Laurie David Talks About Her New Book, 'The Family Dinner'
One of those treasures is my friend Laurie David, a mover and shaker in the entertainment world, former wife of Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame and a co-producer of "An Inconvenient Truth." But more than that, Laurie is a passionate parent who recognizes how important it is to create rituals that bring families together.
Laurie's jewel of a book, "The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time," comes out today. As we stood in line a few weeks ago for a movie, she handed me one of the first copies, hot off the press. Laurie, who lives the notion that "love is in the details," had thoughtfully placed sticky markers on every page where she had quoted me.
As I browsed the book, I couldn't have been more impressed with the care and creativity that had gone into each chapter, from table dressings to family dinners after divorce.
Here's what Laurie has to say about "The Family Dinner," and how she hopes families will benefit from it.
ParentDish: Laurie, you and I have talked at length about our concerns about the effect of technology on kids. How has that affected your passion about families having dinner together?
Laurie David: Like most people parenting today, I'm dealing with the invasion of technology in my home. I'm not happy about it. I'm the mom of two teenage girls, and the cell phone, computer and television are often the bane of my existence. But I put my foot down at dinnertime -- their devices are not welcome guests at the table.
PD: We both know how hard it can be to get kids to disengage from what they're doing and come to the table. What are a couple of tricks you use to get your girls to want to come to dinner?
LD: The beauty of rituals is that they work. And it doesn't take very long doing something over and over until it becomes second nature for everyone. In our house, when it's dinnertime, everyone now knows to just stop whatever they're doing and come to the table. Of course, having delicious fresh food and having fun things to talk about helps, too.
PD: Both of our books have the word "connection" in the title. One of my favorite parts of yours is the section on using family conversation to nourish that sense of closeness between parents and children. You've put a host of conversation starters into your book for keeping kids engaged and interested at the table. Can you tell me one of your favorites?
LD: I believe that conversation is just as important as the food, and so I've made a big effort over the years to have fun things to talk about at the table. One favorite is the Name Change game. I challenge your readers to try this at home tonight. All you do is go around the table and have everyone say what they would change their name to, if they could. This opens up a great discussion about whether or not they like their name and who they were named after.
PD: You're the busiest person I know. How is it that you manage to do any of this? Is there hope for those of us who don't usually have time to put together a beautiful table or a home-cooked meal?
LD: Absolutely yes! The great news about family dinner is that it doesn't have to be three courses and an apple pie in the oven. It can just as easily be PB and J sandwiches and soup and a salad. In fact, yummy black bean soup (recipe page 82) and a little green salad is one of my favorite dinners. And here's another suggestion: Eat somewhere different in your house. Change rooms. Have a picnic on the floor. This idea will make dinner special no matter what you serve.
PD: You know, we've been friends for a while, but I've never asked you this. Was Larry as funny at the dinner table as he is on the screen, and did he energize every conversation?
LD: The funny thing is that most people would think that having a professional comedian at your table would automatically lead to engaging conversation. But I don't think that Larry ever really had great dinner role models growing up. Dinner for him was about refueling. So a lot of the ideas in the book were employed in my house to teach everyone to have conversation and participate. I can tell you that although Larry was no help at all in the kitchen before dinner, he was fantastic after dinner cleaning pots and he took great pride in his work.
PD: I love that you two are clearly maintaining a real friendship, even sharing meals together with your girls. How did you get to that point, and what motivated you?
LD: Just because our marriage didn't work out doesn't mean our children aren't both of our priorities. The ritual of family dinner helped us all through the difficult years and eventually brought us all back together again. I have a chapter about it in the book and, since half of all marriages end in divorce, I hope that this will inspire other people to get back to the table.
PD: You interviewed an incredibly impressive list of people for your book, including Robert Kennedy, Jr., Tom Hanks, Jamie Oliver and even me, ParentDish's AdviceMama! What sort of common thread showed up in these conversations?
LD: One of the great privileges of writing this book was the opportunity to interview so many of my mentors and people who I admire. Their words of wisdom are sprinkled throughout the book. The common thread with everyone was what a powerful impact their own childhood family dinners had had on them, whether they were good or bad. For the most part, people get warm and fuzzy when they start to recollect their own family meals, and isn't that exactly the point?
PD: What do you most hope people take away from reading your book, Laurie?
LD: I hope people will read the book, place it on their kitchen counter, make something they've never tried before and then bring the book to the table to help spark a great conversation. My hope is that everyone's copy will be food-stained, tattered, highlighted, flagged and well used.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.