For a king or queen, battles are fought on the battlefield by knights in shining armor; riding gallantly to protect the honor of their crest. In the Plaat family, our battles were fought (and won) around our dining room table.
As a homeschooled family, we’d often receive questions from other parents about how our school day started. They imagined us to show up to our ‘classroom’ in our pajamas, while their hard-working children walked through the elements to the bus stop.
The reality of our mornings was a bit more magical than augmented tales of trodding through the snow in sub-zero temperatures. While I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time, I soon learned to look back fondly on what my Mom dubbed “table time” every morning.
Table time was the start of our day, composed of the children taking their place at the large Plaat family dining room table.
Mom followed a rough agenda each morning, which composed of reading, writing, singing, and prayer.
She had a knack for finding stories that were interesting, timeless, and full of lessons. Often, she would read from The McGuffey Reader collection; a series of children’s books from the 18th century with anecdotal stories and life lessons. Other stories came from The Book of Virtue, or The Moral Compass.
These books contained artfully-written tales, each with a lesson behind them. Similar to a parable; a story within a story.
One of us would read one of these stories to the other children, followed by instructions to write a short one-page ‘theme’ which summarized the tale we read.
One of my favorite tales was short and sweet:
For the Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The above epic goes to share the drastic consequences that can happen when details as small as a horseshoe nail are forgotten.
Table time reminded me a lot of the above story; neglecting one small element, such as the way your children start their day, can have consequences that extend far into time.
As an adult, I can now look back and appreciate the efforts my Mom went through to ensure her children were well educated and had the ability to communicate their thoughts with ease through written word.
Table time was also the battlefield in which many of our family fights took place.
One colorful occasion took place on the morning I didn’t feel like singing with the others. In addition to 18th-century stories, Table Time was also the time we learned how to sing properly, with the help of the organ, which resided in the corner of our dining room.
Mom would prompt us through singing exercises, similar to The Sound of Music…
I never took fondly to singing. I didn’t like the way my voice sounded and hated the exercise of having to sing in front of my siblings.
One such day, I decided that I had enough. I wouldn’t sing. I stared defiantly at Mom, who ordered me to sing words from the hymnal in front of me. The other children cautiously watched the stare-down as they knew what was coming next.
“To the kitchen. Now.”
Still firm in my resolve to stay silent, I slowly marched to the kitchen and grabbed the counter, ready for the punishment that would descend from the thick breadboard which acted as the family paddle.
After the whack, I returned to my chair and went back to glaring at Mom.
“Sing.” she said.
“To the kitchen.”.
I clutched the kitchen counter and received another painful swing from the half-inch thick piece of wood.
Returning to my chair, I sat down and felt a bit more pain than the first time I returned.
I think you know how the rest of this story goes. This cycle repeated itself seventeen times before Mom gave up.
Eventually, her arm got tired of swinging. I was pretty glad, because I’m not sure how much more paddling I could have taken before giving in.
I suppose this story is representative of the struggle most parents go through with their children; parents do their best to get things right, while kids undergo their own battle in order to be their own person.
In my case, I found a lot more satisfaction and enjoyment from hearing stories from The Moral Compass than in between solfeggio bars. However, that understanding took many years to establish, which involved patience and love – neither of which were in short supply during Table Time.
Years later, my parents would discover I was more prone to playing an Alto Saxophone than singing.