We try to have dinner together every night, at the table, together as a family.
It doesn't work out that way -- sometimes we end up eating oatmeal for dinner in front of the TV, sometimes it's scrounge night, and sometimes I give up altogether and we order gluten-free pizza with no cheese.
And yeah, I know the defintion of pizza is bread with cheese on it, so GF pizza with no cheese isn't pizza, but it's better than it sounds.
But we strive to eat dinner together, even if it's rushed, even if the kids don't like what I'm making, even if sometimes (often.... always....) they all forget to wait until eveyone has a drink and a napkin and a fork and by the time I sit down, two of them have finished eating.
I read an article a while back that quantified the results of eating together as a family and said how wonderful it was. Then, of course, other studies followed that said it wasn't all that important.
I don't care -- I thought it was important, and so we do it. I never really thought about why, but one night, over dinner, I told Sawyer, who around nine, that kids who eat dinner with their family every night are less likely to do drugs or to get into trouble.
Sawyer then said something that has stuck with me and has become our family's mantra.
"Of course, they're less likely to get into trouble," he said. "It's because they're part of a team. If you have to cook as a team, set the table as a team, and then eat as a team, you're not going to let your team down by messing around with drugs! If your mom just serves you dinner or you just get it yourself from the fridge, you're not part of a team at all, and who cares if you mess up? Kids who have a family that's a team are always going to do better."
So, since then, we're all about the team. I am not a sports person. Neither is Sawyer. Mark could be. Sander could be. I know nothing about sports metaphors.
But we have come to function as a team, and we see ourselves as a team. Mark and I are the coaches. We know the rules, and we're teaching them to the kids. We try to set goals as a family and help each other through them. Sawyer wants to make Eagle Scout -- this will require teamwork of the highest order, from calendar planning to paperwork to buying camp gear to driving him to events. Sander wants to learn more about animals. We all work together to make it happen.
And this year, we tried something different this summer. Something new.
I'm not an outdoorsy person when I live in Texas. I'm a red-headed Irish girl, and I live in the wrong climate. I should be somewhere cool and green and damp and breezy, snake-free with an occasional leprechaun. I live somewhere that is blistering hot, dry and covered in taratulas and scorpions with an occasional rattlesnake.
However, in the interest of teamwork, we signed up for the Texas Nature Challenge.
There were 15 challenges all over central Texas -- a day of birdwatching at a state park, a hike on a Saturday morning, a trip to a wildlife center and a botanical garden, a neat sculpture museum and a tour of a dinosaur park. All of the challenges were sort of close -- some were an hour or more away -- and all of them were worth visiting.
The best part? The kids really, really got into the whole teamwork thing. Sawyer helped map out and plan which days we'd go to what park. Some were only open certain days. Others you had to visit only on weekends. Some were tough to do with a toddler.
Sander was in charge of paperwork. There shouldn't be any paperwork involved in an outdoor challenge, but there was. And in order to complete the challenge, you had to make a scrapbook. That part almost killed us.
But you know what?
We were the only family out of more than 200 who registered who completed all 15 challenges, though it's entirely possible other families did and just couldn't stomach the thought of making a scrapbook about it.
So when we went to the closing ceremonies, there were six other families who had turned in a scrapbook, and we won prizes for completing the most challenges -- not grand, amazing things, but cool stuff, like a tent, a compass, and a water bottle. Sander was happy with the nature guides. Scout was happy with the stickers.
And Mark and I were very happy that the boys have a chance to see us as a team.
Will this keep them off drugs and get them into Harvard? I doubt it. I think it takes more than a summer of birdwatching and nature hikes to do that.
But will it remind them when they're pulled toward risky behavior when they get older that perhaps there's a whole team in place, ready to kick their ass should they screw it up, and who will cheer them on should they move forward instead?
I hope so.
Because otherwise I could have been serving up frozen dinners in front of the TV this whole time and saved myself a whole lot of trouble!