We don’t have a table. Well, not completely true. We have a couple bedside tables, and a pewside table (yes, we have portable pew in our living room). We have a table in the kitchen – literally a kitchen table, but not for sitting around and eating…more of an island, made from an old makeshift table.
We don’t have a dining table. Sure, lots of people, perhaps most people in America, have a dining table. But we don’t – no room for it.
We used to have room for one. Over the years, as we’ve had more children, we ran out of room. We have a relatively small house, about 1300 sq. ft. My wife and I didn’t grow up rich (though I spent several years, up until about 11 years of age, being upper middle class, but then we lived on welfare for several years; her family was just never quite well-to-do), so we didn’t have a particular lifestyle expectation when we got married.
When we bought this house it was just right for what little expectations that we had. We had 2 children at the time, and things were comfortable. We had a bunch of junk, which we didn’t think of as junk at the time, but now realize that it surely was junk. And that junk took up lots of the house. But the house was the right size for 4 people (plus junk).
Then we had another child. Things were still fine. This house (our mindset?), was designed for 5 people. So we were still OK.
Then we had another child. And it kept going. We now have 11 people in this house. Somewhere along the way, things got cramped around here. I don’t know when it occurred – probably after child 4. But we faced a challenge. What do we do with our stuff and our people? We had to gradually get rid of stuff. We moved things around, put kids in bed together for times as we’d re-engineer both our space and our thinking. Then we’d have another child. Some more re-engineering.
We knew about keeping up with the Jones’, but it goes much deeper than we ever thought. A couple years ago the “keeping up” philosophy reached the dining table. Long before that point we had gotten rid of the dining room, so we hadn’t had a dining room table…just a table at which to dine.
But we reached a point where one of the sacred relics of the American experience was challenged – what do we do with the table? Maybe we could bungee cord it to the ceiling? Maybe recess it in the floor? Dig a hole in the floor and have traditional Japanese seating? Pulley system? Creative, yes. Feasible?…
What are moral issues? Right vs. Wrong; excellence vs. haphazard; frugal vs. frivolous. But a table? No, but it felt like a moral issue. My wife and I grew up with tables; we went to schools with tables; we ate breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at tables all of our lives. But we had to face it – space for our family was much more important than a table. So out went the table.
We learned to enjoy floor time (which is actually quite a healthy thing for joints, though tough when you start it in your 30s and 40s!). Our kids didn’t skip a beat. We eat on the floor (not OFF the floor – big difference). Yes, we parents often sit in the living room chairs, because we’re not saplings, and, frankly, it often hurts. But now and then we take the challenge and sit on the floor. Like I mentioned, it’s healthy to get down on the floor and be forced to stretch the joint and ligaments.
We had studied India, and while studying we noticed that, even among some of the better-off homes, they sit on the floor. I don’t know how old the elderly were in the pictures, but they must have been at least 50 years old, if not 60 or 70. Of course, they start when their kids, so their bones and joints grow accordingly (much like the Oriental ways of massage, where the Oriental practitioner, who is used to kneeling since being a child, kneels on a mat, but Western practitioners typically can’t spend much time that way). Regardless of the discomfort, we saw that it can be done. And in fact it IS done the world over. Not everyone in the world has chairs and tables at which to dine. And they are doing just fine. So we knew that we could do it.
Table manners are a little tough to train, but it’s really not that hard. The children actually do very well when out in public, so we know that our training has not been in vain; the kids know what to do at a table.
It doesn’t take a table to learn table manners. It doesn’t take a table to feed a family. It doesn’t take dining chairs to enjoy a meal together. We decided what was more important, and learned again to overcome a challenge by thoughtfully confronting our preconceived notions and creatively employing a solution.