Nearly two decades ago, one winter of my daughter’s toddler years, we decided she should have a sitting place of her own — a tiny table and chairs where she might go to draw, color or have her breakfast while she watched cartoons. There was just such a furniture set at the hardware store down the street, so we hauled it home and hid it away as a Christmas surprise.
Those early years of parenthood were the spilling years, the time when small and unsteady hands left puddles of milk and juice around the house. I thought of our little cypress table and chairs hidden in the shed, and how quickly they would warp and stain from overturned mugs and tumblers.
And so, in the week before Christmas, I’d hurry home each evening and head to the shed, applying a nightly coat of sealer to the miniature furnishings. The little chairs hung from wires looped around the rafters so they’d be easier to brush. It looked pleasantly like a scene from an elf’s workshop, although the shed was far from cozy. It wasn’t heated, and that December was a cold one. I muddled through, applying five coats in all.
As I tiptoed into the den on Christmas Eve and placed the table and chairs beside the tree, holiday lights reflected from the high gloss of the tabletop like stars on a lake. The image remains high in my mental scrapbook from a lifetime of holidays.
The table and chairs took up their place in a corner of the den, becoming a fixture of the household. Since a mound of construction paper and crayons invariably rose from its middle, we nicknamed the table the Art Center.
One day, we told our daughter that soon, she’d have to make room at the Art Center for a little brother. It was there that our two children learned how to share space with another human, a lesson not mastered overnight. My wife and I became chief judges on the nightly Court of Appeal, ruling on such landmark cases as he-broke-my-atomic-tangerine-Crayola and she-stole-my-vanilla-wafers.
There came a season when both children had outgrown the Art Center. Without ceremony, I took the table and chairs back to the shed, storing them with the tools and the mower and the mice and the memories of lives we no longer lead.
And there the stuff rested for several years, untouched, until a day last month when our daughter asked if we had any spare furniture for the house she recently rented with some college roommates.
We found a few useful things in the shed, including the Art Center, which might now have a new life as a coffee table. It’s spill-proof, after all, presumably even impervious to what a college student might drink.
I share this story only to point out what every parent discovers: The years move more quickly than any young father or mother can know.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @ Danny_Heitman.