For years I couldn’t wait until my kitchen was cleared of the clutter my kids brought there. Then my son shared an insight that changed everything...
By Joyce Stark
“One day, my table will be clear. Just a vase of flowers on it!” I recall muttering to myself.
Toys, textbooks, makeup, and sports gear always littered the tabletop. Why can’t the girls go to their rooms to paint their fingernails? I remember thinking, my eyes darting to the tubes and bottles. And why doesn’t Ben take his friends upstairs to his room? Instead, they hung around the kitchen all weekend, giving blow-by-blow accounts of that week’s soccer game, debating music, or talking about their latest crush.
My kitchen was a place where arguments were born, acted out, and resolved. It was a place of tears and consolation. It was a place of laughter and swapping secrets. But it was not a room where I had peace and space to get on with my chores.
Each evening, I tripped over tennis rackets and backpacks. I set the table around photographs and magazines, scolding the kids to clear their messes away. And in the midst of it all, I served homemade muffins, savory pies, or whatever else was on offer. Over time, I replaced the kitchen chairs with broken backs or others that were worn out from use.
Naturally, I often got involved in what the teens were saying, offering counsel, giving support, while all the things I had promised myself I would get done were left untouched. By the time the lot of them left, I’d shake my head at the piles of dirty dishes.
“One day,” I’d vow, “my table will be clear.”
Carol got married, but my table remained cluttered. That still left Lesley with her friends and Ben with his friends to inhabit my kitchen. When Lesley moved into a flat, the house was emptier for a few weeks. Then Ben invited Archie to stay in Lesley’s room, and my kitchen was full again.
Finally, the day came when Ben and Archie decided to take a year off from university to tour and work in Europe. As Ben and I stood alone in my kitchen, bags piled everywhere, I said, “Well, soon I won’t have to nag you night and day about the state of this place!”
Ben nodded agreement.
“I’ll never understand,” I said. “You all had rooms of your own. Why did you kids spend your lives in here?”
Ben shrugged. “Because of you.”
“Because of me?” I frowned.
“Oh, the homemade cookies, bowls of soup, and everything helped,” he said, “but mainly it was you. You were great company, Mum. That’s why all our friends came around.”
He grinned at me. “This kitchen is the place of our happiest childhood memories,” he said. “And, like Carol’s pal once said, ‘Your mum is the kitchen, really!’”
I bit back my tears as Ben swung me into his arms, “Don’t get weepy. It’s how we all feel about you and your kitchen.” Ben hugged me. “The girls have promised to look in on you while Archie and I are away.”
“Nonsense. They don’t need to do that,” I said. “At long last I will have the place to myself!” And I actually meant it at the time.
Two lonely weeks later, I glanced round my clean and tidy kitchen. Tears ran unchecked down my cheeks and dropped off my chin as I gave a small sob.
“I miss you all so much!” I admitted brokenly to the empty room.
If the kids and their friends had spent some of the best days of their lives in here, so most definitely had I. I just wished that I had appreciated it more at the time and not nagged them so much.
I stared at my clean table with its lace napkins and vase of flowers, and I could see them all sitting there, the chatter, the clutter, the laughing. I closed my eyes, and it was almost as if I could hear them giggling, arguing, and enjoying themselves.
The happy side of life, I realized, is often about clutter and chaos. Too often, the neat and tidy side has a touch of loneliness about it.
It won’t be long, I know, before grandchildren appear and come round to my kitchen. Hopefully, their friends will come, too, with backpacks and magazines, soccer balls and jerseys.
From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Carol McAdoo Rehme, and Patricia Cena Evans. Copyright 2008 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing.