I spend a lot of time at my kitchen table, usually with coffee, always with some chaos. Multicolored, stubby pencils make the rounds of busy fingers. Math and history, science and language books cover the scratched and pen-marked surface. A large, noisy electric sharpener has a prominent position, near the salt and pepper. The dog is underneath our feet, looking for inevitable scraps.
If you walked by our open window, you might hear a list of prepositions, the definition of an asteroid, a Medieval knight’s adventures, or the multiples of 3. My daughters, ages 5 and 8, are giggling mermaids — when they aren’t grumbly bears, stomping the injustice of phonics or subtraction.
You would hear a lot of questions. I admit, that part is sometimes wearing. Sometimes, I catch myself saying “I don’t know” before a question is even fully voiced. Sometimes, I ask for “quiet time”, so I don’t have to come up with any answers. Sometimes, I just say “pineapple” or “porcupine” or “378”. Surprisingly, this works.
On other days, you’ll find the house silent, the table empty. We are off on an adventure — a museum, an art gallery, a piano lesson, a theater. Recess at the playground. I think the table misses us, but it gives nothing clear away.
Usually, you’ll catch the tails of stories. The kitchen table is bare then too. Stories are better on the couch, the girls nested in my rib cage, strung across my arms. Above all else, we are a family of tall tales, of myths and fairy legends. My girls invent imaginary creatures, full of mischief and delight. I tell them about a house where no door ever opens on the same room twice — the broom closet might as well lead you to Australia as a mop.
If you peered through the slightly-grimy windows that I endlessly forget to clean, you might see sparks of wild invention. Boo Monkey draws an outer space adventure, dog in an astronaut suit, octopus-like monsters floating by the stars. Rainbow Girl designs a puppet theater, ice cream parlor, and aquarium. She likes the sound of architecture, a blend of art and math. Projects fill the room, piled and scattered and hung. There is the detritus of science experiments. There is too much dog fur on the rug.
There are the ghosts of questions from friends and relatives and strangers: Do we survive on goat’s milk? (No). Are we worried that our children will be shy social misfits? (Spend five minutes with their chatter, please). Am I a saint in disguise, my heart brimful of patience? (Have you ever met me?)
Through the window, you’ll find more moderation than you might surmise. I don’t listen to the zealots who say that any amount of soy or high fructose corn syrup or red dye number 40 will end in utter ruin. I don’t believe that co-sleeping or baby formula or daycare will lead to an apocalypse of sorrows. Kids are more resilient than that. I try to match them in their bounce.
But mostly, you would find us at the table. Usually, there is coffee, scattered papers, half-used pens and worn erasers. The table itself is pocked and scarred and marked with ink. It isn’t neat. It isn’t easy either, but it’s the perfect place for us.
Are there any choices you’ve made, as a parent or an individual, that wavered from the median? If not, you can tell me your thoughts on linking verbs and the multiples of three.