The sound of plastic hippos bumping noses and slamming their mouths down on the game board fills the air. Marbles clack. Chairs scoot. Squeals and giggles pulse in my head as I watch the two bundles of chaos I created play Hungry Hungry Hippos for the tenth time in under an hour.
Soon, the game will get packed away and the ritual of dinner together at the table will begin. We'll all sit down to eat, some for a few minutes, some for the whole meal. We will take turns asking about our days. We will take our dishes to the sink to rinse them and then the bedtime dance will begin.
Life with my two boys is an endless test of patience. Between them, the house, the pets, my husband and myself, my caretaking ability is stretched to its max. There are always dishes to do, laundry to fold, a patio to sweep, plants to prune back and pets to feed. Work piles up—quite literally. Our house is somehow too big but also too small.
None of this makes me a bad mom, I know this. The clutter around my house doesn't affect my abilities as a parent. I can delight in my boys and their games. I throw together healthy snacks regardless of how clean the kitchen or living room are. I can still soothe tantrums and hold boundaries. But there is one spot in the house that affects my motherhood. It is the only place I have to prioritize cleaning.
I am a better mother with a clean table.
The sideboard can be full of clutter, there can be dishes on every surface of the kitchen. The bathroom can be covered in water from the kid's latest splash game. Fine. But my patience levels and nurturing reserves are at their fullest if my dining table is clean.
It isn't easy to keep it clean. The influx of papers from school, toys sprawled out, dishes from the night before and my own papers from work are often flowing off the edges. I get overwhelmed with a small amount of clean-up, yet very quickly, cleaning the table becomes a bigger and bigger task the more items get piled onto it. It's the first place to drop groceries, a good laundry-folding platform and a workstation for the kids' projects and my writing.
When the table is full, I often let the boys eat in front of the TV. If there's no room at the table, games and projects don't get the space they need, so those bonding moments don't necessarily happen. The boys end up crowded into the same room of the house, vying for each other's space and typically ends in a fight.
When the table is full, I don't take time for myself. I don't take a moment to sit and enjoy the home I work so hard to maintain. I rush through my meals or sometimes skip them entirely. Then my patience wanes, my nurturing side turns away and I become short with my kids.
But when I manage to clean the table and put out a small seasonal decoration, whether it's tulips in the spring or pumpkins in the fall, I make sitting at my table a priority. I sip a cup of tea or some sparkling water. I enjoy my meals mindfully while I watch the birds at our bird feeder. I fill my cup so I have more patience to give my children.
When the table is clean, one kid can sit on the couch while the other is at the table. They are close enough to interact, but not close enough for head-butting. They have their own space.
Our dining table is the hub where our family gathers. It is a place for the small rituals of family life, like nightly dinners together, weekly board game nights, or our yearly seasonal activities like carving pumpkins or dying easter eggs. These are more than Norman Rockwell moments, they are foundational events that define our family and offer a grounding in happy memories for our kids.
When our table is clean, that space is open for family magic or focused time and I know it helps my best mom-self to operate at her highest level.