“Who wants to pray?,” my mom proclaims as the five of us scurry to the dinner table. Usually that question was answered with averting eyes and silent hopes that she wouldn’t call on any of us to bless the food before us on the table. The uncomfortable silence was often broken by Heath’s inner duty, as the oldest Carter child, to take the burden for us, even though we all knew he really loved doing it. After the prayer, you couldn’t blink without missing the food being devoured before your eyes.
I blame this Carter habit on my inability to actually chew my food. With two older brothers, it was eat fast or don’t eat at all. So this survival technique has followed me into my adult years. Throughout the constant food-shoveling, we would often go around the table and talk about the highs and lows of our days in an attempt to have everyone’s voice be heard. This tradition, though, would often devolve into a argument about how long everyone got to explain all the details of their day, thanks to Ashley’s tendency to dominant the conversation with every minute detail, and whether “the end of this dinner” could count as one of our highs.
My family table. This is where I spent 18 years of my daily life and this is the place that continues to always offer me an open seat no matter where life leads. The Carter table never promised to be peaceful or quiet or even enjoyable, but we were always promised a seat. Often the table is where we would hash out the latest sibling argument or more likely sat in an unbearable silence as we all shot death glares at each other across the table. No words were necessary because everyone knew what we were thinking.
Our table was the center of our holidays and our celebrations. And even as my brothers left our house for college, it remained the central meeting point, the war room, the game center, and the reminder that no matter where everyone’s life took them, we could all return to this table. While it would be nice to be able to say that I learned the best manners, the most mature ways of dealing with conflict, and the best practices in handling a board game defeat, that would definitely be distorting the truth.
It was common for table conversation to be interrupted by a thunderous sound, which we soon deduce had come from the behind of one of the Carter men. This deduction would then lead to complaints and proclamations that the offender must spend five or ten minutes in the bathroom for his crime and in hopes to prevent a future offense from occurring in the general vicinity. Family game time would begin with Ashley’s typical speech about abhorring games and leaving the area in order to avoid being forced to join in on a round of Taboo or Scategories. I’m convinced, though, that it all stems from an embarrassing round of Scategories when he proudly announced his answer for “A Four Letter Word” and it happened to be one letter too many. Then, of course, family game time would necessarily end in tears, shouts, and accusations of cheating. Yet somehow we continued to gather around and play together.
My family’s table taught me that I can be myself, no matter what that looks like at the moment. I’m still accepted if I’m playing the role of the bratty youngest sibling tattling on my older brothers, if I’m mad about my assigned weekly chores, or if I spend the whole time gloating about my recent victory in Taboo or a good report card from school. I am always welcome at the table.
My family’s table was the picture of dysfunction and brokenness, but we always found a way to celebrate. We were able to bring our genuine, authentic selves into communion with one another with the reassuring knowledge that, in the end, we are family so we have to deal with each other. This table was the one place that we could all take off the roles that we often portrayed to the outside world and be our ugly, manipulative but extremely awesome selves. The end result was we all knew we were pretty messed up but we accepted each other and worked to love each other in the best ways we could each day. There was no fear of rejection, no pretense of perfection and no desire for winning the other over, because we were family.
I learned to embrace the mess that I often rejected in the rest of my life. I learned the practice of constant forgiveness and reconciliation. And I learned that even if we are angry, hurt or depressed we can still come to the table, shovel food into our mouths for nourishment and know that we can be exactly the messed up and disappointing people we often are.
If you missed the first post of this blog series, you can find it here: https://mackenseycarter.com/2014/06/05/life-around-a-table-part-one/