It’s 7:48 in the evening, and my daughter, Zoey, and I are almost finished with her bedtime routine.
I close the chapter book we are currently reading, set it on her nightstand, and turn off her lamp.
Darkness fills the room, and I feel the bed shift beneath us as Zoey finds her way over to me. She lifts my arm and settles into the spot on my chest she has come to claim as her own.
“Know what time it is?” I ask.
“One of the best parts of my day,” Zoey replies. “I’ll go first.”
* * *
Thirty-something years ago, when I was Zoey’s age, every night was pretty much the same: After school, my brother and I would do our homework, my mom would cook our nightly meal, and then we’d all congregate around the kitchen table and leisurely enjoy not only the dinner laid out before us, but the conversation as well.
It was the perfect way for us all to connect, sharing with one another the stories and events of our days.
When I became a mother, and as Zoey started growing up, I had lofty goals that I would be able to replicate my childhood memories of that quality family time. I pictured the two of us eating dinner like I once had as a child, sitting around a table that looked just like the ones that adorn the cover of the Crate & Barrel catalogs that fill my mailbox this time of year.
But let’s face it, that’s hardly—if ever—the case. After working a full day and picking Zoey up at school, we normally don’t get home until close to six. The table is normally covered with those Crate & Barrel catalogs, along with all the other mail, Zoey’s backpack, my work bag, and the seven pictures that Zoey drew on that particular day. With all that laid out before us, there’s hardly any room for anything else, let alone the perfect place settings. I’m normally putting Zoey’s food down on the table first since she claims she’s starving (all the while reminding her this might not be the case if she actually ate something I put in her lunch).
Midway through her meal, when she speaks up to ask if she can be done and can go do something, her voice will startle me, because I’m standing at the counter, still cooking my own dinner and making her lunch for the next day, briefly lost in my own mental to-do list for that night, or the next night, or when it is I have to have her school picture order in by. And do I have to pay it online, or can I write a check? Do I even have any checks? If I do, do they have the right address on them? Wait — what’s my address again?
At this point—the one where I feel like I’m about to lose my mind—I tell her she’s excused to go start her shower. Or that yes, she can go dress up. Or sure, coloring would be great. Or awesome, reading sounds perfect!
And after Zoey happily bounces away, I finally sit down at the table to finish my meal, and in those few brief, quiet moments, I have the time to think. Like, really think. And not surprisingly, those thoughts aren’t really good ones:
How come I can’t seem to be more organized?
Why can’t I rise above all the other demands and get a simple well-rounded meal on the table at the same time every night?
This shouldn’t be so hard, right? What am I doing wrong?
Seriously, what’s my address?
So my attempt to have the time that we connect be dinnertime? Yeah, I fail at it. Miserably.
But I’m determined to not let that connection time slip away completely, so I’ve developed a back-up plan: We’ll talk about our days later, when I’m putting Zoey to bed, a time when there’s less to distract us, where the undisturbed darkness of her room provides the perfect backdrop for the heart-to-hearts I long for.
And thank goodness, because tonight, it’s 7:10 and the pizza’s still in the oven. It’s pepperoni, and we’ve got our favorite music on, and we’re dancing. Zoey’s already showered, and she has a tutu on over her PJs, and every time I twirl her, peach shampoo-infused water droplets jump off her still-wet strands and land on my arms.
In about an hour, I know that sweet scent will still linger on my skin and in Zoey’s damp locks, and I’ll breathe it in as she curls up next to me. After I pull her close and she lays her head on my shoulder, we’ll pass the stories of our day back and forth, hopefully creating a bountiful collection of conversations, forged connections, and plenty of nostalgic memories-in-the-making.
* * *
It’s 7:49, and Zoey’s telling me about her day, but she’s not doing it in the typical way. Every night, we talk about the events of our day by playing a game called Roses & Thorns. The premise is simple, but the reward is powerful: You share your thorn (the least favorite part of your day) and then your rose (something from your day you loved most). This type of conversation is wonderful because you’re not getting asked a general question, like “How was your day?”, and you can’t give your answers in generalities, like “Oh, it was fine.”
Zoey’s describing her thorn, which happened this afternoon, when a friend told Zoey she wasn’t allowed to play with her on the playground. Zoey shares how it made her feel sad and hurt.
“I totally understand how that would make you feel sad,” I say. “But maybe next time that happens, invite someone else to play with you. I bet there are a bunch of kids who would love to have a hopscotch tournament with you.”
She lifts her head from my shoulder and presses her lips against my cheek.
“Now tell me about your rose,” I encourage.
“Having you wake me up by singing this morning,” Zoey begins. “Having you pick me up from school this afternoon. Laughing with you earlier. The way you let me dress up before dinner tonight. And having you with me here right now.
I can’t help but smile. “That’s more than one rose,” I say.
“Roses are best when you have a bunch of them,” she replies sleepily.
And, just like that, Zoey’s answers helps patch up these cracks of worry that scatter their way across my heart from time to time, because they remind me that I’m the only one that’s really worried about the fact that dinner and the conversation that I’d like to go with it isn’t showing up on the table every night at six-o-clock.
Because Zoey? Well, she could care less.
The only thing she cares about is that at the end of the day, there I am, waiting for her with my outstretched arms. That in the wee hours of the morning, when she climbs into my bed after having a bad dream, I’m there, pulling her close, wishing away those silly, scary nighttime monsters. That in the morning, I’m there, waking her up with a smile and a hug and a hundred kisses. That during dinnertime, I’m there, standing at the counter, only able to take few bites of the meal I’ve just made for us, because I’m too busy laughing at the new joke she learned that day. That whenever she needs me, she knows where to find me, and that no matter what, or whatever version of me I’m bringing to the table, I’m doing the best I can.
It seems that the only thing she cares about is the most important one of all.
All that she cares about is that I’m there.
As it turns out, putting a perfect dinner on the table—the one I used to believe served as the perfect way to connect—is purely optional:
Our souls will still get fed, and our hearts will still connect, because together, we will always find ways to share in the feast of love we receive through each and every one of the special moments we share, no matter the time or place.
* * *
Let me know: What’s your favorite way stay connected with your children or family? Is it traditional or unconventional?
Corey is a writer, graphic designer, and mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Here at The Nostalgia Diaries, her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.