I just loved that t-shirt, not just because it was a clever play on words but because that is how we view dinner time around our house. It's a time when values, knowledge, joy and camaraderie are ingested right along with the chicken casserole. It's also a safe time and by that I mean it's a time when no corrections are allowed.
Unfortunately, it hasn't always been that way.
I remember a meal last year when Nathan was eagerly telling us all a story about something that had happened to him that day. His face was lit up, his voice was animated, and he was really getting into the telling of the tale. Halfway through his story, he said something that wasn't grammatically correct and without even thinking about it, I corrected him.
I'll never forget the sight of the joy leaking out of his face. I'll always remember how his voice faltered just a little. I can still hear the way the rest of his story ended up sounding a whole lot less enthusiastic than the beginning.
Although Steve and I had already made the agreement that we wouldn't discipline the children at the table (for not getting the lawn mowed or the homework finished, for instance) I had never thought that something as simple as correcting grammar could rob dinnertime joy, too.
And so our table has been officially deemed A Safe Place. Although it sometimes takes me holding on to my self control by my fingernails, grammar is no longer corrected at the table. If one of my children wants to insert the word "like" four hundred and twenty-two time into their dinner time narrative, I will not say a word. If Nathan wants to say, "Me and Michael" instead of, "Michael and I," he's free to do it! Even if one of them were to (gasp!) use the word, "ain't" it would be okay.
The bottom line? No joy-smushing in any form is allowed at the dinner table.
When Sarah was going through speech therapy, part of our job at home was to listen to her talk on a casual basis and occasionally point out if she was sliding over "S" sounds or talking too fast and jumbling her words.
Dr. Jones said, "Just be listening as she is talking, maybe at dinner or in the evening before bed and mention any corrections that need to be made in her speech."
At first I thought, "Well, I can do that. No problem."
But then I remembered about The Safe Place. No grammar correction. No posture correction. And no speech correction.
I ended up telling Dr. Jones about our family's dinnertime policy. He seemed quite impressed by the whole concept and was very understanding of the point I was making.
Now this is not to say that dinnertime is a free-for-all where anything goes. Steve and I are not so much into unconditional parental love that our dinners turn into wild sessions of burping, slurping and pea throwing!
However, there is some sense of dinner being a free-for-all in the area of giggles, friendly arguments and frequent dashes for the dictionary.
Last night for example, we spent twenty minutes discussing how driving speed affects gas mileage and how a tail wind or a head wind affects the progress of an airplane.
Then we discussed how important stereophonic hearing is in being able to locate the direction sound is coming from. This led to Steve clapping his hands in different areas around the table while Sarah closed her eyes and turned her head toward the sound of each clap.
That little illustration was followed by a discussion of how monocular vision affects depth perception. We conducted experiments where Nathan closed one eye and tried to reach for something across the table; he was surprised by how much perceptions change when both eyes are used.
Naturally, at one point a call for the dictionary was made, although I don't remember at the moment what the word in question was.
What I DO remember, though, is that grammar went uncorrected, foibles went unmentioned, and laughter was served as the main course.
It was a value meal, indeed.