In Defense of the Formal Dining Table

In Defense of the Formal Dining Table

Shortly after I got married, had moved into my new home with my husband, and began furnishing our mostly empty house, I was determined to find a respectable dining table and china hutch for a good price. We had received a full set of china through wedding gifts, and I wanted to display it the same way my mother’s was displayed. I was determined to use it in my fancy, formal dining room. Not many of my peers felt china was useful, finding it too expensive and outdated, but I wanted to prove them wrong!

Note the play kitchen and strollers crammed in the background.

After purchasing a beautiful dining set on sale, I kept up with my goal for a couple of years, using our china for some special occasions and some “just because” meals, but eventually, and especially once we had kids, I used it less and less. My stately dining table that I was so proud of became cluttered and was a victim of “flat surface syndrome,” in which any flat surface in my home is used only to stack more and more papers and other junk on until you can’t see it anymore. I felt dejected. Eventually, it got pushed from the middle of the room against a wall, so my kids had more open space to play on the floor. My dining room turned into a weird hybrid playroom/storage space/recycling center. The only eating that was happening there was from me hiding and eating snacks in the dark, away from the kitchen where my kids couldn’t see me, so I wouldn’t have to share.

But even so, my dining table still found its moments to shine. For every birthday party, I decorate the wall behind the table with the theme my kids pick, and the table gets a makeover. The cake is proudly displayed front and center with decorations all around, and my once-formal dining room suddenly becomes party central. My kids stand on a little stool behind the table, eye-level with their cakes, beaming as everyone gathers ‘round to sing to them, and I soak it all in, joyful the table is being used.

Some days, the table is home to my kids’ imaginary restaurant, as they line up play food and take my order. Sometimes it’s a giant shelf in their grocery store, and I shop while they play cashier. Sometimes it’s a “special project” table, where my two older kids can safely work on things important to them, out of the baby’s reach. Most recently, my dining table has been a Lego station, all six feet of it almost entirely covered with baseplates and elaborate scenes set up with bricks.

As I was cleaning it off the other day, wiping it down and bemoaning the scratches it’s gathered, it hit me very suddenly that the scratches weren’t something to be mourned. They were evidence of a table well used. Maybe it’s not being used in the way I originally envisioned it, but it’s definitely being used, and perhaps in an even better way. I’m sure in the future it will be used for school projects, homework, more birthday parties, and more special meals as we get back to hosting things. I’m even hopeful that the china will make another appearance as my kids get less chaotic! (For now, it remains safely on display in its hutch.)

My dining table may not be used for much dining right now, but it’s a functional, important piece of furniture in our family life in other ways. One day it may come full circle to be dined on again, but for now, we’ll keep using it however it best serves us!

Erica Tran
Erica lives in Kenner with her husband Michael and her three sons, Benjamin, Joshua, and Elijah. After graduating from UL Lafayette with a degree in advertising and landing her dream job, she left her chosen field and now works part time as an administrative assistant for a Catholic retreat movement. She spends the rest of her time at home with her boys, finding lost toys and actively ignoring various messes. In 2019, she self-published her first book, The Sister. There's not a lot of free time between working, reading and writing, and chasing her kids, but in those moments she's usually sprawled on the sofa in casual denial about just how messy her house is.


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