It was a long week to say the least. Driving 30 hours, getting acclimated. You’ve probably been in the same position many times. Oddly enough it had been over a week since I had an actual home cooked meal. Lots of salads, and very quickly put together things. Which is not my normal thing, while I like making things simple, I do like cooking something up in the kitchen.
So last night when Rip invited me over to the house for dinner, I gladly accepted the invitation.
I wish that I could freeze time when I get to hang out with his family. The whole Esselstyn crew or his family unit in Austin. Two amazing kids and his beautiful wife, Jill. It’s not because it’s this perfect kind of thing, it’s just family. I pulled up to the house, and walked up the wood porch, painted in various colors, a few toys out. And inside Rip, Sophie, Kole and Jill were all doing just what every family probably does before dinner. Cleaning up the table, getting things together. Rip and Kole decided to go play outside and kick a ball around, while I chatted with Jill who was finishing up some dinner and Sophie who was cutting up a red pepper. We headed outside, where some neighborhood kids joined in kicking a big ball around with Rip. And then after some crying ensued after someone got hit in the head with a ball, we all went back in for dinner.
I kind of understood what family style dining meant while I was at their house. It wasn’t really a set menu or anything. Jill had made some delicious tomato sauce, some pasta, there were different veggies cut up, leftovers from other meals, some brown rice, a couple of sweet potatoes, a beet. And everyone just picked what they wanted. Sophie wanted some pasta and some red peppers and she told me that she used to love sweet potato when she was little but now she’s not really a fan (she’s 4 now). And Kole wanted some brown rice, pasta, some green beans. I had brought some left over cucumbers and tomatoes I had for lunch, so that was passed around.
There was no pressure on the kids to eat one certain thing. Just a little bit of everything, and the choice was theirs to make. Rip was sharing with Jill about his day, she was sharing with him about her day. The kids were talking pretty much the entire time, and probably like a lot of your families, it all kind of works out. Interruptions, various questions in between bits and pieces of days being shared.
And then after making sure everyone was well fed and satisfied the clean up began and the decision of what game to play before heading to bed. The game “Memory” was chosen, to be exact, the Mickey Mouse version. I found out at this point of the night that Kole and Sophie are pretty brilliant. I’m not just saying that, they were very clearly going to beat the adults at the game. We played the game for a while, and then it was bed time. Of course, the protesting of bed time, and all of the regular stuff that I’m sure most families go through every single night.
I was playing Mickey Mouse Memory and it dawned on me that 1000′s of families had nights just like this. Families do this every night, it’s just a normal thing. The plant-strong part, is just one of the aspects to Rip’s family, but it is just one part of many. There are still protests around bedtime, discussions about the next days schedule, cleaning up toys. The food part though is just something that happens in their house.
Often I get e-mails from parents who are struggling with eating and kids who might not like every single thing they put out. But watching Jill and Rip and the more casual approach to it all made me realize that perhaps just making food a part of the normal family life was a simple, yet practical way of doing things. Have a bunch of random things on the table, let the kids pick and choose, but mostly enjoy that time around the dinner table.
I kept thinking of Kole and Sophie as they grow up. As their conversations change. What happens when they are teenagers, talking about the school day or upset over something that inevitably shakes their teenage world. The meals will still be plant-strong, but the more important part is that family time. It’s the time spent kicking a ball around before dinner, it’s the very animated dinner discussions, it’s the games before bed, it’s the reading of a bedtime story. It’s Rip getting woken up in the middle of the night to find Sophie’s special blanket, it’s Jill wiping tears away after a scraped up knee, it’s laughing so hard that almond milk comes out of your nose. Food is definitely a central part of our lives, however, I don’t know if they will all remember the brown rice or the pasta sauce they had on that particular night, but rather all of those special and amazing memories that are built up day after day.
As an adult, I’m sure you can relate, and especially if you’ve lost a parent or loved one who is close to you. You remember all of those moments you wish you could get back, even if just for a few minutes, all of the other things that life brings your way never seems important, after the fact. Today happens to be the day my Granny was born, she is no longer here to celebrate her birthday. She passed away from complications of T2 diabetes many years ago now. I can tell you so many memories I have with her, and to this day, even as an adult, I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love just 1 more hour, a few more memories, nothing to me was worth that being taken away. My Granny loved to do lots of crafts, and one of my most favorite memories was a late night, it was after 11pm (big deal for a 9 year old) and we were sitting in the kitchen together making pinecone ornaments for the Christmas tree. Nothing extraordinary perhaps, but as a woman in my 30′s now, remembering that exact moment still fills me with a tremendous amount of joy.
I recently read that there are only 940 Saturdays between when a child is born and when they go off to college. It struck me that it isn’t all that much time. All of those Saturday’s add up, and all of those Saturdays mean something. I see that when I see Rip and Jill and the kids, the love they all have shows, in what the do as a family down to their health and well being.
Something happens in the plant-strong life that few people ever consider. At some point it just becomes normal. It’s a part of your life, but it’s not every single part. The more important parts are around the dinner table, not even whats on it at some point. The fragmented conversations, the excited kids, the games played before and after dinner, the tears sometimes before bed. It’s all a part of the normal fabric of family.
I left as Rip and Jill were getting ready to read bedtime stories to the kids. It all made me smile. The many facets that make up a family are really amazing. While it may not always be perfect, and maybe there are times of struggle and hardships, there is so much that can happen around the dinner table. And in the end, isn’t that what we’ll all remember?
Personally, I don’t have children, but I consider myself lucky to have a family, some related, many not. The Esselstyns have become family and for that I’m forever grateful.
I would love to hear about your family, how dinner time works for you. Are you plant-strong? Has anything changed since changing to a plant-strong life? Is it just a normal thing in your life now?