Dr. Karen writes the "KEEPER OF MEMORIES" ~ If the family dinner table could talk...Our dining room table sits empty now but she is the keeper of great memories for our family. If she could talk,
she would tell you about her many blemishes; like when the 4th grade science project went awry and acid ate through part of the finish, or the time we left the candle burning after a family dinner and scarred her greatly. She would tell you about the family celebrations that she has been a part of and the mounds of homework that have been done on her, but, mostly, the table is empty now.
My husband and I purchased the table 22 years ago for $300.00. It was a fortune for our budget and our first big newlywed purchase, but we knew, even then, that we wanted a large family and part of our family life would center around a big, pine table. The table seemed huge to just my husband and me in those early days, but, as our family grew, we filled that big table with our four kids and others. We learned early that it is not great cuisine that makes a memorable time but just the chance to enjoy each other's company. In fact, those early years with a limited budget yielded everything but great cuisine but that was not the point. The point was in being together.
I have found in my doctoral program in psychology that statistical evidence supports family dinners as a big boost for the family unit. If a family eats together at least once a week, the divorce rate for those families is lower. If they eat 2 meals together in a week, kids get significantly better grades. If American families ate 3 meals together in a week, who knows what could happen? We might just achieve world peace.
We continued our tradition of family dinner, affectionately shortened to fam din, at least once a week when we took over a café that was open five nights a week. It was a challenge to keep that tradition but it served as a time to talk through each other's triumphs and tragedies, goals and dreams. Dinners evolved as we assigned seats to help curb sibling rivalry. I often had visions of the kids in high school telling their friends that had to go to fam din, but they did, often bringing their friends with them. Most of the pictures in our family album surround this table. But mostly, the table is empty now.
Dr. Karen Royer
Three kids eventually graduated from high school but stayed in the area for community college. I counted my blessings. One son got engaged and his fiancée got her assigned seat at the table. Friends still called to join our Monday night tradition because they didn't have fam din at their house. We crowded in more chairs and added more pasta to the pot but mostly the table is empty now.
Within a period of four months, three of our four kids moved out to pursue other things. Not that it wasn't time. They had stayed home longer than most kids do and I loved every minute of it. People have said to me, "You will just love it when the kids move out. You will have such freedom." I have always smiled but knew deep down inside that that wouldn't be true for me. Freedom from what? I certainly never felt like I needed releasing from anything.
We still try to have fam din at home with the one child but like Papa Bear's chair in Goldilocks, the table is just too big. I find myself rendering a sort of parody of Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham:
I do not like this empty table
I do not like it,
I'm not able,
I do not like it on a Sunday,
I do not like it on a Monday. . .
You get the idea.
And then, one evening, serendipitously, the most wonderful thing happened! My daughter was home recuperating from ankle surgery. My oldest son came home to use the computer and another stopped by because of car trouble. The youngest was, of course, already there. My husband ran out for Chinese food and we had a marvelous impromptu fam din.
It felt good to laugh; it felt familiar, but something was very different. I realized something that I think that old table realized a long time ago. That table is not empty; she is just waiting for moments to come together to create more memories. She's just had a little more practice at it than I have. I'm sure she'll teach me well.