I tell this story with all the mamas in mind who think they are failures, because they may not have learned how to make a home.
Maybe the dream you have for your own family and home-life is different than the one you experienced growing up, and you have had to learn every thing new. I know what that is like.
My mama was a single mother, and worked nights. She gave her best, and never let us know arduous or wearisome those years of being both father, mother, and bread-winner were.
But, I have no childhood memory of all of us together eating dinner as a family at the same time. I did not starve, so I know I ate. But there was no setting of the table, no saying grace, no grumbling over who was going to wash the dishes.
When I got married even simple things, like setting the dinner table, were not so simple.
I have a friend — a lifetime one. She still makes me laugh like no one I know. To my eldest daughter, her kids are more like siblings. We met in the church nursery, when her third baby and my first were nine months old. We were both scheduled at the same time. It was not coincidence. It was God’s grace.
That was nearly twenty years ago.
She invited me into her life, into her home, into her heart, and many times for dinner. I was such a young and afraid girl back then. She was a safe place to come with my immaturity, so I could grow. And a safe place to come with my ignorance, so I could learn.
With her, hours would pass that felt like minutes. They were not idle moments. They were moments that a new and young wife and mom needed to make her know. . . she could do this.
When we first met, I was a teenage single mama. It was not long after, I become a wife. Since I already had a daughter, being married would mean I would have an instant family. I did not know how to do “family”. Not as a wife, a mama, or even a daughter. Though I have come far, I am still learning.
Seventeen years ago, I was standing in her kitchen. I followed her with my eyes as she prepared dinner for her family. She followed my rabbit trails as I chatted on and on and on. This we had done so many times before, but this day was different.
I watched her collect bowls from her cabinet, place them at the center of her dinning room table — the one draped with burgundy cloth. I studied her as she traced her steps over and over, gracefully moving back and forth from kitchen to the table and back again. I watched her multitask — stirring the spaghetti sauce as she passed the stove on the way to the cabinets.
She pulled out the stack of balanced plates, and balanced the utensils and cups to make place settings. She did it naturally and joyfully, while never skipping a beat of our conversation. The whole meal made it to the center of the table.
I just watched. I will never, ever forget that moment. It was like I just discovered something wonderful that I had been missing.
I learned how to set the dinner table that day. And I realized — I could do this. Suddenly, it not only became a possibility, but something I wanted. Something hard for me, but something worth working for. Something important and beautiful — all of us sitting together eating dinner as a family at the same time.
After all these years and three more children later, it still does not happen every night. When it does, it is never perfect. When it does, there is always some level of chaos, and bickering. I get up a million times, and someone always starts eating before we pray.
But when it happens you might catch me just sitting quietly, smiling, listening, watching and knowing — because it happened.