My Mom Is the Reason I Set the Table Before Bed Every Night

updated May 6, 2020
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Credit: Patty Catalano

The best home cooking advice I learned from my mom didn’t come standing at the stove. I was young when my mom went back to school, and looking back, she must have been stretched thin, overwhelmed with balancing the responsibilities of being both mother and graduate student. It’s not unlike the challenges I face as a working parent today. My mom managed it all by making sure we started each day seated around the kitchen table.

Sit-down dinners became all but impossible once after-school activities merged with mom’s new commitment to the university. Since she was often away at dinnertime, breakfast was our family meal. In the evening, my sisters and I would clear the table of half-built dioramas, math worksheets, and My Little Ponies, making space to set the table for the morning meal. Table settings weren’t fancy — after all, we kids were the ones arranging the placemats. But we learned how to set a simple table, folding cloth napkins and properly placing silverware on the correct side of the cereal bowl. At the center of the table was a small vase of fresh flowers or a candle — yes, even at breakfast.

Credit: Bump Smitten

Setting the Table at Night Sets the Day

Setting the table at night makes the next morning easier and more enjoyable. This is a tactic I used before quarantine, mostly for celebrations and big holidays. Now, when it’s difficult to differentiate one day from the next, the simple act of setting the table is one simple way I’ve tried to create a sense of normalcy. In the evening, my kids — 4 and 6 years old — help me set the table in anticipation of the morning’s scrambled eggs and sourdough toast. And there’s nothing wrong with this ritual feeling like a chore to them (let’s call it like it is!), but they do find joy in choosing a little something beautiful for the center of the table. My daughter often picks a potted plant or chooses a drawing she’s worked on that day, while my son often reaches for his LEGO creations or his favorite Power Ranger figurine.

This little luxury of sitting together at the breakfast table is one we eased into as work and school came home this spring. Freed of the pre-dawn bus pick-up, we can take time to eat together before the day’s Zoom calls begin. The day’s schedule loosens as the hours pass, leaving evenings for walking the dog, playing games, or just crashing onto the couch. For us now, as it was for my family when I was growing up, breakfast is the best time for family meal.

What was your mother’s best cooking advice? Tell us in the comments below!