Table Talk with the Kids – The F-Word and “Going All the Way”

British researchers found that the average family dining table will play host to 572 conversations, 1,456 meals and 468 jokes – every year (Nation’s Conversations)

A week or so ago while searching for something that I no longer recall, I stumbled across the findings from a recent British study about what folks talk about at the dinner table. Although some of the conversational topics are specific to what’s going on in England, their findings seem to be applicable to what goes on at dinner tables in the U.S. as well.

From remain or leave (Brexit), Love Island to the Women’s Football World Cup, to deeper family issues or just life’s daily grumbles, whatever the differences in opinion, the research found that when families are united at teatime, over food that everyone loves to eat, each of these differences can bring families even closer together when discussed around the dinner table.

This research struck a chord with me because it reminded me of Ann’s blog from about two years ago (Resurrecting the Kitchen Table) where she was lamenting about putting up our old kitchen table on Craigslist:

The fact that no one seems to want the set makes me a little sad – or maybe nostalgic.  Nostalgic for by-gone times when families would need that table to all sit down for dinner and maybe even for breakfast.  And the family would talk and the family would listen.  And they would enjoy home-cooked food. 

This idealistic and nostalgic image of families around the dinner table talking and listening and bonding has its appeal for sure, but I’m not certain if all table talk has that effect. Let me give you a couple of examples.

In an earlier Andy’s Corner I told you how our pre-school-aged daughter Sara dropped the F Bomb when referring to a cow.  Even though that was shocking, it was clear that she was just mimicking what she had heard (from I wonder whom?) without any real understanding of, or curiosity about, what the word meant.  

But, that wasn’t the end of it. I remember it all too well. It happened a few years later with our family at the dinner table. I don’t remember what we were eating, but I do recall the jolt when out of the blue Sara asked, “What does F*** mean?”

My mind raced with possible responses. Do we (we meaning Ann) need “the talk” with our our daughter?  I was aware that the onset of puberty in girls was steadily coming at an earlier age, but at 6?  And was it appropriate to have this talk while at the dinner table with her little brother sitting there?

Trying to buy time to collect my thoughts I asked her why she wanted to know.  She shrugged and said she had seen the word scrawled on the back of a seat on the school bus that day. 

Thinking quickly in crisis situations is not one of my strong suits, but this time I nimbly shifted the topic from the meaning of f*** to a discussion of how “graffiti” is a form of vandalism.  I told her that not only was defacing a school bus seat a bad thing, it was a crime!  I even went so far as to point out that research showed that kids who vandalized public property often used drugs and were likely to be involved in other types of crime. Keep in mind this was long before graffiti was defined as an art form and trendy.

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Our old kitchen table around which going all the way and the F-word were discussed.

I don’t think my moralizing sunk in much, but my diversionary tactic worked and our table talk resumed without further reference to the meaning of f***. Bullet dodged. 

Dodged, that is until a few years later at that same dinner table a week or so before Christmas.  This time Sara’s younger brother, Travis, who was 5 or 6 at the time brought it up. Although technically not uttering the F-word, I felt that he came pretty close to it.  He asked, what does all the way mean?  

The first thing that came to my mind was that he had probably heard that phrase in some sort of boys “locker room” banter.   Maybe one of his soccer friends had an older brother who bragged about going “all the way” on a date.  I really wasn’t anxious to get into a detailed discussion about sex while our dinner was getting cold (or have the discussion at any time for that matter) but I asked him why he wanted to know. He said he heard it in a song that went like this:

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.

Was I relieved! That was something I could explain without going into the facts of life nor would our dinner be getting cold after all.

Jingle Bells, published by James Lord Pierpont in 1857, may have a sordid past beyond the “all the way” phrase according to some recent research.

For the record, I did have that father/son “talk” with Travis when he was about 12 – even though it was while I was driving him to soccer practice and not at the dinner table, and even though the talk lasted all of one minute. I tell all about that in an earlier Andy’s Corner.

Now, all of these years later, it’s just Ann and I who sit at our kitchen table enjoying our home-cooked meals (yea BigLittleMeals!). The ritual and routine of sharing food at that table seems to make the turmoil of the world around us a bit more tolerable. But I have to admit, I occasionally yearn for the unexpected excitement of those F-bomb days.

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