Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Keeping Room

I have a sign that I bought about a decade ago that reads “The Keeping Room.” The catalogue from which I purchased the wooden sign said that back in Colonial times, the “keeping room” was the area in which the family usually congregated; it kept the family together. My sign has always hung in the kitchen.

Go to any cocktail or dinner or holiday party in New Canaan (or in any city or town in America), and the room which sees the most action and interaction during a bash is the kitchen. It’s inevitable and maybe instinctive. The kitchen – no matter how modest or how expansive – is the heart of the home, where secrets are told and kept, where we nourish both our bodies and sometimes our souls.

Janet and Jack either have desks in their bedrooms for homework or easy access to the desk in the study/guest room across the hall. But homework is rarely, if ever, performed there. They would much rather pull up to the kitchen table or sit at a counter and struggle with or handily conquer math or social studies or spelling. If memory serves, I did the same thing as a student, even in my college apartment!

Now my family doesn’t crave the kitchen because of mommy’s cooking, let me admit that to the world right here; Julia Child I most certainly am not. But I can microwave with the best of them, or heat up a frozen pizza, or whip up the most basic of meals. So my kids don’t crave the kitchen for a home-cooked meal, but they do crave the conversation.

It was in the kitchen of our first home where I told Blake and Kenny they would be having a younger sibling. It is where Blake told me of a bully on the bus when he was in second grade. It was the kitchen in our Weston home where Kenny’s adolescent misfires began with painful words and actions, and it was that same kitchen in which I read his personal journal out of desperation, searching for answers.

In our kitchen in New Canaan, we watched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on our small television, anxiously hoping to hear about Blake’s Marine unit. And I remember Janet and I hugging and screaming in that kitchen with joy later that spring when Blake was finally back safe on American soil. At that kitchen counter Blake was later interviewed by a reporter from this newspaper. The kitchen is safe haven at moments when the world seems to be falling apart. Guess where I watched the t.v. in horror on September 11, 2001?

Janet has spoken volumes in the kitchen about girlfriends and boys who are cute, about difficult teachers and confusing concepts. Last week, as I washed dishes, she opened up about a friend who accidentally happened upon some older kids smoking pot behind Elm Street in the alley, and just how do you know if someone is smoking pot or just smoking a cigarette, Mommy? The dialogue that ensued was beneficial and valuable to us both.

Every family needs a keeping room, be it the kitchen or some other sanctuary, where conversations can happen between parent and preteen, toddler to grandparent and/or sibling to sibling. Keeping the family together is a more difficult and yet vital task in this new millennium.

In our new house, the kitchen is by far the largest room and I look forward to parties that will spill over into it and end up with just Jon and I and one or two other couples, dishing on the evening and sharing confidentialities. This kitchen will also see teen tantrums and mommy meltdowns and nine-year-old nonsense, but if will also feel a lot like love.

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