It’s Just A Table…Or Is It?

Something happened last week that made me realize that I’ve spent a whole lot of time reflecting on the changes Jim and I (and this house) have gone through since J left for college (when we officially became empty nesters), but next to no time (okay, no time at all) reflecting on any changes the boys have gone through in regards to the two of us and this house.

Let me try and make some sense.

In my parental mind, I naively assumed that once the boys were settled in at college—or in an apartment, or whatever—that was it; their adjustment was made. That’s not necessarily true, as I just learned. Assimilation into their new lifestyle is only part of it and that comes relatively quickly. Figuring out that their old home can be different in many ways is the other part.

That’s where the table came in last week.

We have this awesome antique gate-leg table that belonged to my grandparents. Their Chicago bungalow had a very small dining room and the table worked well in that house because the two ends folded down to make it more compact. Grandma kept the table pushed up against the dining room wall so it was out of the way except when she had visitors, and sometimes not only unfolded the ends but also added a leaf to the center.

My mom gave Jim and me that table years ago, and I love having it in my own home. The difference is that until recently we always kept it unfolded in the center of the dining room because when the boys were around we always had four or more people seated there.

Table unfolded

In early November we were preparing for our dining room windows to be replaced, so I folded the ends of the table down and repositioned it against the dining room wall (just like Grandma did) so it wouldn’t be in the way of the contractors. After the windows were done, we left the table exactly where it was until Thanksgiving, when we set it back up so seven people could sit there. After everyone went back home after the weekend the table was folded and pushed against the wall again because Jim and I just don’t sit there.

Table folded

Last week the boys asked if I wanted them to get the table unfolded so we could get ready for dinner and I said, “Yes please!” One of them said, “Okay and we’ll put it back in the middle where it belongs, too.”

I said, “No need for that. Just leave it near the wall and unfold the one end.”

I got this from both of them:

*blink, blink*

One of them said something along the lines of “But it goes in the middle. We can put it there!”

Jim then jumped in and said, “No thanks, guys! We’re just going to fold it back down when we’re done with it this week. Mom and I either eat here (patting the kitchen island) or down in the family room. We don’t use that table when it’s just the two of us.”

They seemed stunned for a second but then shrugged and set up the table how we asked.

Usually when kids grow up and leave their home for college or other forms of the real world, the talk is mostly about what the parents are going to do to their bedrooms. A new office? A workout space? New bedding and accessories to make it a guest room? You don’t hear much about how parents prepare their kids for how life changes for those still in the house, other than superficial comments about how we have to purchase less food or might be able to travel more.

Did Jim and I ever have a real conversation with our boys about how our day-to-day lives were going to change? No. I don’t think anyone thought it was necessary…and maybe it isn’t.

Speaking as one of the parents, we likely didn’t think about having that conversation because it never occurred to us that on some level it might matter to them. (To be clear, I’m not saying that I think our sons don’t care, but who thinks about these things?? That’s why I’m writing this.) I can’t speak for my kids but my guess is that they just assumed that it would, for the most part, be business as usual around here because why would they imagine otherwise? “Business as usual” is all they’ve known.

I don’t know if a quick conversation is or was ever necessary to prepare our kids for how things at home might really change. I don’t even think we knew, ourselves. What I do know is that, as a parent, seeing that unexpected flash of *blink blink* in my kids’ faces like I did last week made me feel like I was watching one of those split-second “here’s another way I am growing up” milestones and, for that split-second, it made me a little sad. Just for a split second. Then, just like that flash of *blink blink*, the sadness was gone.

Because in the end, the more things change, the more they stay the same. They’ll always be a part of us and our home, and we’re happy to unfold that table for them anytime, any day of the week.


  • Leigh Ann

    I remember SO WELL the feeling of coming home from college and being uncomfortable with the changes my parents had made, however slight. It could have been a new food they were buying or a plastic lid my mom found to keep her half-empty 7Up from going flat (see? I remember all too well), but it was different. And kind of hard.

    Also funny is that I have a post in draft about MY table (I wrote it for an online writing class I took and never posted it). I’m in a much different parenting phase than you, but it’s funny how key pieces of our furniture or home can come to bear so much meaning.

  • Patty

    There is something really precious about this event both for you and the boys. It’s hard to put my finger on it but I can totally relate to their feeling of confusion if even for a second. I think I had the same realization when my parents did stuff without us. 🙂

    • Melisa Wells

      Thanks, Patty. I was kind of unable to put my finger on it too, which is why I worked on this post for about four days (on and off! ha) before publishing.

  • Shannon

    I am starting to notice all of the ways that our home will feel different after just the one leaves next year and I wonder how the other two will feel about the change. This stage of children leaving feels almost as life changing as the stage when they arrived.

  • Heidi BK Sloss

    It is a funny time in a family’s life as the shifting begins when they head out the door for other venues. Our oldest, now 24, is just starting to draw boundaries of his own with us and has left me with the *blink, blink* look in my eyes. And our 19 year old, sophmore in university, has been setting boundaries for us for years! I still have my moments with her, but I am used to her separating herself. It is taking me a while to get on board with our son’s choice.