By Melinda Munson

My kitchen table is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. It reflects the emotional temperature of the household. If it’s clean with just a plant and a tiny indoor fireplace for roasting marshmallows, the Munsons are okay. If it’s buried in art supplies, winter gloves and various debris, things are a little crazy.

Right now, it’s a lot crazy. The table is so chaotic that items spill onto the floor. There’s the teal curtain that hasn’t been hung for three months, the Instant Pot cookbook I use nightly, random braille notes – and report cards I mean to look at but never will, because I don’t care what grades my kids with special needs achieve.

In the current climate, there’s just enough space at the six-person table for three people to sit. Luckily, only two kids are allowed to eat at a time since they distract each other. The adults usually flee into the living room and eat on the sofa, anything to get a quiet moment and avoid witnessing the mayhem that’s occurring at the table. (You can judge me all you want, but I have continuously reminded the same child to wipe their face and chew with their mouth closed for the past 14 years.)

This is not how I grew up. Somehow, my mother sat all eight of us kids at a tidy table and we actually had conversations. As a child, I looked forward to dinner. As an adult, the only thing I like about the third meal of the day is that it’s just an hour from bed time.

I will eventually break down and clean up the table, probably tomorrow after the newspaper deadline is over. While I’m overwhelmed with summer break and my husband working Skagway seasonal hours, part of me is being passive aggressive. I am the only one who organizes the table but I sure as hell don’t contribute much to the mess.

Once the table is again orderly, albeit temporarily, I’ll replace the hand towels that drape across each seat, protecting the upholstery from multi-colored slime, spaghetti sauce and all things chocolate. 

This dining room set is a hasty second-hand purchase procured after we moved to Alaska from the Lower 48. We left behind a beautiful, gleaming, dark-wood table with wooden benches, made in India. It’s probably for the best. Our youngest, who we adopted after the move, likes to scribble so hard on paper he inadvertently leaves scratches on the tabletop. 

Everyone tells us to savor these moments. That one day we’ll miss the complaining about what’s for dinner, the constant talk of poop and private parts, the childish imprints on the table. I call bullshit. Years from now, I’ll sit at a clean, new table, savoring an entree with lots of green in it – in peace. My food will still be warm as I eat it, and if I miss my kids, I know how to hop on a plane or initiate a FaceTime.