Dinner Conversation

Artichokes & Ice Cream

Meet the Egertons. Theatrical Presentation or Dinner? Just Adopt Us, Please.


by Owen, Jodi, Arden and Oscar! Egerton
Photograph by Casey Chapman Ross

Dinner is a madcap experience in our house. Any dreams of a well-mannered dinner conversation have long been abandoned. Our nightly gatherings are a hybrid off-Broadway musical, puppet show, gratitude exchange and absurdist dinner party.

Our house is tiny, like a Hobbit’s starter house. While sitting down for a meal, if we want to open the fridge, we need to stand up and scootch the table. We are also not a traditionally tidy family. Clutter is our unwanted, non-rent-paying housemate. Our dining table, which happens to be in the middle of our kitchen, also serves as the craft table, homework spot, writing table and bookshelf. So often to prepare for dinner, we must clear the table of books, soldering irons, props for the musical, school supplies, typewriters and hot glue guns.

There’s a whirlwind of energy moving towards dinner. The kids are in charge of setting the table, which means you’re likely to sit down for the meal and find a spatula, a soup ladle or a cheese grater at your place setting. Luckily, we only need to lean back in a chair to reach the utensil drawer and swap it out for a fork.

There are a few meals that are Egerton favorites. A simple artichoke with plenty of melted butter. Noodles in almost any form. Breakfast for dinner, with Oscar flipping pancakes and Arden making fried eggs to everyone’s exacting specifications. A classic English roast, if we’re feeling ambitious, or P. Terry’s, if we’re feeling anything but.

Our nightly gatherings are a hybrid off-Broadway musical, puppet show, gratitude exchange and absurdist dinner party.

And of course, Taco Night. All the ingredients spread on the table, each family member taking the term “taco” as loosely as possible. Arden eats a bowl of sour cream with a spoonful of refried beans in the middle, staring up from her bowl like some unblinking eye. Oscar just eats a bowl of meat—but still calls it a taco. Owen found freedom when he realized there was nothing binding him to using a tortilla, and creates taco salad mountains. And Jodi, the consummate rule-follower, carefully crafts a picture-perfect taco, with layers of meat, beans, cheese, and all the veggies, salsa, and spices cradled perfectly inside a tortilla.

Every meal begins with the clinking of glasses. We offer up “Cheers” and “Iechyd da” or “L’Chaim,” depending on whether we’re feeling more Welsh or Jewish on that particular night.

There’s a lot of laughter while we eat. If there’s spinach on the table, Jodi voices each leaf, making it either completely unaware of its oncoming fate, or begging for mercy as the child raises it to its mouth. There are puns, jokes and riddles, and occasionally Oscar shares a brand-new magic trick.

Dinner conversation dances from topic to topic like a caffeinated squirrel.

What happens at the edge of the multiverse?

Can we get a puppy?

How does Edward Scissorhands use toilet paper?

Why can’t we get a puppy?

I’m writing a musical about Peggy Schuyler!

Corn table! Corn table! Corn table!

Of course we’re related, we both came out of Mom’s pagina!

Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum is saying bad things about us!

How can we cure Mom’s dog allergies?

Shell pile! Shell pile! Shell pile!

I’m eight in human years, but in Oscar years … I’m really old. So old I can’t remember. I’m only 1 percent human. I’m also 2 percent Titan. Some of the things I’m a mix of include wolf, dragon, werewolf, robot, unicorn and pug. Some people call me an alien, but I’m not an alien.

Well if we can’t get a puppy, can we get a ferret?

We have one major tradition at dinner. Each one of us shares a high moment, a low moment and a “high-low,” or calming moment from the day. When we share our highs, we celebrate each other, and learn what brings each other joy. But equally important to us is the sharing of lows. It’s a time to reflect, vent, apologize, connect, untangle something and dig deep to figure out the hard parts of the day. Years back, the kids also added high-lows, a moment you felt calm. This can be anything from swimming at Barton Springs at 5a.m.(Owen), or hanging out with a friend over lunch or a moment at work when all just felt groovy. It’s frequently “right now,” as the high-lows is by far the calmest part of our meal.

By the end of dinner, or if the kids have tricked us into ice cream, things start to get really nutty. “Hamilton” or “Les Miserables” parodies are being sung at full force, with the children standing on chairs—or on Owen. All norms, table manners and sometimes clothes, are discarded. Eventually all four of us are standing, singing, storming barricades, securing the American revolution, battling a giant man-eating plant, and clearing the table. It’s not a pretty meal, but it sure as hell is fun.

Jodi Egerton is a wordslinger poet with Typewriter Rodeo and Owen Egerton is a novelist, filmmaker, and performer with Master Pancake Theater. The two co-wrote the writing craft book, “This Word Now.” Eleven-year-old Arden is an author and artist. Oscar! (who spells his name with an exclamation mark) is awesome.


Read more from the People Issue | December 2016

Tribeza December 2016 People Issue

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