My mom was the master of the after-school snack. When I think back to my early years of school, I have incredibly vivid memories of getting off the bus and making the short walk to our house with her, hand-in-hand, where she’d have the table set with a special set of dishes and something delicious to munch on as we talked about my day. In my memory, we used those dishes only for after school snacks, but in reality they were probably a set of dessert dishes she used for entertaining!
I don’t know if we used the special dishes every single day or not. Some afternoons, we probably just ate on a napkin at the counter. I don’t know if we even had a snack every day or not; there must have been days when we were running off to do errands or she had something else to do at 3PM. But what I know for sure is that we sat down for a chat and a bite to eat often enough, that after a lifetime of after-school moments, it feels like something we did every single day. It was a ritual.
That kitchen table was a place where I learned that my stories mattered. I learned to process what had happened in my day by talking about it. I learned that accomplishments were even more exciting and hurts weren’t quite as painful once shared, and that fears that overwhelmed me lost their power once we hashed them out together. The snacks were always delicious, but what was most important was having the chance to sort through the highs and lows of my day with the fixed attention of an adult who loved me.
I’ve been thinking about that ritual lately because my oldest starts first grade today and this is her first year of being in school all day. Her childhood will be a little different than mine. For one thing, I work longer hours than my mom did, and as another, her afternoons quickly become packed with playdates and after-school activities. It may not be realistic for us both to sit down for a snack with special dishes every day (though you can bet I’ll do that as often as I can!).
What is realistic is for me to carve out time every single day to hear about her day. It may be not happen until an hour or two (or three) after school ends; it may even take place over the phone. But she will feel for that little piece of time, that she has center stage in the fast-paced play that is our life . She’ll learn that someone is always there to help her sort through the events of her day. And she will know that her stories matter.