It has always been my dream to have a kitchen that is the heart of a house, one big enough for a table and even a sofa. I’d love a kitchen where you read, eat and dream, where children do homework, friends plonk down for a cup of tea and delicious smells emanate. Our kitchen is small, slightly larger than a galley kitchen, and if more than one person stands in it while I’m cooking, I start hyperventilating and shooing them out like chickens. So our present kitchen, while being my delightful refuge, is not the heart of our home.
However, I realised today as we sat around our dining-room table for a family Sunday brunch, that the table has taken on that role. It’s an African blackwood table, rectangular of shape, that seats eight comfortably and ten at a push. We inherited it from my parents-in-law when they moved their business from a large office to a smaller one. It had been their office conference table and, before that, their family dining-room table. It moved with us from England to Germany. In England it had a more formal role since we had a kitchen table where most of the family action took place, but in Germany, through necessity, it has become the place where everything happens.
At the dining-room table we have our weekday family lunch. I have taken on the German habit of cooking a hot lunch, and so after school and kindergarten we regroup, sit around the table, eat and chat. We catch up on the details of the morning, the little hurts and joys that make up a small child’s life, and we plan our afternoons. After lunch, the children sit there to do homework and draw. Even Ollie will sit with his sisters and make scribbles on paper. Later friends might join us and we sit around the table, having afternoon tea and watching the children draw.
We also have our weekend lunches and brunches there, sometimes just the five of us and other times with friends. Then, the dynamic changes and the conversations become more general and less family-specific. When the children have gone to bed, and peace reigns, it is where we eat and have dinner with friends. It becomes a grown-up island of peace and calm, where voices are more modulated, wine is sipped, conversation enjoyed. As the evenings progress and candles burn down and bottles of wine empty, it becomes a place of laughter.
Now that we live in the northern hemisphere all our birthdays are winter birthdays, so the children celebrate their parties indoors. The table plays a starring role at their parties, decorated and groaning with cake. Later it is cleared, and we do some party crafting – making crowns, or, if it’s our Christmas baby Daisy’s party, sprinkling Christmas angels with glitter. Daisy’s about to turn five, and this will be the fourth time she sits in regal splendour at the head of the table as birthday girl. For Lily, next February will also be her fourth turn as queen of the table. In March, Olllie will head it up for the first time in his life.
When we moved to Germany with our children, we decided the German Christmas was too magical to miss, so we now celebrate here instead of having a hot African Christmas. By situating Christmas in our own home, instead of with our parents, we have begun our own family traditions and it is at the table we sit for Heiligeabend on December 24, for Christmas lunch, and for Boxing Day when we hoover up the leftovers. It’s where I wrap the presents, fill stockings and dream of my children’s joy the following morning.
I work at the table, write there. My children draw, paint and craft there. We eat there. We talk there. Right now it’s covered with papers as we do our tax returns. Around the table is where our family happens.