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My dining room revolution

[ 2010-06-17 09:39]     字号 [] [] []  
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By Christine Biggs

高雯雯 选注

It’s suppertime in my house, but it resembles nothing like the Leave it to Beaver-style dinners I grew up with.[1] My husband isn’t home from work yet, my 13-year-old son is still at his friend’s house, and my 15-year-old daughter is glued to Facebook.[2]

I serve up[3] four plates of food anyway. The frozen fish sticks are cooked yet soggy.[4] The fries are limp[5] but edible. The canned corn is mushy, and the bagged salad, which expired two days ago, is looking tired despite an injection of cucumber slices and baby tomatoes.[6]

No wonder my family has failed to be prompt[7]. But Sarah’s tutor is scheduled to arrive in half an hour, at which time the rattling in the kitchen must cease, offering peace and quiet to the studious pair.[8]

When my husband and son finally roll in one after the other, Sarah and I have eaten, she’s back at the screen, and I’m scraping plates while digesting disappointment over our family-meal fiasco: crappy food, late arrivals and no conversations.[9] Discouragement set aside, I microwave two cold dinners and shove them in front of the latecomers.[10] Miraculously, by the time the tutor arrives, the boys have inhaled dinner, the dishwasher is loaded and the kitchen is clean.[11]

I grew up in a bungalow[12] in the sixties with my parents and older brother. Mom and Dad had expectations for Peter and me during family dinners, like arriving on time, assisting with setting and clearing the table and cleaning up, minding our manners and partaking in[13] family discussions.

I miss those days when suppertime brought our busy lives together. I miss the wobbly[14] glass kitchen table with hard plastic chairs that welcomed us every night. I miss Mom’s home-cooked cuisine, the home-baked desserts and the discussions that transpired.[15] I even miss Miss Manners, who was channelled by Mom and Dad at every meal.[16]

We far from resembled a perfect family. When my brother entered his teens, he introduced us to fast-food eating—the kind where you sit sideways in your chair while shovelling mounds of food into your mouth, hoping you could whip through dinner during one commercial break.[17] We’d laugh at the belches that escaped, moan at the sight of liver and onions,[18] and question why my parents didn’t have to drink milk.

Looking back on it now, even though there were hiccups, our meals together dished up a healthy serving of bonding that strengthened our family.[19] But those days are long past, and as much as I have wanted to recreate that mealtime connection in my own home, it’s just not working.

Our kitchen is small, housing only a bar-type platform that acts as our table, protruding diagonally outward and leaving little room to manoeuvre.[20] Surrounding this makeshift[21] table are four stools. When we eat together, we crowd around this excuse for a table, which also doubles as a countertop for serving food and stockpiling dirty dishes.[22] To avoid bodily injury, I’ve claimed sole proprietorship of all aspects of meal-making—cooking, serving and cleaning up—even at the risk of jeopardizing my kids’ culinary education.[23]


Although we try to eat healthily, fast food, free delivery and frozen dinners are a mainstay—zero prep time, minimal cleanup and often served cafeteria-style as we rotate through the kitchen.[24] With Andrew’s hockey commitments,[25] Sarah’s evening activities and my husband’s work schedule, planning a family dinner is like trying to make a meal that everyone likes: impossible.

It wasn’t until recently, when we celebrated a family birthday with my parents at a fancy restaurant, that the raw truth hit me.[26] Thanks to my Dad. He pointed out things about my kids that I had conveniently ignored all these years, like the fisted grip Andrew uses to hold his fork, the elbows that comfortably rest on the table, and the napkins that can’t seem to find their proper place.[27] Surprisingly, Dad refrained from commenting when the cellphones appeared for some friendly texting between siblings.[28] Perhaps the dirty look Mom gave him curbed his appetite for constructive criticism.[29]

I was reminded of the chant I learned long ago at summer camp: “Elbows, elbows off the table, this is not a horse’s stable, but a first-class dining table.”[30] I’d let our kitchen become a horse’s stable and it was time for a change. It was time to bring back family dinners, like in the good old days.

Gradual exposure to a new routine was paramount so that it wouldn’t backfire, especially with my younger diners.[31] I began by clearing the papers and dusting off the dining-room table so we could eat there. I decided to retain kitchen duties to avoid culture shock,[32] and didn’t tell anyone about the change of scenery until it was time to eat.

Our first dinner in the dining room was surprisingly pleasant. Everybody showed up on time, we ate a home-cooked meal and talked to each other. Andrew still gripped his fork, I forgot to put out napkins and I ignored the elbows on the table. But it was a start.

Now, more than two months later, we’re still eating in the dining room. Andrew is working on his fork grip, the kids are now clearing the table, and our discussions revolve around world events and school-day revelations[33]. We still have kinks[34] to work out, but I’d say progress has been made in transforming our horse’s stable into a proper family dining table.


1. resemble: 像,类似于;Leave it to Beaver: 《反斗小宝贝》,美国20世纪50年代热播的电视剧,反映的是美国一个传统家庭的生活状况,比如晚饭时分,母亲在家准备好晚饭,父亲下班回到家中,一家人幸福地围坐在餐桌旁吃着香喷喷的饭菜。

2. be glued to: 聚精会神地盯着某物;Facebook: 美国著名社交网站。

3. serve up: 端上桌,上菜。

4. fish stick: (涂有面包屑的)鱼条;soggy: 未烤透的。

5. limp: 松软的。

6. 罐装玉米呈烂糊状,还有一盘两天前就已过期的袋装色拉,尽管加入了黄瓜片和小西红柿,看上去还是不太新鲜。

7. prompt: 准时到达的,按时回家的。

8. rattling: 喀啦声;cease: 停止;studious: 用功的,好学的。

9. scrape: 擦;fiasco: 彻底失败;crappy: 无价值的,很差的。

10. microwave: v. 用微波炉热;shove: 乱推。

11. miraculously: 奇迹般地;inhale: 狼吞虎咽地吃掉;load: 装载(以便运行)。

12. bungalow: 单层小屋。

13. partake in: 参加。

14. wobbly: 不稳的,晃晃悠悠的。

15. cuisine: 菜肴;dessert: (餐后)甜点;transpire: 发生。

16. Miss Manners: 礼貌小姐朱迪丝•马丁(Judith Martin),从小跟在联合国工作的父亲走南闯北,大学念的是卫斯理女子学院(Wellesley College),是拥有良好教养的淑女。1982年,身为《华盛顿邮报》记者的她开始在该报开设一个名为“Miss Manners”(礼貌小姐)的专栏,旨在给那些对礼貌礼仪感到困惑的人指点迷津;channel: 集中,关注。

17. sideways: 斜向一侧的;shovel: 大口大口吃;mounds of: 一大堆;whip through: 迅速吃完;commercial break: 广告时间。

18. belch: 打嗝;moan: 哀叹。

19. 如今回忆起那段日子,纵然打嗝声此起彼伏,但我们共进晚餐,就好比享用一顿强化家人关系的健康大餐。

20. protrude: 伸出,突出;diagonally: 斜地,对角地;manoeuvre: 活动,操作。

21. makeshift: 权宜的,临时的。

22. crowd: 催逼;countertop: (厨房的)工作台面;stockpile: 堆放。

23. proprietorship: 所有权;jeopardize: 危及,损害;culinary: 烹饪的,厨房的。

24. mainstay: 主要依靠;prep: = preparation,准备;cafeteria: 自助餐厅。

25. hockey: 曲棍球;commitment: 参与,投入。

26. fancy: 高档的,精致的;raw truth: 赤裸裸的事实。

27. conveniently: 顺便地;fisted grip: 手握成拳头抓住;napkin: 餐巾。

28. refrain: 克制,抑制;text: v. 发短信;siblings: 兄弟,姐妹。

29. give sb. a dirty look: 恶狠狠地瞪某人一眼;curb: 克制,抑制。

30. chant: (尤指众人齐喊或合唱的)反复而有节奏的短句;stable: 马厩。

31. routine: 惯例;paramount: 首要的,主要的;backfire: 产生事与愿违的后果。

32. retain: 保持,保留;culture shock: 文化冲击,此处指我暂时继续承担厨房里所有的活儿以免家里其他人觉得不习惯和震惊。

33. revelation: 出人意料的真相透露,惊人的发现。

34. kink: 问题,困难。