The Indestructible Dining Room Table

by Barrett

Living with this old dining room table has taught me how to be a better parent. Here’s the story.

When I was growing up, my father constantly hounded me not to jump on the living room couch and to stop spilling my milk on the dining room table.

No, my parents didn’t cover everything with plastic, but our New York City apartment wasn’t really designed to accommodate the usual physical energies of a growing boy. Still, I made it through without causing too much damage.

Now, I’ve got my own son. He’s almost eleven, and I find myself on opposite side of the same equation. Like father, like son?

A Fateful Meeting
Many years ago when I lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, I picked up an old and somewhat beat-up dining room table from the curb. It was abandoned there, the table top and legs, just up the street from where I lived, near the Capitol Theatre.

I carried it home, put it together and then took a closer look at what I had dragged in. It wasn’t really in that bad shape, and the craftmanship was solid. It must have been built in the 1940s and lived in someone’s home across a generation or more.

Then, circumstances clearly changed, and it was cast out, waiting for the garbage truck.

But I saved this table and integrated it into my own life. And it’s stayed with me across my journey and into parenthood.

Reflections of Family Life
It’s lasted far beyond my expectations. I figured it would eventually get replaced with a nicer table, but then a funny thing happened to it during our early parenting years.

To borrow a phrase… it took a licking and kept on ticking.

No matter what kind of abuse it took, it had this seemingly magical quality to bounce right back.

  • Pen and crayon marks? No problem.
  • Fork gouge. Not that noticeable.
  • Water spill? The stain somehow evaporated.

Actually, there were so many little marks, the scars simply began to blend together into a dull, well-worn, distressed look. I’m sure the table sported a uniform shine in the previous century, but now, it simply absorbs the daily life of our growing boy with its own muted elegance.

Learning from your Mistakes
I woke up on Saturday morning and began setting the dining room table for breakfast. Sitting in the middle of the table was a science experiment and magic trick of sorts from the previous evening. Our son had created the illusion of dry bits of paper floating inside a Ziploc bag of water. It was a clever design that, of course, used two Ziploc bags.

My wife and I enjoyed our son’s after-dinner illusion, but unfortunately, we all forgot to make sure it was cleaned up and put away.

Sometime overnight, the bag with the water sprung a leak.

So when I walked over to the table in the morning, there was a huge water stain that spanned the entire length of the dining room table.

In many situations, this would be a game-over moment for a piece of wooden furniture. And for me, it should have prompted a response of significant stress.

But it didn’t.

After observing the pool of water, I walked over to the kitchen to retrieve some paper towels, and then I mopped up the mess. I took another look at the massive wet stain, which I knew would mostly disappear when it dried. I shrugged and went about my breakfast prep.

That’s it.

Yes, I later pointed out the water illusion’s structural failure to my son, and I did suggest that he shouldn’t leave aqua experiments lying about.

But compared to other corrective conversations, it was very Zen.

The Real Value of a Dining Room Table
Parenting is a messy business. Growing up is a messy business. Good messy.

I’ve realized it’s just fine for your dining room table to reflect that.

  • A table for science experiments
  • A table for art projects
  • A table for family Zoom chats
  • And yes, sometimes a table to eat on

I expect that some folks might be horrified with my position on dining room table protection, but I’m so happy letting this table be the surface for so many of our family’s home adventures.

And now, it’s clearly become my own little experiment.

I think one day… a few years down the line, we’ll get the table refinished. It’s certainly earned it!

Life Lessons
Yes, my indestructible dining room table has been an invaluable tool across these years. It’s ongoing presence has also taught me not to worry so much about the little nicks and dings… and water stains.

That’s life.

This lesson has helped me to avoid some of the parenting styles I grew up with. And I’m really thankful for that.

I don’t know who left this magic table for me all those years ago. But whoever you are, thank you!