What would I do without tablecloths?

If I were say, a realtor, and had to describe my kitchen table, I’d use words like “distressed”, “whimsical”, or “lived in.” The blunt truth is, our kitchen table is a dumpster dive from our early bootstrap years of marriage. We dragged it home, slathered on a thick coat of white paint, gathered some mismatched chairs from around the house and she was ours, good as new! Now, several years and and even more babies later, her thick coat of white paint is peeling like a nose in August.

Like the pencil ticks on the door jam preserving our children’s heights, the kitchen table is another monument to their ages. There are places where the two year old finally found his creative gift when he uncapped a Sharpie. There are glue gun gobs from years of school projects that simply won’t scrape off unless, you guessed it, more paint peels off with them. There are smatters of tempera paint that I was sure would wash right off, drips from the four year old’s nail polish, and stubborn splatters of spaghetti sauce during the toddler’s Jackson Pollock phase. Each mark, scar and stain have left it looking, well, “distressed.”

The 2mm crease where the missing leaf would normally sit (the whereabouts of which are still unknown) is conveniently fused together via a sticky, slurry blend of homemade play-dough, spilled milk, and spoonfuls of cinnamon sugar from the morning toast. I couldn’t pry it apart if the missing leaf knocked on my front door tomorrow.

So for special occasions like Sundays, in-laws, and eating in broad daylight, we prefer to keep the old girl veiled in one of her sweeping polyester favorites, stain resistant and machine washable. Otherwise, juxtaposed to our newly remodeled kitchen, the table feels like Martin’s barcalounger from the show “Frasier”: comically out of place amid clean lines and our attempt at a fresh modern feel.

Then there’s the size. When it was the four of us, then the five of us, then six, her size was a nonissue. Now we are nine. Nine people mashed elbow to elbow, hip to hip around its narrow perimeter, our screechy chairs constantly vying for spots along the edge. I’m still trying to decide if we can even afford to set up the high chair seeing as our available breakfast nook real estate is so scarce.

Table shopping has been nothing but frustrating. Anything very nice will get ruined, anything big enough leaves no space for chairs, and can’t you just see us all standing around the dinner table, plastic Ikea cups in hand, chatting like it’s a single’s mixer? I’d breeze by with trays of chicken satay, mushroom puffs and canapés at five minute intervals…

I have a friend who had the ingenious notion to remove all the floor carpets from her brand new car on day one. She let the actual floor of her minivan receive all the abuse from muddy cleats, leaky bottles and used ketchup packets directly. Then when she had a guest, she plunked down her factory fresh, mint condition floor carpets. Instant detail job!

That’s how I feel about our dirty kitchen table. Bring on the science projects, the manicures, the watercolors, the homework, even the glue gun. I’ve got a spanking fresh tablecloth at the ready for when a guest knocks or the dinner bell tolls.

And if it’s both, best bring your own chair.

Margaret Anderson is the happy mother of seven young children. Read more at www.jamsandpickles.wordpress.com