Typical, Daily, American Life

Many years ago, early 1997 to be exact, my sister's college assignment was to photograph typical, daily, American life. At that point, I am pretty sure she was living in a downtown efficiency apartment, part bohemian, and part wondering how to pay the next rent check. So, she called me up and asked if she could come photograph our family as it was at that time. We decided on a day when she could come over for dinner (bonus, free dinner for a college student!) and the photo session commenced.

As it is now, dinner was at 6 pm. Our family then consisted of myself, my husband and our two year-old daughter - oh, and I was pregnant, due in a couple of months. We tried to ignore her as we went about our usual routine of cooking dinner, and setting the table, our daughter helping with what she could. After grace, we ate dinner. Simple, fairly uncomplicated (minus the camera following in our kitchen) and nothing out of the ordinary for us. Her professor rejected her assignment because it wasn't typical, daily, American life. What?? Did he think we staged it all? Or was he looking for something edgy, something dysfunctional, maybe eating on the couch in front of the TV? I really don't know, but I felt badly that she had to redo the assignment.

My parents always ate dinner at 6:30 pm. By then, my dad was home from work, had his evening cocktail and read the main parts of the newspaper (the comics). For over 30 years, they ate dinner at 6:30 - I think they eat at 7 pm now. Whoever was home ate with them, at the dinner table, in the kitchen. The table was set, food was placed in the center of the table next to the glasses of milk and salad dressing bottles, and grace was said. After dinner, the dishes were put in the sink, the table wiped down, chairs pushed in and the kitchen was closed. Each child had a different night of the week to do dishes (that is a whole other story), and my parents retired to the living room to finish reading the paper. There was no TV in the living room, instead it was in the basement. But I digress.

Our family still eats dinner at 6 pm. as we have for the past 21 years. With our daughter home, there are again four of us eating together exactly as my parents did with my brothers, sister and I. Oh, there was a season of volleyball that kept our daughter absent some nights, part time jobs in high school had them missing a few meals, and my husband traveled one night every other week for a few years. Our dishes are old, but if you are home, we eat together at the table at 6 pm.
Our typical, daily, dinner table.

To me, this is a huge part of our simple life, developing consistency for our children. Offering them some stability in the world, a place they feel comfortable and can rely on. Some dinners are quietly eaten, others include interesting discussions, but the TV isn't on and we are together as a family during this time. I have always tried to cook a balanced meal, though some days this is easier than others; and lately, I have really pushed for healthier choices. Our daughter spent some years as a vegetarian, our son is picky about some foods (who else has a child that doesn't like spaghetti?), but we persevered.

Looking back over the last twenty years, we have tried to provide a typical life for them in many other simple ways as well. We love to go tent camping, especially to the state parks where nature is the main attraction, not a water slide. While our daughter didn't like walking to the bathroom as a teenager, she has some very precious memories of the parks we stayed in. Our son has a love of the outdoors and could spend hours in the woods behind our house occupying himself as he did when we went camping.

In these woods, my husband helped him and his friends build a tree fort, learning building skills and thrilling them with the idea of a place to "camp out" in. Each child has had a bike since they could ride one, and we took many bike rides while camping, and now on the trails by our home. Our vacations were simple ones, a house on the beach, or visiting grandparents, no Disney World or trips to Mexico (which I guess makes us atypical). Again, simplicity - enjoying time together without too many distractions.

Our free time has not been cluttered by constant travels to sporting events, or social activities. My husband and I enjoy time with each other and have a pretty healthy relationship. As our daughter mentioned, we can still laugh really hard with each other, and enjoy doing things together. We were lucky enough to purchase a house that was big enough to last, yet small enough that we could pay it off early on only one salary when I stayed home with our children. My second career choice was as a teacher which meant I could spend time with our children during the summers and holidays.

Our children have picked up on simple ways. Neither wanted to be on sports teams, and the one semester our daughter did, she felt like she "had" to because her friends were on it, not because she really wanted to do it. Why didn't we go to Disney? Both children hated crowds of people, preferring empty beaches instead. They are both pretty grounded young adults for the most part, who value stability and free time in their lives.

We are not perfect by any means. Both our dogs were on the hyper side, definitely due to our personalities. People argue and get mad. Yes, there were, and are, many times I felt rushed and overwhelmed, wondering why I was doing what I was doing. I don't know, maybe we aren't typical at all, but we are happy with our simple life and feel our family has benefited from it in many ways.

How do you provide stability for your family? Do you feel you have a typical, daily, American life?


  1. What a great post! Your children and family routines sound lovely, and exactly what I strive for as we go through our daily life (my kids are still very little, 2.5 and 6.5). We eat dinner together at the table every night, at around 5:30. No TV, no screens, and right now the kids don't last too long, but hopefully some day we'll all sit at the table having longer conversations about our day. I found your blog from a comment you left on mine, and I'm so glad I did!

    1. Thank you! As I wrote, we are by no means perfect, but we try to do our best. I found your blog from a comment you left on another - I'm happy to make a new connection :)


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