I was stunned by the gleaming wedding ring at the summit of my steering wheel. “I’m married.” The words escaped into the air, even though there was no one else in the car to hear them. I had been married eight months and should have been well-acquainted with this fact, but saying it out loud was an attempt to solidify what had not yet taken complete hold in my mind.
Life took me by surprise again when my ten-month-old slept soundly in his crib. I stood over my kitchen sink staring at a lone baby bottle, when I again stated the obvious to myself. “There’s a baby bottle in my sink; I am a mom.” You would think that after 573 dirty diapers and half as many 2:00 am feedings, I would already know this.
That baby boy in my crib is now sixteen and about to start his first job. The results of this life change, though, I am realizing ahead of time: the beginning of the end of our family dinners.
They started when we would drag the high chair as close to the table as possible. We were determined to create a family experience of dinners around the table. Never mind that our toddler managed to get only a few morsels successfully from his tray to his mouth. Back then, clearing the table also involved mopping the floor. Conversations were limited to Mom and Dad, but it was a start.
Mike and I remember the exact night the family dinners we had envisioned began in earnest. Our third child was newly graduated from her booster seat. This meant that no one was strapped in at our table anymore, another step in the right direction.
How it started, I cannot say, probably because it began like every other meal. Adrian, now a seven-year-old and all boy, began to imitate Uncle Mickey’s habit of clearing his throat. It's just the kind of eccentricity a seven-year-old boy would be all over. Adrian nailed the impression -- even his younger sisters recognized the similarities. We were all laughter.
We moved on to pinpointing and laughing at each other's idiosyncrasies. There was the way Noelle sucked her thumb rotated in her mouth with palm turned skyward while her other hand was plugged firmly into her belly button. As a toddler, she called it her butty-butty, and we laughed at that too. Then Noelle offered an exaggerated demonstration of her dad’s underwear waistband slapping suspender-style. Reagan was a peacock across our kitchen floor remembering the ones I had tried to feed when we stumbled upon them once in the mountains.
While the children crumpled in laughter over their half eaten chicken and rice, Mike and I sat up tall above them and met the gleam in the other's eye. The moment had arrived, and we knew it. We were a bona fide family making a memory around our table which held a home cooked meal.
Since that first untethered meal, we have prayed, we have cried, we've helped each other, and we’ve learned together. We have discovered problems, solved some, and ignored some. We've pondered questions and celebrated good news. We've fought over whose turn it was to set the table, make the salad, read our devotion, and do the dishes.
Next week, Adrian's new job will be the first among many things that will keep one or more of our children from our family’s nightly dinners together. Small children that were once strapped into high chairs are becoming young adults who are no longer tied down. In fact, they will eventually follow heartstrings into their own adult lives. So now my hope is that the memories we have made will become the ties that bind and draw us back to the table for many more family meals together.
**This is my first piece ever accepted for print. It has never appeared on my blog. It chronicles part of our story, and as my first published piece it's doubly part of my story. It ran in the May 2012 issue of Reach Out, Columbia. I was reminded of it tonight, when we all five of us were around our table for dinner together. It's already a rare treasure in our family.