The Holiday Family Dinner

Food brings people together. It doesn’t really matter if it is a feast or a snack, when people share conversations over food something really special happens.

One of the most special experiences of my entire school year is when I take my advisory out for a family dinner. This is not a random event that we do on a whim, this is something we have been preparing for weeks. Students learn about proper dinning etiquette, appropriate dress for a nice event, how to address the server, especially when there is a problem with the meal, how to calculate tip, and proper ways to conduct yourself in public. We practice where to put napkins, how to use forks, and simple things like how you have a voice, your parent won’t be there to order for you, so be kind, be confident, and have some fun!

This dinner is not financed by me. In fact, one of the greatest learning components of this event is that students have earned the money they are spending. When parents approved the event they were encouraged to have their kids work for the money.  There is varying socioeconomic backgrounds in my classroom, some can throw kids $20s like it is no thing and some have to save for weeks to put $20 worth of gas in the tank. I want all of my students to understand the value of working hard for something, so simply getting handed a wad of cash as they walk out the door is not an option.

I have had kids doing laundry for months! Some kids have picked up extra baby-sitting gigs, other kids have raked more leaves then they care to remember. Other students have become my personal side-kicks. When families indicate to me that they need a little financial help I am pumped to put those kids to work and help them work hard for their money. There are always things that need done before school around the classroom. If I can assist with a student earning an extra $5 or $10 bucks for the event it is so worth it!

The night approaches and we are all so eager to break bread together. This year I had 20 kids RSVP yes.

Here are my 3 most favorite things that happened at the dinner table…

1.) Beverage Selections

Right out the gate I knew the night was going to be amazing when the boy who happened to be sitting next to me ordered a coffee. I was a little caught off guard, but I rolled with it. When he was asked if he would like cream or sugar he replied, “Yes please, but just one.” With the confidence in his tone, I was now confident this was a normal thing for him. I complimented his choice and his response was simply amazing. “Well, since this is a fancy dinner I thought coffee was a good choice, fancy people order coffee.” Fancy people order coffee. And he wanted to be fancy. (For the record, we were eating at one of the fanciest restaurants in the town, but know that they have paper napkins and TVs plastered to the walls, so we are using the term “fancy” liberally) In his world coffee is fancy. It was almost as if his whole world was different this night. He explained how he washed his hair with fancy shampoo for the occasion. It was peppermint scented. He wondered if people at the table could smell this new fancy shampoo. He asked this as his plaid shirt (with buttons, because buttons on shirts are fancy) had its collar flopped over on one side. My point in all of this was he was trying so hard. He was taking this experience so seriously and wanted to be polished and fancy, and make me and his advisory family so proud. And I was… SO proud. He realized the importance of the event and how hard we had worked to get there. I didn’t have the heart to correct him when he put a straw in his hot coffee and picked up his baked potato skin with his hands and carved out every morsel of spud with a spoon.

2.) Incredible Generosity

As students prepared to order we double checked their budgets. We talked through if they had enough money for all the items they wanted to order. Each student talked about how much money they brought and what they had planned to eat on this amazing occasion. One boy mentioned he brought $40. WHAT? We are eating at the equivalent of a locally owned Applebee’s and you brought $40? I asked how much the adults in his life planned on getting back at the end of the night, he stuck out his chest a little and said, “None. Because it’s my own money that I worked hard to earn and I am making the choice to spend it tonight.” How could I ever argue with that bold, awesome statement? You better believe he ordered dessert. I loved that. I loved that some kids were ordering dessert for the first time in their lives. And cherishing every single spoonful of their ice cream sundaes. They confidently would take the cherry of the top and savor the flavor of this special meal. At the end of the meal his bill was $16. He had two $20 bills. Leaving one of those for the waitress would have been a generous tip. He calculated that around $3 would be more than appropriate, but then decided he would just leave the $20 and give a $4 tip. Then moments later he felt compelled to leave a $9 tip. He was very impressed with our waitress Debbie’s skills as a server. By the time we left the table to conclude the dinner he walked away from the table with $3 cash. Do the math on that one, friends. He ended up tipping our waitress $21! When was the last time you gave 125% tip on your bill? He explained later that sometimes people need money more than we know or think and he felt good about it. He had earned that money and he was generous with it during this season of giving.

3.) Kids being kids

One of the joys of spending 3 hours sitting at a table with middle school kids all dressed in their best is the reality that you are sitting at a table with middle school kids for 3 hours. And during that time they are still kids. Amazing kids. I have never seen more chicken strips or chili cheese fries on a table in my life. LOTS AND LOTS of fried carbs. Because that’s what kids like. As I looked around the table it was so evident that this advisory family worked really hard to look their best. I had one boy wearing a plaid button up with a pair of gray sweatpants, and that was his best, and that was awesome! Kids worked hard to look nice and nearly none of it actually matched. Because that’s what kids do. We had incredible conversations about places we would love to travel, books we enjoy and movies we would like to see, things we would like to do in outer space. And then we talked about the appropriateness of “passing air bubbles through your mouth at dinner.” A topic that every kid wanted to weigh in on. Because that’s what kids talk about. Everything about kids being kids in this special environment was totally appropriate and totally heart-warming. Because at the end of the night when these students got back home and explained this adult-like opportunity to their families, they rested their heads, and their fully tummies, and were still just kids when they fell asleep.

Taking selfies with the waitress. Accidentally spilling a Sprite. Putting way too much ketchup on the plate. These are all those little extra things that happened that made this night one to remember. The evening ended with the manager pulling me aside and explaining that my huge group of middle school kids was the most well behaved, patient, kind, and complimentary group that has passed through the place since last year when my advisory came through. I assured her I would pass that along to my advisory family in the morning. And I did. And will continue talking about this meal for many meals to come.

As you sit at your table this season remember that eating together is about more than just food and drink. It’s about friendships, relationships, and enjoying the company of the people around you. Cheers everybody and happy holidays!

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