Is it amazing how hard it is to get rid of a kitchen table. A long ago Ikea purchase, it was not expensive to begin with. It was well used enough that I painted the top to freshen it up – painted it with black chalk board paint in an uncharacteristic fit of whimsy. It turns out it doesn’t work in our new house.
And so begins the end of life journey of the table (and it’s been a journey!).
I tried to find an organization to donate it to, looked online for a group that would pick it up. Found one, sent a picture, they gave me a quote of $250, which is more than the table cost new.
I called a couple other places, nothing easily arranged.
I finally realized I could fit it in the back of my SUV with all the seats down and drove it to Goodwill.
They didn’t want it.
They gave me address of a Salvation Army in San Jose. Found the time to drive it there.
They didn’t want it.
I spent some time feeling a bit offended that the table we had used daily until now is so decrepit, no one else wants it. Not even the places that take almost anything else. They took my used pillows but not this table?
In for a dime, in for a dollar. I was already half way to the dump so I drove the additional ten more miles with the table banging around in the back of my SUV. I was tired of trying so hard to get rid of this table, I had a million other things to do. But I wanted it gone. So I end up on Guadalupe Mine Road and start winding up a hill. And winding and up and winding and up. Get to the top and wait in line of cars.
Waiting in line to get rid of stuff. We are such an abundant country, we have so much stuff, that we have to wait in line and pay to get rid of it.
I am told it will cost me $55 to drop this table off. It’s a deal. The attendant hands me a new yellow safety vest, it’s required before you step out of your car.
So not only is it this challenging to get rid of something, it is also apparently dangerous.
He says, ‘you can recycle this, it’s all wood. Go to the bottom of the hill, just follow the signs.’
I am relieved that it will be recycled. I had been feeling guilty that it would just get added to the landfill, that something with life left in it will not get life. Guilty that our trash footprint might get bigger.
I pull away.
Just dirt roads, winding around. No actual dump to be seen anywhere either. Just hills and dusty roads.
I follow them clear to bottom. Nothing here.
I follow the road back up and down another hill. Nothing there.
I am laughing (while noticing how dusty my car is now, a definite car wash in our future). What force of nature will not allow me to release this table?
I almost hit a family of deer. Deer at the dump? What planet have I landed on? This place is isolated and eerie and looks like a place you could dump a body, not a table.
I finally go back up the hill and find the recycling center (still no signs but the massive pile of wood remnants clues me in).
I see a van with two men in it, also in spanking brand new neon vests. I get out and say ‘this is recycling?’
They nod and gesture to the pile.
I unload the chairs first and set them by the pile. One of the men runs over and picks it up. “This is good!” he says. I can tell he wants it, despite all the signs posted everywhere saying ‘No scavenging or dump privileges revoked.’ (Now there’s a punishment.)
Then he sees the table come out and gets even more excited. I see him eyeing his van, it would definitely fit. He exchanges a look with his buddy. They look around. We are the only people in sight. I secretly hope that they take the table and chairs and give them more life as a table and chairs, not just firewood. I’m grateful someone still sees them as useful, feel proud for them after their humiliation at the hands of both Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
I give the guy the nod and he gives me the two fingered peace sign.
I drive away, hopeful that the exchange meant what I think it meant, that he will take the table and chairs. And yet, the image of the table and chairs, still intact, next to a pile of nothing intact leaves me sad.
I feel emotional and have to hunt around in my head to find out why. I’ve been trying for weeks to get rid of that table. I’ve driven that table too many miles already and want it gone. It doesn’t fit anywhere in our house and I’m anxious to get all the extra stuff out so that the house feels organized and clean and soothing. There is so much extra stuff, too many books and boxes and bathroom supplies and Tupperware containers. Our old life had too much in it. I’m looking forward to simplifying and streamlining and hanging onto only the things we use and need.
But as I wind down the hill the pictures of our family at that table start floating by. How I chose it for it’s exact fit in our old kitchen. How I strapped booster seats to the chairs for the kids when they were little. How I painted the top with black chalk board paint so they could draw on it. Watching them do homework on it, eating countless dinners on it. There were squabbles across that table, and secrets told and manners learned (hopefully). There was artwork composed and milkshakes spilled and board games played until their explosive ends (our family is competitive).
That table represents a big chunk of our lives as a family, it was the place we circled around and fed our bodies and fed our souls. And of course we have a table in the new house and of course we can do those things in other places, but it was this table that holds all the history.
And I just left it at the dump. It feels wrong, like I abandoned a family pet.
I resist the urge to turn around and go rescue it. It’s time with us has passed.
But it stays with me, this melancholy that seems greater than the loss of a table. In looking for the picture to go with the story I end up going through hundreds of pictures from when my kids were little and I end up pinned to my chair with an unnerving wistfulness. I haven’t spent a lot of time looking backwards as a parent. Too much focus on the demands of the now, too much worry about the near and far future. But looking at these pictures of my little ones unsettles me. Usually when I see old pictures of them I am so happy. They are so cute! Look at the 18 month old swinging a bat at the ball on a tee. Look at the one year old smashing cake in her face. But now, maybe it is the emotional upheaval of a move, maybe it is having two kids in high school, maybe it is menopausal hormones, but now the looking backwards is swamping me with nostalgia.
Two days later, I figure out why.
It is more regret than nostalgia. More of a regret that I didn’t fully live each of those moments with my kids. Oh sure, sometimes I did. And I enjoyed them, no doubt. But there were many times I was too consumed with taking care of them. Consumed with their schedules and immunizations and play groups and sports sign ups and keeping them from running into the street.
If I could go back I would really relax into more of the moments. I would truly be present. Clichéd but true, that living in the present moment is a richness beyond measure. I’m sad that I missed so many opportunities to just relax into those moments with them. Sit and watch them color instead of being glad they were entertained while I made dinner. Sit in the grass and watch them scrawling chalk designs on the driveway instead of cleaning the garage while I kept an eye on them (that one really gets me, that garage never got cleaned up!). Give myself over to the moments more often.
The irony is not lost on me. In this very moment, I’m doing it again, longing for the past instead of living in this moment.
And there are so many riches to this present. Watching movies together, walking/running together, laughing at dinner together. Riding in the car as my daughter drives. Really listening as my son tells me a story about school.
The gift of the table is that I am recommitted to living these moments. A lovely legacy given that these moments are with teenagers who are bringing their own hormonal contributions to the house (stomp! door slam! sullen silence!). But I want this! I want all the intensity, I want to live the moments that are up but I also want to live the moments that are down. Not desperately try to escape the lows but live them all together. Be present in more of the moments I have left in these last years before college takes them away.
So the table lives on as a reminder. And in my optimistic moments, I’m convinced those guys looked around, saw no one could see them, and in a blink loaded up the table and chairs before taking off in a cloud of dust. In my optimistic moments, I’m sure the table lives on.