Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not Fitting In: A lesson from the kitchen table

Step into my kitchen and you will always find fresh flowers on the table. If not fresh flowers, then a seasonally appropriate piece of decor. As Oprah says, your home should "rise up and meet you" and that's just the sort of person I am : a Fresh Flowers Or Seasonal Decor On The Kitchen Table kind of girl.

Oh, who am I kidding? I have to stick something on the table because there's a hole in the middle of it. It's a big, round hole that's intended to hold an umbrella. Because you see, my kitchen table is not actually a kitchen table. It was designed to live out its life on a patio (hence the umbrella hole) but we saw it in the store and thought it was too pretty to brave the elements, so we rescued it and brought it inside. Hole and all.

The hole isn't the only issue. We weren't quite as exacting as we should have been with measurements, so the table is a tad bit too large for the space. Once you sit down you'd better make yourself comfortable because you're pretty much trapped. And of course, because it's an outdoor table of an irregular size, no standard tablecloth will ever fit. But despite its flaws, I love my outdoor table brought inside. It's sturdy, durable, and different, hole and all. And somehow, it reminds me of myself.

Not fitting in has fit me perfectly for most of my life. I think it's a feeling most children of immigrants can relate to: you grow up with one foot in each world, never feeling completely steady in your stance. As a child I felt out of place among the blue-eyed, peanut butter eating masses at school, but still never completely at home in my own home. I was too young, too immature to embrace what made our family different, and though I loved the familiarity of my parents' native tongue, the customs and traditions they brought from Egypt, I feared fully embracing them would separate me even further from the seemingly perfect American experience I thought I craved. Who was I, anyway? An outdoor table brought inside.

And that was just the beginning. In an uber-successful family of doctors, nurses, lawyers, I was the one with Career ADD, flitting from one profession to the next every few years, searching for that perfect fit. And once I finally found the work I loved doing, I still couldn't find a way to make it work for my life. You can bring an outdoor table inside, but you can't always make it fit.

Now we find ourselves living in a sea of manicured lawns and pedicured toes. A place where candle parties are a way of life and stay at home moms rule the roost. At times I love the serenity and peace of our tranquil neighborhood, and at times it makes me want to put on a multi-colored wig and run screaming down the cul-de-sac at 3am. In this neighborhood of freshly starched tablecloths and perfect place settings, I sometimes find myself feeling like the outdoor table that was left uncovered all winter and finally brought inside only to make a big, muddy mess all over the floor. Yet another place I don't quite fit in, but the good news is, I don't really care.

Because somewhere along the way something happened. Somewhere between all the years in school, the different jobs, the different cities, the different countries, I filled up that hole in my table. Filled it up with a mixture of equal parts self-awareness, pride and inner strength. And not long after that I met the sweetest man with floppy brown hair. Together we made two beautiful children who remind me every day with their goofy giggles and joyful souls that we fit together perfectly as a family. And that maybe, just maybe, I did something right.

Now as I watch them grow, part of me hopes they will have an easier time fitting in than I did, because I hate the thought of them going through even a moment of angst. But I also know there's tremendous power in being able to stand out from the herd, and that the path of greater resistance is well worth the effort. So as we sit somewhat awkwardly around our too-big, too bulky, outside table brought inside, I run my fingers over every crack and bump and give thanks, knowing there's no place I'd rather be. And I say a silent prayer that my children will always know that this is where they fit. That they are lovely, that they are loved. Holes and all. Inside and out.


  1. You never cease to amaze me... this post is beautifully written & beautifully honest.

  2. Thank you my dear- and thank you for always taking the time to read!!!!