My kitchen table was at one time our family's dining room table. I remember vividly when we were at a point in our married life when we could afford a townhouse with a dining area and the table that would go in it. We looked for something large and sturdy that would one day be laden with food and family. We seldom ate at it in our early days preferring our tiny kitchen table for the three, then four, then five, then six of us.
When our fourth child arrived and we placed her high chair at the kitchen table we realized two things: we needed a bigger table and a bigger house. So we moved across town to our current home which has a dining room and an area for a big kitchen table. Initially, we hunted for kitchen tables for the kitchen and a china cabinet to match our dining table but nothing seemed quite right. After fruitless searches and too many meals with six at a table for four, my husband suggested we use the dining table in the kitchen. (We're a bit slow on the uptake!) We liked it; it fit. For the eleven years we've lived here it has hosted breakfast, lunch and dinner; two children on one side, two on the other, my husband and I at either end. Studious students- and some not so studious -have completed countless homework assignments at it as I prepared dinner. Many games of Balderdash, Rummikub, Yahtzee and Monopoly have been played there into the wee hours of the night.
And then the exodus began; my little chickens began to huddle at the door ready to fly the coop. Our hands reached across the vacant spot of the oldest to bless the meal, always aware that someone was missing. Our second one graduated and abruptly exited leaving those remaining unsure of their spots; one on one side, one on the other. With my daughters dancing alternate days of the week at the dinner hour, there was frequently only three of us huddled at one end of what now seemed like an expansive amount of space on which to eat.
I contemplated the necessity of such a big kitchen table all last year, but could not bring myself to act. I half hoped that the second son would come to his senses and return home filling his space at the table once again. But as the days have turned into months, I've begun to see that he won't, and probably shouldn't, come home.
School begins on Tuesday. My third child starts her junior year. She's reminded me many times (as if I need reminding) that she has only two years left at home and then she'll be gone. My kitchen table had grown larger and larger in my mind until I couldn't stand the thought of the constant reminder of my shrinking family. I removed the leaf, tightening the circle to accommodate four. When she saw what I had done, my daughter stretched her arms across it and said "No! No! Mom, what have you done to our table?" I laughed at her and told her I only removed the leaf-it can be put back when everyone is home. "But our family has six, mom, and this looks there's only four!"
My husband's reaction was much the same. I made my case by reminding him that we would only have three most nights eating dinner at home. He was unimpressed until I said that I needed to prepare my heart for our girl's departure. Already when she isn't here for a meal I feel the ache of her dwindling presence in our lives. He agreed to the leafless table.
We four have had several meals at our smaller table. Our hands all reach easily for the blessing of food and family; blessings for those present and those not with us.