Heartbeat of Our Home


My daughter has manufactured a terrarium out of a plastic Tupperware container. She’s lined the bottom with fish tank stones, found a couple bigger rocks from outside, and then used construction paper to cut out, not just a lily pad, but also a tiny frog to use the lily pad.

“Look, Daddy!” she says triumphantly.

I compliment her work but am distracted by the enormous mess on our kitchen island — water, stones and dirt everywhere, empty plates, markers, wrappers, you name it. This tabletop has seen it all. I’ve cleaned it a thousand times.

But it occurs to me, as I watch her create, that this space (not her bedroom or our living room or the downstairs office) is the heartbeat of our home.

I recall a conversation I had with a friend at this very kitchen island in the pre-pandemic days. He has a daughter about Little Bean’s age and the girls were sitting across from us coloring, and it occurred to me that this kitchen island would be, effectively, the end.

“How do you mean?” he asked.

“This is it,” I said. “The center of everything to come. Food, yes. But also homework. Art. Easy and difficult conversations. Cooking. I mean, we’re not getting another house, hopefully, and she and the kids are going to grow up here. This is it.”

He saw this as a bit depressing, but I don’t see it like that at all. I feel liberated by this space, the center of our own personal universe.

And already, if a marble countertop could talk, the things it would say. This was the place where we first sat and ate lunch, moving boxes still unpacked, moving truck still in the driveway. We sat here and talked about our new home.

This is where we filled out applications for grade school, where she does her homework and where we pay bills. This is where food is laid out for parties, where the birthday song is sung, and plans for vacations and trips are made.

This is an art center, where my daughter and her friends create their creations out of crayons, then scissors, then paint.

This is a bakery where Little Bean learned how to make bread with her mother.

This is a classroom, where she learned to read and add.

This is a mailroom and office, where backpacks, envelopes, magazines and everything else comes to rest until a big weekly purging.

And finally, during the pandemic, this was our refuge, our place of safety, where we spent so many hours learning about sharks, and trees, and letters, and numbers, while the world outside the window seemed to fall apart.

There’s a direct line here, from my kitchen to my aunt’s or to my grandmother’s — a line that connects chicken noodle soup, or an evening of card games, or doing my elementary school homework while the adults were all nearby. The kitchen is where my grandmother let me reach into her change purse for a handful of pennies. The kitchen is where my first dog, Patches, slept. The kitchen is where I learned that my mother had passed away and where my wife-to-be first met my father.

The kitchen is where my father and I spoke of poetry, and where we spoke of the retirement community where he would move. My childhood kitchen also had a terrarium.

And now, we have our own center, our own place of warmth and heart.

So you see, when you ask yourself what happens in the kitchen, the answer is not cooking, doing dishes or even eating. The answer is everything. Everything happens in the kitchen.

Back in ours, Little Bean and I move the terrarium to the kitchen windowsill, where the afternoon sun casts a fluorescent glow on the water. I hand her some paper towels, and she mops up the water and pebbles. I follow up with a full wipe down of the island for the millionth time and put all the dirty dishes in the sink.

But the siren call of the kitchen is always sounding.

“Daddy,” she says. “I’m hungry. Can we eat lunch now?”

Once again, the kitchen serves us time and togetherness. Once again, we respond in safety and comfort. In a tiny space on a small street in a northern town, we settle into our favorite space to partake in the everyday, and it means everything.

Categories: At Home in NH