This is a story of two tables.
The first is round. The wood is dark, and the square pedestal is cracked. We bought the table as newlyweds.
We spent weeks hunting for chairs to match. The six chairs we found were always a little wobbly, but the warm, wood color was just right.
It needed sixteen years, but we did, eventually, grow to fill those chairs. Jonathan and myself. Two daughters. Two sons.
But now, it isn’t only the chairs that wobble. The tabletop leans noticeably under the pressure of elbows and full plates and sibling squables.
In a few spots, the warm wood is lost beneath vivid Crayola shades. I have tried scrubbing them, but they will not scrub. I fear (and hope) that they will always remind me of these years with young children. These are the years when I rarely set the table without first clearing the paper landslide on which four children daily prove they are made in the image of an artist.
I found the second table only a few weeks ago. It is long, rectangular, and not nearly as dark. The wood is more like honey than maple syrup, though it already sports sticky rings of both.
It is solid, Amish-made, and doesn’t look as if it will ever wobble or lean. We can sit at it, three on each side, and still have room for the enormous fruit bowl and the inevitable leaning tower of homework.
One end of the table is marked by a black semi-circle, as if someone once set down a can of black stain or paint. The black is faded, scraped by sandpaper I suspect, but the stain appears permanent.
This table is ready-made for our creativity and the inevitable spills and mistakes that accompany such efforts.
Still, I do not think I could have welcomed this new table if it meant sending our old table, leaning so heavily with memories, to the curb. Thankfully, the old table fits exactly in the recess near the family room’s curved bay window. It still leans but seems able to support Candyland and Uno.
Monopoly might be a bit beyond its strength.
My youngest child is happiest with crayons, markers, and watercolor paints spread out before her. She makes regular use of both tables. When I was her age, I told everyone who asked that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. She is still too young for that question, but when I tell her she is a “maker,” she looks toward her toes with embarrassment and pleasure.
I never became the artist with jaunty beret and paint-smeared palette, like the Halloween costume I wore in fourth grade. I no longer sketch or paint. I do not even decorate my children’s birthday cakes with icing swirls. But I serve food on these tables, fill mason jars with flowers from the garden, light candles, and try, most nights, to read one chapter from our latest read-aloud book. Over the years, I have learned that I am too tired for reading at bedtime, so after dinner it is.
In Roots and Sky, I wrote that this home was my creation, my offering, and my work of art. These tables, paint-smeared like palettes, are not only the evidence of my children’s creative efforts, but of mine, too.
Art doesn’t always have a message, but it can and does speak to us. If these tables I have scrubbed and set, emptied and filled say something, I hope they say this:
Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Don’t fear broken things.
Empty seats will one day be filled. Worn-out things will find new purpose.
This world, and the hearts of those around us, are full of beauty just waiting for us to pull out a chair and give it space.