Tonight as I sat at the dinner table, something unique and special happened. It wasn’t a special birthday dinner or a new recipe I somehow managed to get right. It wasn’t a holiday meal or a fancy expensive night out. And it was more unique than when my children ask for seconds or surprise me and eat all their vegetables. Those are like championship wins, right?

No, this was even better than that.

Tonight’s menu was a feast according to my 4-year-old—taco night—and as I sat there at the dinner table, a piece of furniture I’ve recently wanted to replace, an immense feeling of gratitude overwhelmed me.

Dinner, or supper as it was called when I was a kid, played an important role in my upbringing. When I think back to childhood and recall memories of growing up, I think about family traditions and food is a part of all of them. My mom is known for always preparing and serving meals that can feed an army of people. She is a firm believer in taking care of others and sharing what you are good at. And though I may be biased, she is great at cooking (and crafting), and she is always caring for others by making meals or her famous chocolate chip cookies for them. And even if there is an army of 50 people there for the meal, there are always leftovers. Always. In her mind, it’s more to share with others.

When I think about some of my favorite meals she made, I think about how important dinner always was.

Each of us with our own favorite meal from her cookbook and particular recipes served on distinct nights throughout the calendar year. I precisely remember the nights we ordered pizza, the nights we ate quickly before we went off to our baseball and softball games, and the summer nights when my mom would call us to the table, and my dad would walk up the stairs with freshly cooked chicken and steak he had grilled. As I’ve grown, dinners have taken on a new uniqueness to celebrate birthdays or visits home from my baby brother who has moved out of state.

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Now, with a family of my own, I sat at the dinner table tonight and thought back to those moments and how many of my mom’s recipes I’ve tried to recreate. How I’ve tried to create some of my own special recipes, some that have failed miserably! And as I looked at all of it, in that moment, I felt nothing but gratitude.

I looked at the freshly diced tomatoes and onions and thought about the farmers who are currently struggling given the economic challenges as a result of the pandemic. I am thankful for their knowledge and hard work.

I looked at the boiled rice and shredded cheese and thought about the essential food service employees who have worked tirelessly over the last four months, keeping their stores open when the rest of the world was closed.

I am thankful for their commitment to the world’s well-being.

I looked at the tortillas and taco shells and thought about the economic struggles others may be facing and how blessed I am to have this meal in front of me. I am thankful for my job and it’s security.

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I looked at each of our plates, covered by a warm meal, and thought about all of the frontline workers who are missing home-cooked meals as they work around the clock fighting the virus. I am thankful for my health.

I looked at the faces of my daughters and my husband and thought about how special this time together is. I thought about how no matter how stressful and negative the world may be, time with them is my positive, especially family time at the dinner table. I am thankful for this extra quarantine time to take it all in.

I looked at the expression on my oldest daughter’s face as she excitedly took another giant bite of her taco and I thought about all of our time together in the kitchen, her passion for learning new things and her desire to help me.

I am thankful for this bond, and the unique relationships that are forming with both of my daughters.

I looked at the mess my youngest daughter was making as she worked on her fine motor skills to pick up the shredded meat and thought about how quickly this stage will end, how it wasn’t too long ago when her big sister was in that same high chair. I thought about how no matter how much they grow and change, I hope they will always want to sit at the table with us. I am thankful for the ability to watch my children grow and be present in their lives.

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I looked at our dog, in her usual hiding spot under the high chair, waiting for the baby’s mess to drop to the floor as it does consistently each night, or daddy to sneak her a little nibble, and thought about the unconditional love my family shows me every day. I thought about the families who have lost a loved one from the virus and will have an empty seat at their dinner table tonight. I am thankful for my family and their love and care for me.

I looked at the dirty dishes waiting to be rinsed and loaded into the dishwasher and thought about how blessed I am for each and every one of these elements of tonight’s meal at the dinner table. I am thankful for God’s blessings he has bestowed upon me, both in that moment and in my life.

And when the table was cleared and the kitchen cleaned, I looked at the leftovers and realized how thankful I am my mother always made dinner time and her passion for cooking vital parts of my childhood. Dinners that taught me love, compassion, respect and empathy.

Jen Feener

Jen Feener is a wife, mother, public school teacher, travel concierge, and children’s author. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she spends her time playing with her daughters, exploring nature, crafting and making messes in the kitchen. Seeking the adventure in each day, she strives to capture that adventure in her writing.