The Meaning of a Dining Table

When our family is all at home, there’s really only one place where we come together.

We divide off into separate bedrooms and different beds. We take turns in the bathroom. In the living room we sometimes share entertainment, and maybe for a while we even share the couch, but that usually doesn’t last long.

There’s only one place where we all do the same thing at the same time. Our dining table. 

I’m not one of those people who believes that the dinner table is the foundation of society. There are times when we eat our dinner in the living room. I’ll come right out and admit that breakfast is almost always a living room affair as I sip coffee and catch up with news on my laptop and the kids alternate between playing, getting dressed, and eating a yogurt or some dry cereal. 

These days, when we do all sit at the table together, it’s certainly not the idyllic scene you’d imagine. There’s usually someone who won’t eat. There are negotiations and complaints. The kids aren’t quite old enough for us to have any deep and moving conversation. Conversations in our house rarely last longer than a minute or two, we’re still working on that.

One eater and one objector to our meal of split pea soup.

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Our evenings are a rush. I leave work early to get on the train and then get in the car and then pick up Tessa and then pick up Graham and then we get home and it’s already past 5:30 and less than 2 hours until bedtime. Only 2 hours! That’s all the time we have to talk and catch up, to play inside or outside, to get dinner ready and then to eat it. 

Occasionally I enlist their help, but they’re both too short for the counter so any work is done at their chairs at the dining table.

When their dad and I were together, we had a big-ish dining table. One with a fold-up leaf so we could expand it for company. One we got to fit our much bigger apartment before we moved up to Boston. I lost it in the split, so now the kids and I have a very small bare bones dining table. Hypothetically it can hit 6 but it would be snug. For now it sits up against the wall and has seating for 4. 

"This is hard work," says Graham. Let the child labor commence.

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Like most things in the house, the table is often cluttered. The fruit bowl may be full or may be empty, depending on whether the kids are actually eating things like apples and bananas or refusing them (which means I stop buying them). I have placemats but never both with them. Most of the tableware is small and brightly colored. 

We don’t always eat the same meal and it’s not always at the same time. But that’s now. I know that as they get older we’ll be around that table more and more. That meals will last longer, that conversations will start to happen. We’ll take that time we’re all sitting together to catch up, or I’ll try desperately to get tapped in to their lives. Time will be harder to come by, connection more of a challenge. Dinner together may start to be an exception rather than a rule. 

But we’ll always have those meals. Imperfect as they are and as they will be. We’ll have that one place where we try to slow down for a minute. 

Imagining my little ones as big kids and teenagers and even adults is still something I can’t manage. But that won’t stop it from happening. 

Someday they’ll leave. And then we’ll have that dining table to call us back together for holidays and celebrations. 

When the kids are gone, I tend to eat like a college student. Cheap food, on my couch, eaten hurriedly. I save the dining table for the times we’re all together, for the times when we’re a family. For whatever reason, that table, as small and simple as it may be, stands for just about everything.

Mother’s Day, Again

ring e1431218546462 Mothers Day, Again

This is my Mother’s Day jewelry. It’s the first year Graham has actually known what Mother’s Day is and while we were walking through Old Navy he said, “You know, Mother’s Day is coming up.” So I let the kids peruse the clearance jewelry rack and helped rein in some of their crazier choices until we ended up with a Mother’s Day ring. The kids insisted on a ring of their own. They actually stole my Mother’s Day ring from last year (which I helped them pick out at the clearance rack at Sears) and co-opted it as their “Power Ring.” 

It’s a five dollar ring that I bought for myself and the blue-painted glass is already a little chipped. But it means something to me.

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These are my Mother’s Day flowers. Tessa still has no idea what Mother’s Day is, but she brought them over to me with a big smile and when we came inside she put them all in a little cup. 

There’s never a guarantee that your kids will give you these moments. They can’t be forced and they never come when you’re expecting them. That’s how motherhood is, there’s no script, no plan, just things as they happen day by day.

I don’t really like Mother’s Day and I don’t really like writing about Mother’s Day. I have said it before but the day just keeps coming every year so I keep having to say it again. It feels like I want to say pretty much the same thing every year. I still feel ambivalent and strange and lonely and I wish it would just disappear as a holiday.

Happily, for the third year I have something that means something to me that’s tied up with Mother’s Day, and yesterday Boston had their second annual Listen To Your Mother show. It is a beautiful thing in my life and it’s beautiful to have it at this particular time. It’s a bright spot to bring people together, to help give voice to stories that need to be shared. 

Three years of Listen To Your Mother does a lot to help me feel less caught up in my own internal weirdness on this holiday. (As a sidenote, “Internal Weirdness” is really a defining characteristic of mine and could also make a great band name.) The show doesn’t magically fix it all; my three years of Listen To Your Mother have also been three years that I haven’t had anyone to give my comp ticket to. And each year when the cast disperses into the audience to hug their families, I quietly head off to get my things. I have friends there who care about me and our cast members. It is wonderful to see them and to feel their support. It’s still strange, though, to keep doing this without having that safe place in the audience where I know someone is waiting just for me. My piece this year was all about the distractions of mothering and how they got me through the first difficult days on my own. And I kept thinking this year that LTYM is a lot like that. I have the distractions of getting the show ready to keep me from dwelling on that missing piece. 

Today I will avoid social media, just like I do on those other holidays I hate, but I will also celebrate that I made it through my hardest six months of the year. Once again I made it through that roughest patch relatively unscathed. Now it’s Spring and I can’t help but feel that Spring means something special and wonderful when you’ve had a long, hard Winter. I know that all over the country people have had leaves on the trees for months, but ours have just barely started to appear and I feel absolutely certain that ours must be more beautiful and more loved than any other leaves. I’m hoping that metaphor applies to the difficult winters of life, too.

Thanks to our wonderful cast for stories that helped sustain me, it was an honor to stand next to you. Thanks to our thoughtful and kind producers for going on the LTYM journey with me again. Thanks to our sponsors who mean the show actually gets to happen: national sponsors BlogHer/She Knows and Luvs, local sponsors Improv Boston, Barefoot Garden Designs, The Fenway Group, Carvalho & Roth Orthodontics, Jamberry Nails Independent Consultant Jess O’Toole, and Sanela Salon.

And thanks to my friend Kathy who never forgets me on Mother’s Day, you can’t possibly know how much it means to me, dearest.  

Tessa Observed

It is spring break and Tessa is too young for camp. So I work from my couch and she entertains herself.

It goes better than you’d think. Too young for camp is just right for her dollhouse and the train tracks and the coloring books and the puzzles and all these other toys we’ve managed to accumulate over the years. 

Her pretend play interests me to no end. There is lots of “Mommy” and “Daddy” and “Baby,” with plenty of animals and Frozen characters thrown in for good measure. Her chatter goes something like this:

“You want hot dog? Yes, Mom. I want two. Okay, two hot dog. You want hot dog, Kitty? Yes. Okay. Why you leaving? Because. Over there hot dog and train. Put on coat. Okay put on my coat. Aaahhh I falling! Oh, I sorry.” And on and on. 

It says a lot about where she is right now. There is lots of “why” and lots of “because.” Lots of “please” and asking politely. Lots of “hello” and “bye bye.” 

Being more aware of the world around her means sometimes she gets shy and quiet and even clingy. She still asks to be carried downstairs in the morning or picked up when we’ve walked for a while. But she’s also finally started talking about herself more as a “big” kid and less as a baby, which she pronounces “beebee.”

She has a silly disposition that Graham didn’t have at this age. He is just learning to love jokes, but she is already all about making funny faces. 

Two months into school and while I still don’t get anything resembling a reliable report of what happened from her, she does reference her teachers by name and takes great pride in her art projects. 

She does not sing at school but she will do hand motions. She will only sing at home if no one sings with her.

She often refuses to hold my hand even when she has no choice in the matter. But I usually let her hold Graham’s hand instead, and she’s always up for that. 

Like Graham, she went through a long period where she refused and avoided cuddling and hugs. But she’s getting past it. It’s not uncommon for her to hang on my leg when I’m sitting down and requests to sit on my lap are common. Even sometimes when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she just reaches out and waits for me to sit with her and hold her for a few minutes before she’ll go back to sleep.

Sick kid nap achieved! I'm 1 for 2 but I'll take it.

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Tessa is stubborn… but easily distracted. She’ll stand her ground for a couple of minutes, then you can almost always get her to do the thing she was so strongly against seconds before. 

She is not exactly toilet trained. She is happy to use it on her schedule, which is usually just once or twice a day. This morning, with both of us home for the day, I thought we’d give underwear a try. She was down with it for five minutes, then cried and asked for her diaper back. To her credit, she said maybe she could try again tomorrow. While I won’t miss the diapers, I will miss the little crinkly sound of her walk. Assuming we ever get there.

No longer an easy eater, but not picky either, she often just won’t eat her dinner at all. There’s not a huge fuss, she just won’t do it. And every success is usually followed shortly by failure. Like the pasta with cherry tomatoes I made on Sunday, which she ate enthusiastically (3 bowls!) only to reject it with tears on Monday.

She is still, in most ways, my easy kid. Graham cannot let 3 minutes pass without asking for something. Tessa does make requests, but there’s usually 20-30 minutes between them. She forgets about the TV, forgets about snack, forgets about a promised outing. It’s a pretty great deal for me, since 2 kids asking that often would probably make my head explode. 

Personal space. Nope.

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She likes pink and hearts and butterflies and princesses. She also likes dinosaurs, Spiderman, and trains. 

I used to think of her as bold and fearless. But she is becoming more cautious as time passes and I haven’t figured out yet if that’s good or bad. Graham offered to let her try his balance bike and she sat on it only to immediately get off. I think it’ll be a while before she tries again.

She still falls asleep in the car if it’s afternoon or evening and we drive for more than ten minutes. 

She calls Graham “Grammer” or “Graham Cracker.”

Some mornings she can be plagued by a funk of feelings, but it happens less and less. She can get stuck sobbing, but it happens less and less. I still have to say “Use words, please,” but it happens less and less.

 

Somebody's unruly hair got her a bob and bangs so many of us get at this age.

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This is the go-with-the-flow child. This is the child who doesn’t make requests about what we eat for dinner or where we go for the day. She is the classic younger child in that way. If she did get it in her head that she wanted one thing and then we end up doing another, she usually responds by thinking for a second and then saying, “Later?” I tell her, “Yes, we can do it later.” And then she says “Okay,” and she’s fine.

There is still a lot she doesn’t understand. She’s made so much progress in the last year that I forget that a lot. But I’ve officially made the switch from assuming she doesn’t understand me to assuming she does. 

She is called Tessa and Tessy and Tess. I’m still not quite sure which one she’ll feel most herself in, but for now, at 3, getting to be such a big girl, she is Tessa to me as long as she’ll have it.

Two of Them

I can’t say when it started. Of course, when Tessa was an infant, Graham was a quiet and anxious 3-year-old. He had little patience for her. When she moved into toddler years, she wasn’t talking while Graham became more and more chatty. 

But some time in the last year things have shifted. And now these two have become a team.

Riding Bikes 3 Two of Them

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resized 2 Two of Them

GT Two of Them

For several months I’ve been noticing how well they get along. As Tessa is a little older and more talkative, they’re able to play together and have conversations together. 

But it’s not just that. It’s not just that they get along. They’re a duo.

Maybe it’s because they’re always together even though they go back and forth between two houses. Maybe it’s because their brains are similar with their matching diagnoses. Maybe it’s just that magic that happens sometimes between people. 

 

New rule: no one's allowed to get bigger.

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Birthday lunch shenanigans. Tell me they'll always like each other this much. #happytessaday

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Helping. #bosnow

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We like watching TV up here. Because no bugs can get up here. Except ladybugs.

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The Grocery Store: the happiest place on earth.

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Good times and bad times, they’re in it together.

I realized a few months ago that we’d hit this new phase. It became most obvious in the weeks before Tessa started at Graham’s school. He started asking about it all the time. He talked about what it would be like when she came. He talked about playing at recess together and introducing her to his friends.

And you know what? She’s been at his school for over a month now and he’s still just as excited. He walks her to her classroom in the morning. He sits with her at breakfast. He tells me how she did at lunch. They get to do the same art projects. 

They go to bed at the same time even though Graham tends to fall asleep first. We sit together and read books for a while. Then the two of them lay down in Graham’s bed, their pillows side by side. Tessa may sit at the foot of the bed for a while or roll around on her side. But it’s been months since they’ve changed this routine. Tessa rarely sleeps in her own bed anymore. And Graham doesn’t seem to mind that much when Tessa, a very wiggily sleeper, wakes him up or steals his covers. 

If Tessa sees something, she immediately says, “Grammer!!” (Which in her 3-year-old mouth comes out “Gwammuh.”) And Graham returns the favor, showing her anything he thinks she should see.

They play games together. They play different things, but often stay next to each other. 

They fight sometimes, but it never seems to last long. 

They happily take turns choosing and pass off from one to the other.

Honestly, I’m a little stumped.

My siblings and I clashed more, our relationships were always tumultuous and it never seemed like things were quiet or calm. So I’m not exactly used to this. 

But this is exactly why I wanted to have more than one kid. I always wanted them to enjoy each other’s company, to have a real ally in each other, and to develop a relationship that would last their entire lives.

I know it’s early days. They’re just 5 and 3, after all. We’re still figuring out who Tessa is and what she’s like. There’s so much left ahead. 

And yet. I can’t help but wonder if this is just how they’ll be. I hope it is. I hope they always find this much companionship in each other. 

As you can see from the pictures in this post, it’s ridiculously easy to get pictures of the two of them together, happy. If school drop off wasn’t such a madhouse, I’d have snapped their picture every morning as they walk down the sidewalk, holding hands. 

I know it may not last. But I can hope.

Mommitments and Changing the World

I spent my first days, weeks, and months as a mom sure I was doing everything wrong. My baby wouldn’t breastfeed, wouldn’t nap, wouldn’t smile, wouldn’t stop crying. 

There was formula feeding. There was crying it out. And I kept quiet about it most of the time.

I was terrified to talk about the things that were so hard for me because I knew I was supposed to be happy. I was supposed to be doing everything the best way possible for the sake of my baby and people would see that I was failing.

A lot has changed since then. I’m not too scared anymore. I got a real baptism by fire in my first couple years of parenthood that opened my eyes to a lot of things I wouldn’t have realized so quickly if I’d had an easier first baby. 

And then, of course, there was the second baby. Where all the rules changed and everything I thought I knew went out the window.

Because there’s no one way. We’re all just doing what we can. We’re different. Our kids are different. It’s a huge world out there.

I was recently chatting with some people about the problems you run into when you say you like doing things like X and anyone who prefers doing them like Y is immediately offended that you’re judging them for their choice. It’s tricky. 

One person suggested a “You are Free to Think Differently” disclosure, so that people are aware that you’ve made a choice just because it works for you and not because you think it’s superior. This, I think, is something that should catch on. YAFTTD could change parenting. Could change Facebook. Could change the world. 

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My friend Julie has started a push for the #Mommitment, where moms decide to opt out of the mommy wars. You know, the constant bickering, the judging. Whether you’ve thrown stones or had them thrown at you, it’s hard to parent without getting in the middle of these fights. 

The last thing I needed in my difficult early days as a parent was a war. I kept breastfeeding long after I should have quit simply because I worried that I wasn’t enough. I didn’t need someone telling me I didn’t try hard enough, I needed someone to tell me it was okay. I caused myself a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering, weeks of it, because I was trying not to be a disappointment. What we need most when we’re stuck in those tough times is the help and support of other moms who have been there.

So I hope you’ll think about joining Julie’s Mommitment and think about your own part in the mommy wars and what you can do to stop them.