A New Kitchen Table: The Center of Your Family's Orbit

by Kari Anne Roy
Originally Published: 

It is time to make a change.

In our kitchen is a (formerly) lovely vintage 1950s dinette. It has a yellow formica top, it’s wrapped in chrome, the chairs are yellow vinyl and have those metal studs all around the edges of the backs. When my husband and I bought it, we were either just barely married or not quite married. We found it in an old antique store in an old Texas town, and we paid $200 for the table and four chairs. It was an exhilarating find.

It would be a time capsule of all the years of school and birthdays and holidays. The gouges and etchings and accidental marks would be hieroglyphs spelling out years of childhood and adolescence.

I still love this damn table, even though a family of five does not fit around it, and the chairs are all beat to hell and duct taped, and we never quite got around to stripping the rust from the studs. I don’t want to get a new table. But we really, really need a new table.

I’m in negotiations with my husband right now to keep the dinette. Maybe I can use it for a desk. Maybe we can save it for one day when we have a house that has two areas for tables. I am way too sentimental about this table, but realistically, I know we cannot continue to cram five people around it, using a mish mash of beat to hell 1950s chairs and plastic Ikea chairs.

So we went table shopping today.

My first realization was that even though we have a million kids and less than a million dollars we do not have to go to Ikea or some big box furniture store. I’m not sure why this was so surprising to me, but it sure was a relief. Not that I don’t love Ikea, or have a couch from a big box furniture store, I just want something equal to—or close to equal to—the energy and the awesomeness of the dinette.

My second realization was that maybe it isn’t going to be as arduous and impossible to find a table as I had convinced myself.

The first place we went, BAM. Really cool reclaimed teak table. Not something you’d see everywhere, not too expensive. But huge. Plenty of room for the family. Too big to fit in the kitchen, though. Boo.

The next place we went we found this cool handmade pine table. The legs seemed heavy to me, and the pine was so soft it would be marked and stained in an instant. But the thought of instantaneous ruin is what made me kind of love it. If we bought that table, it would be tattooed with dinner spills and science experiments gone awry. It would have words and numbers accidentally carved into it from pressing too hard while angrily working on homework. It would have gouges from slipped silverware and dropped bowls. It would have scorches from birthday candles and too hot cookie sheets. We would ruin that tabletop—but in ruining it we would make it ours. It would be a time capsule of all the years of school and birthdays and holidays. The gouges and etchings and accidental marks would be hieroglyphs spelling out years of childhood and adolescence.

And now I have somehow managed to become sentimental over a table we do not own. This particular one has these huge heavy legs that would look weird in our kitchen. But… now, I’m less bothered by setting aside the dinette and finding something new. The 1950s diner table was perfect for the first 14 years of marriage, but now we need something for everyone… a table that will see late night homework sessions, birthday dinners, Important Talks, food fights, slumber party shenanigans, midnight snacks, stolen kisses, and years of markers and paint and ink and pencils… something that will be solid under our elbows; something that will see us through sunny days and long nights.

It is only a table, I know. But it will be our table—the entire family’s. It will need to see us through the years to come.

Maybe neither of the two tables from today is quite the perfect table for us, but they freed me from my weirdo emotional tether to the current table. Granted, this freedom appears to be in the form of a new weirdo emotional tether to something yet to be discovered, but that’s OK, I think.

If anything in this family is going to record the hieroglyphs of our minutes and days and weeks and years, it should be the kitchen table. It is the sun to our many different orbits. It is the magnetic force that finds us pulled together even when we don’t want to see each other. It is a lap where we all sit to find comfort. It is the heartbeat of the household, where we flow when we need more oxygen and nutrients, and where we drift away when we find ourselves satiated. It’s always there, always offering a place to catch your breath, always offering a place to fill your cup.

And, suddenly, a tedious shopping experience is turning into an adventure. We are hunting for a new sun to orbit around. A new recording device for our daily travails. An always silent ear listening to our burdens and offering solace in its sturdiness and ability to hold a tray of cookies.

So we’re looking. Not shopping, but searching. We’re discovering and uncovering and investigating and seeking a talisman that will stoically accept our spaghetti dinners and spilled milks and secrets and wonders.

It is only a table, I know. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I do want a new one. It will be our table now—the entire family’s. And it will need to see us through the years to come.

It will need to survive us.

It will need to last.

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