He calls me out to the front of the house to verify.
He looks at me slightly confused, “Round? Like a circle.”
“Yes, a circle.”
Circles have always been a big part of our family structure. After breakfast, when the kids were little, I would sing to them to gather for the morning circle time. With five children, making a circle is easy.
Come and join us, in a circle, for a fun and happy time,
We will laugh and play together in a circle, yours and mine.
Then the circle games, verses, and songs would end and we would start main lesson.
Even when there were disagreements between the kids, I used the circle to bring them back together to see each other as friends. After a cooling off period, I would ask them to hold hands and say the following verse to reconnect:
Make new friends but keep the old,
One is silver, and the other gold;
A circle is round, it has no end,
That’s how long I want to be your friend.
This even works now as they are older. When I suggest that they do this now, partly in jest to break the tension, the bickering siblings normally team up to say how much they had hated it and end up reminiscing on how crazy their mother was at creating these ridiculous rituals.
We expanded our family circle to make larger circles in our homeschool community, always beginning our outdoor hike days in a circle to greet each other.
A circle can be a political statement: everyone is seen and heard and is equidistant from the centre so everyone can access it equally.
A large tree fell on our property a few years ago and we harvested the wood. We did not know what we were going to do with it. All we knew is that it was a good, hard wood.
But last month we had to make a decision about the wood. It had been sitting there now and had already cured. It’s not a wood for simple bookshelves or a side table. It is a beautiful robust hardwood that they call Pilón.
Here is an entry I found of off this site [http://www.fincaleola.com/pilon.htm]describing this tree:
Pilón is renowned for its very heavy, dark maroon–colored wood, which is a wood appreciated in industry. It has an excellent durability…This timber is frequently used for general heavy construction (interior and exterior), marine pilings, boat construction, structures for bridges, railway ties, etc., and for furniture and decorative veneer. Drying is fast and easy; however it may cause twisting, making the wood somewhat difficult to work. A clear difference can be noticed between sapwood and heartwood. In green wood, the sapwood is reddish brown or pink while the heartwood is dark red, reddish-brown, or deep red-brown, being similar to black walnut in appearance… In addition to its importance for timber, this tree species’ importance as a seasonal food source and forage for forest animals makes pilón a vital ecological component of the forests and makes this tree even more valuable left standing.
After a second, I tell my husband that I want a dining table.
He is used to me not making sense. I can see in his silent pause and stare. So I repeat gently, “Yes I know the timing is weird but I want a dining table.” We haven’t had a dining table since we moved here. It was my silent protest of years of having a surface that needed to be cleaned and cleared multiple times a day; a surface where I was committed to having meal time all together even with several babies trying to escape their high chairs all at once; and a surface that every homeschooler knows – a home to week-long projects, experiments, half-eaten meals, paint spills, and if you are Waldorf-inspired, a magical land where gnomes and animals play.
Some dining table action in the early years:
When we moved here in this outdoor house, we started to use the dining room area as a workout space and ate all our meals gathered around the coffee table in the living area.
But now the thought of having a dining table made from a tree, from heartwood, that had once been a “vital ecological component of the forests and makes this tree even more valuable left standing” but fell on this particular piece of land that we live on felt right. This tree needed to serve as an ecological component still and what better way than as a dining table, a centrepiece for a family which is an ecosystem in its own right.
This tree is also used to build things that need to maintain their structural integrity like boats and bridges.
The carpenter meets Chris in front of the house to talk about design and specs for the dining table. They are long and wide planks of wood. It would be easy to make a dining table – the planks are just the right length and two can make a narrow long table and three planks can make a wider one. This is when Chris calls to the house possible dimensions for the table: 2.5 m x 1.5 m? How wide or long do I want it?
And then I yell above the barking and general buzzing of my home which is an actual buzzing as we have a new wasp nest in the house, “No, a round table! ROUND!!!”
Frankie lights up and peeks her head above her book, “Like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Can I be Gawain?” The other kids look at her incredulously that she actually paid attention in our medieval block or that she is excited to play some sort of role in a Middle Ages drama with our dining table as the ultimate prop, a flashback to her childhood days acting at home and in her favourite Shakespeare play groups.
Chris, who has designed most of the furniture in our house, asks me about the legs of the table and I say I don’t care what it looks like as long as it is a circle with a radius so I can reach the centre of the table to grab food before the savages finish it all.
As the table was being built, we had one child at home with us, our youngest. One was in England, and three were in Toronto. I sent them photos of the table as it was being finished. I didn’t want it too big as I knew it wouldn’t be full for more than half the year but I also wanted it to be big enough to fit all of us because everyone would be home for the holidays.
As soon as they all came home again, they immediately used the table as if it had been there all along. Even with less than comfortable wooden chairs, they sat and talked. They sat and made things. They sat and ate. They sat in silence. It was not only a vessel for our family to navigate the uncharted waters of life separated, it was a safe harbour for all of their individual boats to lower the sails for just a moment.
The round table became a bridge day and night. Conversations, questions, fears, triumphs, were all shared openly, equidistant to the centre, creating bridges back to familiar places and common grounds. I have never seen teenagers more willing to share every detail of their day and what they were feeling.
What struck me most is the lingering. They linger after the meal – partially because none of us want to start cleaning up and also because conversation begins to flow as everyone has satisfied bellies. No one is rushing off to their rooms or devices.
During our last dinner before two children left home again, it felt like no one wanted to leave the table. This dining table, like it had been for all of their lives, was a safe space. It was a space to show up and stay, despite difficult conversations, where we invested in the structural integrity of our family unit. The table itself was not the reason. It was the reminder of all those moments where we chose to start building our family ecosystem, to help the children craft their own boats, and to maintain connection even when the bridges needed to be rebuilt over and over again.
**Special thanks to my good friends Brooke and Ana who also inspired the creation of the round dining table with their own tables.