If you are like me (and we know you are, you crazy things) you often think, what of the things we do with our kids will they really remember? Alex has a great memory, he claims to remember things from when he was three. I remember things…but I think it is because I have seen them in photos for so long.
My sister wrote a kick-ass essay about those dinners, focusing on the family table where we sat. She is a much better writer than me and really should have her own blog. Since she doesn’t, I decided to steal her material for mine, which she expected. She is wonderful – enjoy!
My parents’ round kitchen table was stained a yellowing color, one probably chosen initially for its conventional beauty but long past the prime of fashionable. A few blemishes marred the yellow stain, carefully mended with a wood filler that could never quite match that original hue. Heavy and obtuse, the table stood squarely to the left of the small, yet functional kitchen, remodeled over time, bit by bit at the hands of my mother. The table commanded the den area of my parents’ small, oddly-laid out home, and was the center of our life.
My mother loved to read parenting books to verify her expertise in raising two daughters. One such volume of wisdom imparted to her the importance of The Family Dinner. Nightly, we were to sit at that round table and share a meal together.
- All must be present to eat
- You must ask to be excused
- No singing
- You must wear a shirt
We always giggled at the last one, a worn out rule from my mother’s childhood, a much maligned middle sister in a family of three boys with a baby sister ten years her junior officially taking away her “only girl” status. Those brothers of her youth always had to be reminded to dress for dinner, but in our household with two girls and a quiet Dad, that was never an issue.
For as long as I remember, family dinners were sacred. To miss a family dinner required a special request and allowance, best made while practicing your most formal persuasive voice. Whining and begging would not be tolerated in our house; however, a carefully phrased request was appreciated and accepted. To bring a friend to family dinner also required a formal request, though these were always allowed as more people at family dinners were readily welcomed.
As a child, I remember the milk pouring across that yellow stain as I tipped the glass clumsily again. I remember waiting for hours, my stomach grumbling, for my sister to get home from dance class at nine pm. Then when I also joined that dance class, everyone was waiting on me. Whenever everyone arrived home from work and activities, we all sat around that table, the 4 of us, my mom, my dad, my sister Kinsey, and me, nightly. My family isn’t one of those “lovey-dovey” types as my mom would say, but family dinners forced us to sit down and remember that we love each other. No matter what was going on in the family, happy, sad, angry, indifferent, we gathered to eat and reflect. Even when we started the meal with a teenagerly grouch, eventually something about our day came out.
I learned to tell stories at those family dinners. My mother, the best story teller of them all, would laugh heartily as she shared a story about her day teaching college students. My sister, animated and sarcastic, would share stories of her high school teachers and their quirky personalities. I often wonder if any of my students sit around dinner tables and laugh about my classroom. My father, the quiet only child, married into a loud boisterous family, who had two girls, would listen carefully and wisely. He never said much, still doesn’t, but when he speaks, everyone listens.
The yellow kitchen table stood sturdy and strong, and watched my sister and I grow up, move on to college and our adult lives. The table housed our art projects, then our drill team sequins, and finally our yearbooks and wedding gowns. My grandmother sat at the table not long before she died and helped us stuff my sister’s wedding invitations. Additional blemishes came, glitter was firmly wedged in all the nooks and crannies, but the table stood strong like a wise old priest keeping shared secrets firmly to itself.
A few years ago, the family dinner table found itself being replaced for a smaller table more sensible for a couple of empty nesters. And while I still visit that small house that sits quietly back from Woodland street, just a block from a now bustling Loop 288, the yellowing table is gone. Even without its stolid presence, we still find ourselves, now with husbands and children in tow, sitting around the smaller and unblemished kitchen table to share stories and laugh together. And on those most special of nights when children are fast asleep and husbands left to their own devices, we might end up with just the four of us again, sitting around the table, laughing and teasing each other, and sharing stories of our lives.
In my own kitchen, a small rectangular table sits quietly in the breakfast nook. I so proudly purchased the table for a very reasonable amount, like the responsible new teacher I was. I brought it home in a huge box far too large for my small frame to handle. Painstakingly, I put it together following every instruction carefully. In my head, I dreamed of one day my own family sitting around this wood table, not quite as sturdy as the one I remembered, but still a solid place to house my dreams. The years passed, and I uncertainly moved that small table from apartment to apartment never sure where it would end up. Finally, I secured its spot snugly in my first home purchased with my husband, and now sit my own two cherub faced girls at that table. They are firmly strapped into booster seats, but I smile at the future. Sticky with juice and leftover dinners, I relish the day when I will sit with my girls and their quiet dad, just the four of us at that table telling stories of our days.