Big on little: Table talk

Family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge define me.” That’s hot new Microsoft honcho Satya Nadella speaking. The father of three children, two with special needs, has made his priorities mega clear to world media gulping every byte of his gyan.

Looking over the top of the newspaper crammed columns full with Nadella quotes I see a pair of tousled teens across the breakfast table. And think what a journey of joy they’ve taken me on.

“Journey of joy?!” my husband mock-gasps when I whisper so. He guides my gaze to paper piles teetering between the butter dish and banana bowl. They sway, seconds from toppling on a tangle of wires curling from finger-sized gizmos galore. Bang beside are water splashes on the tablecloth from a flower vase struggling to stay centre-stage.

Near demonic destruction, you’d say. Both bleary-eyed kids survey the bomb scene with blithe normalcy.

We make the mandatory protest noises parents must. Clear up before dashing to college, this is a home not a sty, how can you think straight in such chaos.

Still, I confess I miss this mess just a bit when it isn’t there. Brought up in a military-neat home, my own now is almost the opposite. A trace of the anarchist in me agrees a dining table is meant for at least a little mayhem. It’s dying to be disarrayed. It expects the unexpected. It’s a vital, vibrant space which is witness to life itself.

A treat for more than mere taste buds, a dining table is the family confession booth. It waits for the wacky ways of sloppy, floppy kids to unfold. It accepts and absorbs them. It forgives and forgets. It is covered by a super invisible safety net. Weep here, sleep here. Baby babble to adolescent angst, there’s nothing it hasn’t seen. Tears and fears, dialogue and debate are all served with flair. Frankly asserted freedom and passive-aggressive clashes are aired. This is where unhurried love invites confidences and conduits to steer juniors away from iPods, iPads... identity? For rare moments of respite from being digital age dopes.

Every table is a unique entity. The more chairs ringing it, the more food for thought going around. A dining table is an absolute alchemist. It is the crucible that mixes unique seasonings of layered thought, tolerant attitudes, wider outlook. Ask an only child what it’s like to sit solo to eat with parents. Silence aching to be cut by any knife in sight.

But be prepared. Too many voices madden rather than gladden. Often it’s an overdose of what our 21-year-old dramatically calls “whine and dine”. Yet, that clutter, chatter, natter needn’t amount to nought.

The lessons that have been mine to pick up through table talk are incredible. I try to ditch adult bias and greet the world from a fresh vantage view. Quit over-planning, go with the flow instead. Admire the flawlessness of honest young logic. Look with interest at their books, films and fashions even if I don’t like them. Find that shrieked music of the day seems less like senseless noise when heard with a mind as open as the ears.

Meals on the run, tight schedules, TV dinners pose a threat to shared tables. Educator Richard Harman says, “Boys and girls grow up lacking the ability to make conversation, share ideas and use good manners because of a drop in old-fashioned dining arrangements. The decline of family meals has led to the erosion of social skills, despite the fact that it is increasingly becoming clear for the future that an ability to get on with people will be as vital in
the workplace as the ability to master English and math.”

Lay it on then. Spoon it out. On a table that, Twist-type, begs for more.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at:

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