About mid-afternoon, those beans start to smell so good you want to cry, mostly because you know that they're not done cooking yet, so eating them would be a bit, uh...crunchy. When they finally reach textural perfection, I lay out all the other tortilla stuffings and sauces and call the kids to start building, an announcement which is followed by the usual happy noises and sounds of feet scurrying to the kitchen.
My daughter's friend, who was visiting, asked, "Do you guys always eat like this?" I told him no, that beans from scratch were usually a weekend project but he clarified: "No, I mean, are you guys always this laid back?"
It seems that at his house, what he called "family time" or, "dinner time" was so formal a thing that people barely spoke to one another while it was happening. The idea that there would be laughter and joy and relaxation associated with it seemed novel to him.
I couldn't imagine it.
Most of us (grown-up) spend a lot of time out in the world in some kind of work situation in which we have to dress a certain way, be careful not to say certain things, arrive at a certain time, leave at a certain time, etc. Even if your work life is fairly informal, there are still expectations associated with it--even someone who paints Velvet Elvises for a living has some kind of schedule, some kind of deadline. If they didn't, they probably wouldn't produce enough to continue in that line of work. A guy who plays guitar in a coffee shop still has to get to the coffee shop--you have to show up, and you have to have some kind of tangible product worth people giving you money for.
Life is like that. I can't imagine why anyone would insist that family would have to be like that, too.
Here are the people who know you better than anybody--They know that you like to put off doing the dishes until the last possible second, or that you run around in your bra in the morning while looking for a shirt to wear, or that spend hours on the phone loudly kvetching about crazy people, or your plants are neglected, or your cat needs a bath. They know the very core of you. They live with you, after all--they have a front row seat to all of your bad habits, wrinkles and warts. Also, all of your triumphs.
Never mind the fact that I think of food as something to be celebrated. What I want to know is, why would you apply first-date formality to any meal or time spent with the people who know you best? Why pretend you don't know everything there is to know about each other already? Isn't that just denying yourself the chance to delight in your family members victories, or laugh at their funny foibles, or help them through the low times? Don't you WANT to be that resource for them? I mean...who would be better at it than someone who knows the very core of you?
I believe very strongly that my home is my sanctuary. It is the one place I can truly be myself, never to worry about what people think about me, what they're going to say about me, am I going to get fired for doing that, etc. This notion doesn't strip away the necessity of treating everyone with kindness--in fact, my home is the one place where I can be as unabashedly kind as I want to be, like, spending an entire day lovingly preparing for the business of watching my kids and their friends play Guitar Hero while we all sit around eating burritos on the living room furniture (gasp!). I will never, never, ever sacrifice that for any formality, any dreamt-up "have to" or "must". I don't believe in "have to" or "must" except as it pertains to the importance of being good to other people.
So, to answer the question....Yes, we DO always eat like that. We do everything like that. I wish everybody did.