The other day, my mother was lamenting about the fact that we never just pop over for dinner anymore. She insists we don’t need an engraved invitation and she always has enough food available no matter how many people show up. If, like me, you came from an Italian family, you know that truer words were never spoken.
But today’s society seems to have new, unwritten boundaries, that 40 years ago seemed unnecessary. It was not uncommon, during my childhood, for relatives to stop by after dinner on a Tuesday to visit. They may have been out shopping at the mall and in the neighborhood, so they would swing by, usually bringing a piece of cake. Without even flinching, my mother would put up a pot of coffee and remove the centerpiece from the dining room table. My parent’s house was ready for company 24 hours a day, 7-days a week. I can’t ever recall my parents having dinner, and then heading to the living room in their pajamas to watch TV.
Somewhere in the back of my mother’s refrigerator was some type of dessert that was always off-limits because it was “just for company,” in case someone showed up. If there were a dessert in my fridge that I was saving “just for company,” it would be green-molded and look like a high school science project by now.
Our parents may have left the cocoon of the family back in Brooklyn for the great, wide-open spaces of Long Island, but they continued the social contracts of the past, as it was the only way of life they knew. Somehow, they had always been able to maintain an active social life while still taking care of the children, the house and the bills. Unfortunately, that is not a skill they were able to pass down to our generation.
Since becoming parents, our generation created new social contracts that were more in tune to our hectic lives at home. Coffee after dinner was now reserved for the weekends or restaurants. Visiting friends or family unannounced, especially during the week, has gone the way of the rotary phone. Let’s be honest, if someone rings your doorbell on a Tuesday night at 8 p.m., your first reaction is “Who could that be?”
Our lives in the ’90s were a little more complicated when compared to the ’50s as both parents needed to work to afford a home and provide an excellent quality of life for the kids. We needed to schedule everything, including play dates for our kids. Our lives revolved around working, homework, Little League, food shopping, doing laundry, band practice, housework and school. Our social activities were pushed way down the totem pole. Our parents couldn’t have possibly prepared us for this because they never imagined a life that would require scheduling a “date night” with your spouse.
As a sibling, I know I can stop by my brother’s house anytime of the day or night just to say hello, but I wouldn’t do it on a Wednesday night for no reason and expect to be entertained. In today’s household, family time after dinner is reserved for decompressing and then getting ready for the next day. Unless it’s a planned special occasion, I want to be in my jammies after dinner. My wife has always maintained that “We shine ‘till nine.” Getting company after dinner just doesn’t happen anymore.
Our grandparents always had an open-door policy and a kitchen like a 24-hour diner. Our parents have continued that philosophy, and my mother still always has that piece of cake somewhere in the fridge, just waiting for an unannounced visitor to drop by. And when they do, they usually bring another piece of cake that can be served or saved for the next visitor. It’s a never ending cycle and part of what made them “The Greatest” generation.
Today, our generation happily finishes the dinner dishes on a Tuesday night and heads to the living room to watch Survivor on the DVR without any worry that someone is going to ring the doorbell and interrupt during the Tribal Council. Of course, the phone will sometimes ring at 10:15 p.m. and when you check the Caller ID, it’s your mother. Doesn’t she know you never call anyone after 10 p.m.?