For months now, Kina has admonished us throughout dinner to “stop talking”, which is a real bummer for a couple of parents whose favorite pastime is talking over meals. Our pre-pandemic dinner structure had Kina eating first, taking a bath, and going to bed; our own dinner followed, which gave us the luxury of adult conversation and spicy meals. As we have grown more cloistered, though, our dinners have merged, which has been good for our family in pretty significant ways: Kina has developed (slightly) more sophisticated tastes, we spend more time together, we eat earlier, and we only have to cook one dinner. So what if our meals aren’t as spicy? It’s nice to have the old post-war nuclear family dinner.
Except for the rule of silence. We have addressed our efforts to circumvent this rule in the pages of our newspaper before. In July, Laurea and I attempted to speak to one another through Kina, and a few weeks later we tried singing our conversation. Neither tactic held up for more than a day or so, but we recently stumbled on a method that has felt less like a trick and more like a proper tool for conversational fairness: the taking of turns. Rather than reassure Kina that we’ll let her speak her mind after Laurea and I finish our conversation, we simply run our dinner table chats as a round-robin sequential lecture. “It’s your turn, Daddy,” the moderator says, after which I make a lengthy comment about a news article relating to COVID immunology. “Now you,” she whispers, pointing to Mommy, who replies to my comment with her own nuanced point about people traveling for Thanksgiving. As she finishes, we turn to Kina, who looks pensively skyward before launching into a soliloquy about different kinds of pasta sauces, the sorts of cupcakes that her friends like, and how farts come out of her butthole. Once that’s run its course, she points silently at me, at which point I can freely decide to elaborate on her fart statement or take a different conversational path. (I often, but not always, choose the detour.)
It turns out this is a pretty fun way to have conversation, because it means that no one person can dominate the table with his rants about mask denialists or her endless observations about flatulence. And it’s fun to watch Kina discover what dinner chit-chat is—and hopefully, the various topics that are and aren’t appropriate. It’s been interesting to come to the realization that we owe Kina an equal share of our conversation at the dinner table (even though she’s only one-eleventh my age). Another reminder that this kid we’re isolating with is a full-fledged human being, who thinks, fears, loves, and farts just like the rest of us. We’re glad to meet her.