A Place at the Table

We eat every meal at this little round table. We make pizza dough and draw banana-shaped dinosaurs (Bananasaurus!) and form construction paper palaces at this table. I write blog posts here, pay bills here, drink tea and try to read the paper here. This table gets slimed and marked and wiped many times a day.

It's a tight fit around this table and we each have our spots. Z's got the best seat in the house, I think, facing the windows. CG and I are on either side of her, with me closest to the kitchen.

Sweet Dog crams herself underneath, waiting for falling crumbs.

There are always falling crumbs.

When E was born, we took everyone's advice: Pay attention to your first child and ignore the baby, she won't know the difference. We didn't totally ignore E, of course, but we did put her off to the side, continuing to shine most of our light on Z as a way to ease her transition into having a sibling.

When E was a baby, she was either asleep on a lap or in a bouncy chair during meals. Later, she was on the floor, first just lying there and then eventually scootching around. Finally, for many months, she was in her high chair, off to my right side in the open space toward the kitchen, the plastic tray clipped around her in a hopeless attempt to keep her messes confined.

She's almost two years old and has been refusing the high chair for weeks now, the tray for longer. She can no longer be put off to the side.

We haven't figured out exactly where to put her yet. She wants to sit on her own chair, until we start to eat and then she wants to run around, get on and off her chair and squeeze herself next to her sister causing dual laughter or screaming or both. The hardest part is that E's obvious place at the table, the one part of the table left available for her chair, is at the window, right over a heating vent.

Let me spell this out: messy toddler over large H/AC vent = smelly, sticky, disgusting vent that must be cleaned out daily.


So then I tried putting myself over the vent, my back to the windows, but that means that I have to squeeze past her or the rest of the table every time I need to get up to get something in the kitchen, which is EVERY TWO SECONDS.

Our meals are confusing right now, is what I'm saying. No one knows where to sit, we keep switching up everyone's spot, trying to find a scheme that works for everyone. People are always sliding off of chairs, either on purpose or accident. Rarely are all four people sitting at the same exact moment.

E wants to talk now, too. A lot. She has never been the most verbal child, and only recently has she started stringing words together. But she's given up all signs and uses her voice, a newly strong, gutteral, imperative voice, to make her presence known. She wants to participate in all aspects of our family's life and that includes conversations and mealtimes. Sometimes, when Z is giving us a dinner-time run down of her day, E will just start making loud nonsense noise in the background.

She wants a place at the table.

We want to give her one.

We're still learning how.

We've started reading her books with titles like "Big Girls Use the Potty" and "Pacifiers Aren't Forever" alongside "Goodnight Moon" and "Runaway Bunny". I still change her diaper lying down, giving raspberry kisses on her belly's fading birthmark. It gets lighter every day, this mark a daily evidence of vanishing babyhood.

I kiss her feet too when I'm changing her diaper. The soles of her feet, which used to be as smooth and plump as risen dough, are rougher every day, and even, just the teensiest bit, stinky.

With legs extended, she is longer than the changing pad. I suppose I could stand her up for diaper changing.

I'm not ready to stand her up for diaper changing.

I am embarrassed to admit this: sometimes I wish to flee her need for constant vigilance and boundary setting and repetitive Learning Opportunities. And yet, even as I feel ready, desperate even, to emerge from seclusion, from her babyhood, I simultaneously want to grasp her close, smush her into baby clothes, keep her totally for myself.

I have never totally possessed her, of course; even in utero she was her own being, her own heart beating its own rhythm. But my insane love for her is so overwhelming, so all encompassing, that devouring her seems desirable, holding her close the only reasonable alternative.

Her place is on my lap. Right?

Her place is in my arms. Always?

She still needs a place, her own place, at the table.


Hillary said...

Funny you should write this now. Just last night I took the tray off The Lad's highchair and pulled him up to the table. He finished before the rest of us and spent most of dinner climbing up and down the chair, thrilled with his skill and new freedom.

Marie Green said...

We have one of those (uber-expensive, but so far worth it) (and actually we had two for the twins but lent one to a friend) Stokke Tripp Trapp chairs. Like I said, REDONULOUSLY expensive ($200), but it's adjustable, WITH STRAPS, and allows the child to sit right up to the table. We bought ours when the twins were 2, and someone has sat on them for every meal since then (6 years). I think the fact that it has straps AND a foot rest, the toddler is more willing to sit there for the whole meal. (Plus they come in so many fun colors!)

And here ends this product placement.

Like I said in your last post, I CAN'T BELIEVE how huge that baby of your is! I... I refuse to believe my fetus will end up big like that, with a head full of hair and a mouth full of teeth!

Gina said...

We eat 95% of our meals at a tiny square table from IKEA pushed up against a wall of our kitchen. It worked perfect when there were three of us, but now with four we all squeeze around it and we are so close that Theo relentlessly steals food from Jeff. In a year when there are five of us I am not sure what we are going to do.

I love the almost 2 - 2.5 year old age - the conflict between independence and babyhood is so bittersweet to watch. Theo fights every diaper change now and is too long for his changing table as well. I haven't ever been able to master the stand up diaper change - Theo just smiles and exclaims "No clothes! Nakey!" and runs off with bare-bottomed glee.

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