Joining in with fellowship lunches

IMG_20200216_172741075Our parenting has always been in the context of church life, which inevitably means fellowship lunches – bring & share – pot suppers – whatever we want to call them. You know, time after worship around food and together time with the church family.

It’s never been particularly optional being the vicar & family which means over the years I have had to come up with a number of coping strategies for us as a family to get through these as smoothly as we can.

It’s not that we don’t like them, or don’t think they’re important -we do. It’s that they’re perhaps one of the hardest bits of church family life for us as a family.

They are often noisy, and crowded – that’s a really good thing, but hard for us. There is an unpredictability about them; the room layout will be different, timing will be an inexact science, you never know what food there will be (even if quiche is a given in most churches here in the UK, what flavour!?!), or who might sit with you! So many unknowns. And you’re expected to eat, in front of people! Something that is at times an overwhelmingly paralyzing, stressful thing. There is almost inevitable sensory overload, and anxiety about the uncertainties, and the social demands –  together these can make a fellowship lunch both daunting and very exhausting.

I was reminded just this last weekend of all the years I have been alongside children and young people finding all this overwhelming because we had an 80th birthday in the family with a big meal at a carvery to go to. Not easy, but we did it.

So over the years I have got us through these meals using a variety of coping strategies and I just wondered if any might be helpful, or jog a new thought that might be helpful for you:

  • Using a social story about what might happen, what the room might look, smell, sound like. And what I can say if someone talks to me.
  • Taking a familiar chair – easy enough for us when B was small, partly because she was petite for so long our portable strap on any chair highchair could come with us everywhere.
  • Trying to face them away from the whole room in our choice of seats at tables rather than expecting them to cope right in the middle of it all facing all the other tables.
  • Allowing under table picnics and play as needed – and brushing off the looks and comments of others (life’s far too short!). In fact I have often found other children come and join in.
  • Taking the kids choice of food and keeping some back to make sure they get some at the table we sit at.
  • Bringing their own packed lunch.
  • A bag of distractions! Bubbles, games, fiddles and fidgets, a favourite book or set of little play things, colouring.
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  • Set challenges or play a game: how many people can you count wearing purple, etc. Or an ‘eye spy’ sheet of things to look for and tick off during the mealtime.
  • Not staying to the end, but leaving when the kids are reaching their limit – when possible.
  • Creating a breakout space – either bring a bag of stuff and a picnic rug, or organize to use resources from church. A designated area that’s there to escape to, slightly tucked away but safely in sight.
  • Negotiating how long we’ll stay, or what might be eaten (for example, eat one thing then we’ll go) – and sticking to the agreement.
  • Staying alongside rather than mingling, reducing the fear of people not known so well joining the table or coming over to chat.
  • Ear defenders.
  • Arrange in advance who will fill your table so there are no surprises – again not always possible.
  • Accepting that sometimes it will all go belly-up and there will be tears.
  • On that note I try to make sure there’s inbuilt time for recovery afterwards – though again this isn’t always possible.
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  • Daring to decide it’s just not possible or helpful to get there at all this time , and making the decision to give it a miss – trying not to ‘feel’ that. This is a tough one for many of us – hugs may be required!
  • Taking a travel cot to use as a play-den when little. Added benefit of the mesh sides shielding some of the constant movement in the room in terms of visual sensory input. Also the familiarity helped sometimes.

 

I would love to hear your strategies as a family, if you also find yourself wanting to join in with fellowship lunches.

 

BBQ & picnics – eating alfresco

 

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The summer brings its own unique challenges when your children are hypersensitive, and when they are stressed by change. There are of course the obvious challenges, summer brings heat, heat means different clothes are worn which feel different, are unfamiliar and outfits don’t feel as practiced. There’s sun cream – the feeling and the smell, and the need for sunhats. School breaks up for the holidays so you add in a whole string of changes of routine, weeks at home with parents working; at home and parents off work some days; holidays away; days out & visitors. And along with the constantly shifting routines comes very unpredictable eating compared to term time.

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We plan fun eating as families don’t we! Days out can involve cafes, tea-shops and picnics. Some stay at home days mean take away in the sitting room with a film, some days we eat in the garden ‘because it’s hot’, other days we have people round and BBQ outside. Over the years we have found eating outside together as a family really difficult. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, eating together as a family even in the normal routine has always been a challenge. In fact it has only been possible at all in the last 6 years! It still feels fragile and new to me! (I wrote about it in ‘no-one told me that’)

There are many things that make eating outside difficult.

There are lots of distractions, some of them are good but often we all end up on high alert due to other distractions – wasps, (bees, hover flies – in fact anything that flies and could possibly be misinterpreted as a wasp!), spiders, ants and flying ants, seagulls and crows. The fact that many insects and animals in the great outdoors are attracted by the smells of our picnics makes eating outside incredibly challenging. It’s tricky to enjoy eating when facing an overwhelming feeling of impending doom!!

We have had some very memorable, funny-with-hindsight, eating alfresco experiences so far as a family. One of my early memories of these challenges was a picnic in County Durham, on a wooden picnic table by a beautiful giggling stream. All dappled in the sunlight coming through the trees. I sat one side, Andrew the other. B & A were still quite little, and I remember by about 3 minutes in I was sitting with both of them sitting on the table facing me, their heads burying themselves as close to me as possible with me drawing my rain coat around them to defend them from all the flying things – with Daddy of course standing guard against big flying things near by! So much for the beautiful spot. We did get a fleeting glimpse of a water vole though in-between the cries of terror when gnats came too close!

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When they were a similar age I remember a fateful picnic on the beach during which a seagull plodded nonchalantly over and took the sandwich out of A’s little hands – I’m not sure he’s been able to forgive that seagull yet!

Yet another memorable outdoor eating experience was at a family farm attraction, which just happened to be having a wasp problem that summer. We started our lunch outside but the wasps were dive bombing us, flying at us and down at our food through our hair!! We quickly went inside with our picnic only to find exactly the same problem but this time in an enclosed space. Goodness it was grim.

At a zoo day out quite recently actually we had problems with dive bombing seagulls. One took the food out of my hands in flight. Again we tried putting Daddy on guard walking around us but it was not enough, and we had to abandon outdoor eating and run for shelter.

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Just this lunch time A was recalling a camping meal with friends during which we had to warn a friend who was just about to take a bite & chew that there was a wasp sitting on his mouthful.

Many a camping meal outside the tent has been abandoned as one by one members of the family have run inside despite the heat inside the tent in the day, and eaten zipped in the bedroom behind the flysheet.

Ah, fond memories (who am I kidding!!). Well, this summer is no exception, we’ve already had some BBQ’s in the garden, eaten outside (well, for some of the meal anyway) and been camping. So far mosquitoes are coming out top predators during mealtimes but there’s still plenty of camping meals to be had so wasps, ants, earwigs & seagulls all have the chance to come out on top still! Bring it on!!

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