Sunday dinner

A weekly reminder of what we have and who we love

Ginny McReynolds is dean of humanities and social science at Cosumnes River College

It was midweek when I told my friend Mary we were just too busy to come to Sunday dinner. She understood, and I’m sure part of her was relieved to just have the evening to herself and her kids, to make sure they were organized for the week, to have a chance to regroup in peace and quiet (or at least as much tranquility as an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old allow). That’s how I felt, too—mostly. Still, part of me mourned giving up on the event, even if it was just for one week.

We instituted Sunday dinner a few years ago because both Mary and I have always been the type of people who started dreading the end of the weekend on Friday afternoon. By Sunday, we’d each be in our own self-generated angst, not wanting to give up that sense of openness and autonomy that weekends bring, downright surly with every thought of heading back into the fray. We came up with the idea that gathering for an end-of-the-weekend “family meal” would be a good way to hold on to the fun a little longer and remind ourselves of what we have, who we love and what’s important.

At first, the participant list was small: Mary and her kids, my partner Jodi and me. But over the years, we’ve spontaneously invited lots of others. Sometimes Mary cooks, other nights Jodi and I bring the food, and occasionally we do potluck. Mary and I both enjoy cooking, so more often than not we prepare something that takes lots of time and energy. It’s always fun to use that event to try a new dish.

Still, even while we’re gorging on homemade popovers or a new Ina Garten soup recipe, the food is not the big draw. It’s sitting there at Mary’s long dining-room table, laughing at some joke that Mary Grace has told, or trying to get Isabelle to quit giving food to the dogs. It’s that parentheses in our lives in which we can all just breathe for a minute and take things a little less seriously than we might in the crush of Monday morning or the tedium of a Wednesday afternoon meeting. Homework is done, shoes are polished, groceries for the week are purchased, plans are made. This is our chance to relish the moment.

That’s what I want to remember the next time I start to feel overwhelmed midweek and long for an open Sunday evening—or at least a free Sunday afternoon that I don’t have to cram with chores so I’m free for dinner. The point is really not the dinner at all. In fact, maybe we ought to change the name to “Sunday sanity restorer” and just sit around the table and talk and take the chance to reset ourselves in the way that prompted us to do this in the first place. And really, if I actually get too busy to even do that once a week, things are worse than I thought they were.