When our children were little, really little, we barely ate dinner with them at all. Breakfast: ok, we could do that. Groggy morning toast, muffins sometimes, an omelet, with coffee, lots of coffee, sure. But when the day was supposed to wind down? Watching their teeth gnashing, little fists squishing banana into running wet gel, crumbed mouths talking over us and each other, we couldn’t do it. They eat like animals, I would say, echoing my mother more every day. When we gritted our teeth and forced ourselves to do it one of us would start the meal by looking across the table to say, What was the best part of your day? What else do you say to three babies? But mostly we didn’t sit down with them for dinner. We ate at night, nine, ten, sometimes one of us holding a baby, then passing them over to the other side of the couch. Now our kids are big. Just yesterday, Samson asked, out of nowhere, if any of the rest of us ever wonder why we are even alive. We walked by dingy garages, kicking rocks, unsure how to respond. These days we eat dinner together more because the kids, they say things like that. But our family dinners aren’t perfect. For one, the table, the nice table we grew up into, it’s covered in crap. We have given in again to the toy sprawl, and now we eat dinner on one side of the table while on the other, Samson’s LEGO army and animal kingdom push up against one another, bears and gorillas and wolves and Which one is an alligator and which one is a crocodile—tricked you—they’re both crocodiles! You have been working all the days and evenings since I found out that Samson, my gestational child, may be the end of my road. All I wanted to do all week was sit and talk, just with you. I didn’t know. But I’m so young, I thought when the nurse told me, I’m just getting started. Samson cannot stop quizzing us about animal facts. That’s another bad thing about family dinner. Did you know, he will say, did you know. He wants us to know that the three fastest creatures are the sailfish, cheetah, and peregrine falcon if we are talking sea, land, and air, separately. Did you know, he says, before asking us a question we could never know the answer to because animals are not our thing, like, collectively. We agree on this: he should just tell us the fact. What is parenting together if not a search for a few things two adults can agree on? This week we are all out of language to explain anything to each other, let alone to him, and we will not be taking questions. Eight years ago he came out of me, both of us animal. (What animal am I now?) What good are these bodies, with all their betrayals? All week you have worked and I have waited to talk to you. And then we are on the couch, late, we are eating dinner late because tonight I could not do it, could not put a smile on my face and watch the kids slop noodles onto their laps, could not listen to one more single sentence about Minecraft or Captain Underpants. Family dinner, it’s better, but it’s not good enough. After we eat, I cry and tell you how sad I am. Your hands should be on me but instead they are on you. Is it a lump, you say? What else could it be if not a lump? Do you really need me to feel it? I want attention, I don’t want to pay attention. We go to bed laughing: of course no one has their own space in this family life, of course we are always taking up another’s space. Bring it back: the gnashing teeth, the wet banana. A cry for one more helping of dessert. What was the best part of your day? The other night you were at work and Samson looked across the dinner table at me and said, Say your favorite thing about each of us. And how I wanted to say: that I made you in time.
Krys Malcolm Belc is the author of the memoir The Natural Mother of the Child (Counterpoint) and the flash nonfiction chapbook In Transit (The Cupboard Pamphlet). He lives in Philadelphia.
Photography by: David Clode