When we married, Engineer’s family from out of town graciously offered to give us money for a dining table in lieu of wedding gifts. I thought that sounded fine, and expected we would buy one in the near future, once we were out of student housing. We used a hand-me-down table in our student apartment, and then when we left, we accepted a small hand-me-down from a cousin for an apartment out in Los Angeles. We didn’t yet have a place lined up, but we knew it would be small. Just about everything we could think about affording in LA would be small. The dining table fund languished and sat, being absorbed into our general savings. Never used, mind you, but it lost its distinction. Years past. We moved from one apartment to another, before relocating back to Utah. This time, we packed up for the last time: we moved into our home. We brought our hand-me-down table back, knowing it would be temporary. We could have left it; but we did need something until we found a table suitable for our space. Our little dining table fund had sat for 3 years. After moving in, we began looking for a suitable replacement for our hand-me-down table, which took much longer than I expected. But, my expectations had grown. I wanted something stylish (not distressed–I did not understand buying new furniture meant to look old), but in addition to being stylish, it had to be sturdy. In addition to those very basic needs, it also had to speak to me. I had come to expect that dining table to be a gathering place. As we began to plan to start a family, I envisioned children gathering at the table doing homework while I prepared dinner. I saw our family eating dinner together, laughing and enjoying being together (that’s how you know it’s a dream–when do children ever love dinner time all at the same time? Someone’s always crying about what’s for dinner) The dining table came to represent home and family, all the things I dreamed would be. Now, the dining table didn’t just need to be stylish and sturdy. It needed to be perfect.
About a year and a half after we moved in, we found our table. It’s bar height, has two leaves, and with one leaf in, is a square pub-style table with seating for 8. The top is a dark espresso finish while the legs and chairs are painted black. It has a simple bevel edge and is lovely. When we bought it, I was still working full-time and we didn’t have children. The table, instead of being a gathering place for conversation and laughter, became a landing pad for junk mail, books, and anything else we didn’t want to put away. It became a giant catch-all.
Fast forward several years. I now stay home and we have two children. Sous Chef is 3 and a 1/2 and Babycakes is 9 months. It turns out, treating a table like a catch-all is a really tough habit to break. I have to make a conscious effort to keep it clear, and I’m only somewhat successful.
In my efforts to use the table as a gathering place, as the symbol of home I always thought it would be, I recently sewed a table runner. I had it quilted and when I had bound it, I put it on the table, quickly added a bowl with fake apples, and admired my handiwork. And I realized the table had needed to be personalized. Initially, I felt that if I had a pretty table runner, I would be more motivated to keep the table clear. That remains to be seen; what I wasn’t prepared for was the instant transformation it made from a clean table to a representation of family. It was no longer a clean table waiting (and hoping) to be gathered around. It was a temporarily vacant family spot that would soon be returned to.
I only finished my runner a week ago, and I’ve already had to guard my table to keep things that don’t belong from overstaying their welcome. Right now, even, I have a stack of my papers and the contents of my purse spread out, waiting to be cleared. But Sous Chef is more anxious to do her own projects “at the brown table” as she calls it; even if she can’t explain it, she knows it’s different now too. I think I’m on my way to making our house our family’s home.