I usually don’t eat dinner with Franny during the week. By the time I get home from work, she’s eaten with the babysitter, so mother-daughter interactions are limited to how-many-desserts-have-you-had-today, did-you-do-all-your-homework, go-brush-your-teeth-and-we’ll-have-a-snuggle.
But yesterday was different. My babysitter was out of town for an extended Easter break and I put Franny in aftercare at her school. Because my office is an hour from Franny’s school during rush hour, I snuck out at 4:45, completely forgetting that I had scheduled a family therapy session with a new family, headed by an anxious mother, until a Staff flagged me down as I was motoring down the driveway.
One look at the fumes issuing from the ears of the mother and I knew this was not a drive-by mistake. This was a mistake that required extended, groveling mea culpas that were not completely accepted and made me want to prostrate myself on the asphalt and sob the sobs known only to over-extended single mothers.
But I didn’t.
I sighed heavily as I slogged through rush hour traffic and picked up Franny, who did her homework in the car on the way home.
At her request, I made her favorite cornmeal crust pizza and salad, and the two of us did something almost unheard of during the week.
We sat at the dining room table — my mother’s dining room table — and had dinner together. And talked.
“How do you think things are going with Luca here?” I asked.
“Good,” Franny said. “Except he wouldn’t walk me across the street to the mall. He’s lazy.”
“Right,” I said. “But how to do you think it’s going with him back in the house from boarding school?”
“Good,” she said. Then she looked at me. “Why does Dad have full custody of him?”
Franny is not one to address hard issues head on, so this was a rare gem of a question. I chose my words carefully.
“Well…your dad and I always had different ideas about what Luca needed. We disagreed, and Luca got caught in the middle. So the only way to get Luca out of the middle was to let your dad make all the decisions, and have him live with Dad most of the time.”
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Franny said. “Because he fights with Dad way more than he fights with you.”
“Really? He fights with Dad more than here?” I asked, trying very hard not to look pleased and psychologically un-evolved.
“Mm-hmm,” she said. “What do we have for dessert?”
* * *
I attribute Franny’s admission to the magic of my dining room table. Its entry into our family was somewhat mystical. My mother had purchased it during a trip to Mexico and it arrived in our driveway, on a delivery truck, one afternoon when I was seventeen. Seventeen and trying not to appear high as a kite as I was, essentially incapacitated on the living room sofa.
The corners of the table had warped somewhere between Mexico and the northeastern town where I grew up. I knew this because I could hear the shouting match between my mother and the delivery man in the driveway. My mother insisted the corners had warped in the truck — I will not pay the shipping fee! — and the delivery man insisted the corners had warped back in Mexico — you have to pay the shipping fee, lady!
At one point my mother and the delivery man took their argument into the living room — at least I think they did, although that and everything that followed could have been a sensimillia-induced hallucination.
My mother skidded to a stop in her conversation and sniffed in my direction.
“I smell cigarettes.”
It took me what felt like two hours to construct a reply because I was expending so much energy trying to keep my head upright and attached to my neck.
“Ummm….I was around some kids who were smoking cigarettes. But I wasn’t.”
The delivery man snorted and I tried not to crack up. Lucky for me, my mother was at him again over the warped corners.
* * *
My mother’s dining room table, now mine, has followed me to five houses. It has been the centerpiece of countless dinners and parties. It has served as a homework desk, a writing space, and bears some gashes from the time an angry Luca carved his knife into it. I used to be fanatical about putting coasters under water glasses, but I’ve given up. The water marks, the wear and tear, the warped corners, are part of its charm.
I think of my dining room table as a kind of Velveteen Rabbit. The older and more used it gets, the more meaningful it becomes.
And the more meaningful all the dinners, and conversations, around it.