It’s been a month or so since Mr. Mom’s Kitchen and I (tearfully) delivered our oldest daughter to her first day of high school. She tolerated us walking her almost to the front door…generous when you consider that it’s nearly scandalous for a girl of 14 to be witnessed with her parents.

She’s adjusted happily thus far, as if she’s been a freshman in high school all her life. It’s me who’s struggling with her newfound independence, suddenly wanting to tether myself to her legs, just as she did to mine when she was 2 and 4 and 6, so she can’t go out into the world.

But she is in the world, on her own: up and out the door often before her sisters have even clamored out of bed, riding the city bus to school, playing sports every afternoon, then home and doing homework. Some days I feel I hardly see her.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’d heard this would happen…that she would grow up and turn outward, that friends would become more alluring than family. I’m not complaining, I just miss her, which is why I’ve never been more grateful for the one little capsule of time in the day when we are all together, at the dinner table. I’ve let other things go in deference to her growing independence, but not family supper.

Of course, I’ve always known that sharing meals is important. I’ve read the research, just like you probably have, that kids who break bread at the family table are more academically successful, better adjusted, happier, and better nourished. But now I realize that all the data pales in comparison to the simple satisfaction of locking eyeballs with my kids each day over supper. Sometimes it may be all of 10 minutes, sometimes with bickering or bad manners, or with people complaining that they aren’t hungry, are too busy, or don’t like family dinner.

But they know…this ritual is non-negotiable. We’ve been at it since they were old enough to sit in a highchair. And it’s not going to last forever. Four years from now my oldest girl will be sitting across from her peers, not her parents, in a dining hall in a college somewhere away from home. I’ve got precious little time left for these family dinners.

You better believe, I’m not giving them up.

How about you?