By Polly Keary, Editor
Once a month on a Tuesday, members of the Rotary Club volunteer to serve a lasagna dinner at Take the Next Step.
Tuesday at our house is Family Night, and that is iron-clad, so I’ve never gone before.
Family night is sacred at our house basically because I was worried that between the electronics, the TV, the endless chores and our busy agendas we’d turn into one of those families that doesn’t talk.
One night I found the Pictionary game under a heap of ski clothes in a closet and remembered how much fun that game was when I was young. So I rounded up the crew and we gave it a shot, and even though the girl was about five at the time, she held her own and we had a blast.
I suggested we do things like that on a weekly basis and call it Family Night. I might as well have brought Family Night down from Mount Sinai on tablets of stone. The kids have decreed it; thou shalt not mess with Family Night in our house.
It’s actually a pretty great practice. Sometimes our family nights are elaborate. My folks sent me an electric ice cream maker for my birthday and that’s been fun, if caloric. The kids occasionally want to try their hands in the kitchen, and once they each baked their own cake out of a kid’s cookbook (also courtesy of my folks, who ran a daycare for years).
The boy’s cake was an orange dream cake, a simple layer cake topped with whipped cream and mandarin slices, but the joy of whipped cream is that it comes out of the can looking awesome, and Aiden was blown away by how good it looked. (Lucky that, the whole thing had peeled apart coming out of the pan, so I stacked it up as best I could and buried it under a whole can of whipped cream, which makes anything look pretty good).
I downloaded a really cool video game, too, one of those casual games made by Big Fish. It’s what they call an adventure game, in which you have to solve a massive number of puzzles to vanquish, oh, some bad thing or other, and free some girl/princess/orphan character.
It’s a lot of fun for all of us. The kids are pretty quick, and the grownups handle the hardest stuff, and there’s a huge sense of triumph when we get to the end.
When we can afford the calamitous cost, we go to the movies, especially if there’s something especially cool in 3D.
Sometimes we just go to the Red Box and get a movie for $1 and a half gallon of ice cream from the Bartell’s at the end of the block and go home and make popcorn.
One thing we don’t do, however, is skip it.
But still, I always felt a little bad watching that sign-up sheet go around at the Rotary meeting and feeling like I wasn’t pulling my weight.
Last week, it occurred to me to bring the kids and make it a Family Night outing.
Tuesday we all piled in the car and drove over to the Monroe Covenant Church right next to Take the Next Step on Sams Street and headed for the basement, where a bunch of long tables were covered with bright table cloths in a fairly crowded room full of teens, disabled adults, women from the Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission and some senior citizens.
There’s always some awkwardness in a strange setting, and the kids were bashful and silent. They were tasked with making sure the salad bowl stayed full.
My fiancé cut up pans of lasagna and I helped dish it up.
The first thing that surprised us all, when we discussed it later, was the large number of kids there.
The dinner is free for anyone who needs a hot meal, and there are a fair number of low income families in town.
The kids eat first, and they are eager. A lot of them were the same age as our two. At first our two were shy, but soon the salad bowl ran empty, and they came in to grab more bags of salad mix and assemble them and set them back out.
When dinner was over, we set out a huge birthday cake for Covenant Church’s Pastor Mac, who had earlier regaled us all with some truly groan-inducing riddles.
The cake vanished in a flat hurry. A treat like that does not go amiss for a fellow who is planning to spend the night outdoors, as was one bearded veteran.
Once we were done, we headed to the store and grabbed a tub of ice cream and went home and made one of the kids’ favorite dinners.
I don’t know how much of an impact the effort had on the kids. They are pretty amazing and good-hearted kids already.
But I grew up very low income. I feel very, very glad that our two are on the serving side of the table. It’s never a given.
I would certainly recommend the experience to anyone who has young kids. Ours are 9 and 11, and that seems about perfect, teachable but not jaded.
Take the Next Step is a great place to volunteer. They also know all about every single other volunteer opportunity in town. The food bank is also a good place for kids to volunteer.
I also highly recommend having a family night.
Those nights are more than just a break from work and chores. They are the foundation of the memories of a happy childhood. And with a little volunteer work thrown in, hopefully it will be the foundation of a tradition of community service, too.