More Than a Place to Eat

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This week I crawled under my 25 year-old beech wood dining table to prepare it for dismantling, and make room for the new dining room set I bought. I reached up to wipe away any cobwebs that may have collected underneath and was horrified to see a glob of Spaghettios stuck under the table. My horror wasn’t just over the fact that I once let my children eat such a questionable product on a frequent basis, but that they moved out of my home long ago and had stopped eating Spaghettios when they were in middle school—over ten years ago!

I knew that the ancient goo was from Spaghettios and not some other healthy tomato based dish because I recognized the artificial red dye number five glow that was unique to the Spaghettios I put in my kids’ bodies. After coming to grips with the fact that I’m a bad housekeeper who doesn’t clean the underside of her tables, and that I was a bad mom for feeding my kids toxic convenience foods, I smiled as memories filled my head with my two toddlers begging for more “Sghettios” as they pounded the table with stubby kid-sized forks and spoons.

I looked more closely at the underside of the butterfly leaf in the table and discovered a map of stages that my family had traveled through. In addition to Sghettios there were lots of stains from  milk spilled from sippy cups; Kraft macaroni and cheese colored fingerprints; chocolate syrup that probably fell off of the homemade ice cream the kids helped their dad make; remnants of Christmas cookie dough from our annual traumatic baking tradition that usually resulted in the kids playing with the dough and seeing who could make the most hilarious cookie—the life-size road kill cookie with tire tracks was the all-time best. When I looked toward the end of the table, I saw pieces of packaging tape where blankets were once secured as the kids’ fort walls. I apparently never looked up when I spent time with my kids under the table, otherwise I probably would have wiped away the food residue on occasion.

After scraping the grime away from under the table, I was curious to see what else I might have overlooked. I inspected the table top and found another map indicating where my family had once been: the spot where my son built a wooden clock for his room via his first hammer and nails project; the place where my daughter created art with a permanent marker; where we played Yahtzee as a family; the corners where the kids did their homework on spiral bound notebooks; where I competed with my husband and kids in fast-paced games of Quadruple Solitaire as my jewelry hit the table while dealing cards; where despite our repeated pounding, we failed to get the Eggstractor to work “As seen on TV”. I looked at the chairs around the table and saw: where my daughter and son first learned to climb when they were babies; where my kids sat for their first haircuts; where my daughter first started learning the alphabet while she sat in her booster seat and read the letters from the baby oatmeal box; where my son sat and gleefully flung spaghetti onto the white vertical blinds;  where my son wove orange yarn through all of the chair legs to make a train; where my daughter sat and used a sewing machine for the first time.

As I thought about all of the moments my husband and I had spent with our children around that table, I realized that it had been the heart of our home. It made me feel like I would be killing my family’s chance of future good times if I dismantled it. I cried and regretted buying a new dining set.

My new table and chairs are perfect; an Amish-made masterpiece created from maple and elm. They are in immaculate condition: no scratches; do dings; no dents; no stains; no goo; no Sghettio globs; no heartbeat . . .  It is perfectly gorgeous, perfectly dead furniture; yet unfused with the rhythm of family life. So far, I’ve only been admiring my new table from afar because I’m afraid I’ll damage it if I get too close.

The old dining room table and chairs now sit dismantled in the laundry room—waiting for me to finish grieving the loss of daily family interaction at my table and say good-bye. I’ve been avoiding doing laundry because it’s too traumatic for me to be near my retired table. It’ll probably stay in there until I run out of clean clothes—or until the next time my children come home, because I don’t want them to think I’m some kind of weird hoarder who can’t let go.

Together, my kids and husband and I will hopefully share new moments at the new table that will become a regular gathering place. It’s an optimistically big table—with room for several new family members to join me. And I’m okay with them leaving their marks on it. I’m hoping that 25 years from now I’ll crawl under the table to clean it for some reason, and I’ll find myself smiling in response to evidence of family memories that make my heart beat.

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© 2017 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Julie Ryan.


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