if you went last, you could say, “ditto.” This custom greatly strengthened our bond as a family. After the divorce, I got to experience two different customs: we still had dinner together every night at Dad’s house, but we didn’t at Mom’s. Instead we sat together in the living room with our respective laptops and ate whenever we wanted. As disjointed as this sounds, this was still family time. Family dinners are not the only way for families to be part of each other’s lives; whatever shape or form, spending time together is important and beneficial to the whole family.
Before the divorce, at dinner we would share interesting stories from that day—even discuss things like politics or global warming. It was at the dinner table that I learned what the Electoral College was. As Katherine Gustafson said in the YES! Magazine article, “You Are Who You Eat With,” these conversations definitely kept us involved in each other’s lives; we were a family, not just people living in the same house.
Family dinners probably have a role in my personal success, too. I have always had a strong work ethic; I have turned in every single homework assignment for the past three years. This probably comes from the support and determination to succeed that my parents instilled in me from a young age. We always talked about my school projects and homework at dinner, and I got to hear how much they wanted me to succeed. Many of my friends don’t eat dinner with their families, and these same friends don’t think their parents have faith in them.
My friends who don’t eat dinner with their families are the same friends who eat out most often. Their parents give them money for food, and they end up eating at McDonalds or Panda Express. They say if they don’t eat out, then they would have to make their own food at home. I am grateful that I can come home to healthy food. I have an incentive not to eat out: I don’t want to ruin my appetite for dinner. Even at Mom’s house, where we don’t eat together at the same table, we still manage to eat healthy food. Mom, who isn’t the most skilled cook, often makes delicious grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas. I understand why Katherine Gustafson says that being with family at dinnertime helps teenagers make better decisions about food.
Even though we don’t always eat dinner at the same time, or sit around the same table, I get the same benefits at Mom’s as I do at Dad’s. We share our news of the day and interact with each other all evening. We frequently share funny pictures we find on the Internet, and crowd around one laptop to watch The Daily Show. Even this reminds me that my mom supports me and makes me feel connected to my family. This has been especially important after the divorce. It makes me feel like we are still a cohesive family. I don’t feel we’re lacking anything by not physically sitting around a table to eat. In fact, eating at the same time just wouldn’t work with Mom’s busy schedule.
At both my mom’s and dad’s houses, I get the experience of convening as a family at the end of the day. We discuss what happened that day, and make each other laugh. This has strengthened my determination to succeed in school as well as make better decisions about what to eat. Without this valuable time together, our family would have been more shaken by the divorce, and I wouldn’t feel as grounded as I do. Though I can’t predict what form it will take, I will make sure to give my children the same support that my parents gave me. And it all starts by eating together at the table—or around a laptop.
Clara Lincoln is currently a rising senior at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Clara has maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school and hopes to attend Brown University, majoring in studio art and psychology. She created a video supporting marriage equality that won awards from the Gertrude Stein Foundation and the Stonewall Democratic Foundation.