We are standing on the footpath waving goodbye to the big kids. They look excited. They are driving to Wagga to stay with friends for a few days. The station wagon is piled high with clothes, mattresses, sleeping bags, toiletries … and sandwiches, muesli bars, apples, water bottles, nuts…It will be a long trip.

“Have you got…?” I begin.

“We’ve got everything,” reassures Imogen quickly. But then Callum heads back into the house to get his pillow. And suddenly Imogen remembers she didn’t pick up her sunglasses.

“We’ll see you in a few days.” I hug everyone tight. “Drive carefully and let us know when you get there.”

Callum puts the car into reverse, Duncan gives us a cheeky grin and Immy waves frantically and then they are gone.

Andy, Charlotte, Sophie, Gemma-Rose and I troop back into the house. The older children have only been gone a minute but immediately we are missing them: who is going to do their morning jobs? Could the younger girls do everything? No. Perhaps not. I grab a broom and start sweeping. Andy hunts out a cloth and begins wiping down benches. We’re not used to doing all these chores. It’s going to be a very long few days…

With the house clean and tidy, we decide to go shopping. We head out to the car. No need for the van. Soon we are pushing the trolley up and down the aisles of the supermarket. And then we realise there is an advantage in being a tiny family.

“Let’s get a tray of yogurts. One tray’s enough for all of us. And how about calamari for dinner? That’ll make a good meal for just five of us.” Soon we are filling the trolley with treats that normally we can’t afford to have.

“We’d better not tell the others,” grins Gemma-Rose. “They’d be jealous.”

“They’re having enough treats of their own,” reasons Charlotte. “They can’t complain.”

So we arrive home with all sorts of delicious odds and ends designed for smaller more affluent families than ours.

The morning seems very long. Occasionally my phone beeps: “We’re almost at Yass”… “Just outside Gundegai”… “Just about there.” We follow the big kids’ progress and we are quite relieved when they arrive at their destination, over five hours after we waved them goodbye.

I think about them on the road. I think about all the dangers they could meet. Before they’d left I’d said, “If you come to a flooded road, you will stop, won’t you?” And Callum had reassured me that he’d take care. I mentally entrust my precious young people to Divine Providence and decide not to worry about them. Well, not too much…

We have a table for ten. Two chairs are usually empty: Felicity’s chair and Thomas’ chair. Felicity uses her chair when she comes home for a holiday. Thomas has never sat in his chair. He never came home. It may seem strange for him to have his own chair. ”But that is the chair he would have had if he’d lived,” explains one of the children. Tonight there will be an extra three chairs empty. Half the table will be bare.

I think about the future when the older children have not just gone on holiday, but have actually left home. I think about always having five empty chairs around the table … and then six, seven, eight…until Andy and I are the only ones left. Will we sit one at each end and shout down the table at each other? Or will we sit huddled at one end? Or will we buy a smaller table?

For a moment I feel sad. And then I remember how many nights of the week, Felicity’s chair is not actually empty even though she is still far away in Perth. Callum’s girlfriend often comes to dinner. Perhaps soon Thomas’ chair will be needed. I think about our family growing again as each child finds someone special. And perhaps there will be grandchildren. I look around the kitchen. Will there be room for a bigger table? I smile.

So our reduced family sits down to a table with five empty places, ready to enjoy a delicious dinner. But it doesn’t feel right.

Duncan, Callum and Imogen have only been gone less than a day and already we are missing them. I wonder if they are missing us. They are probably having such a fantastic time they haven’t got time to think of home.

My thoughts move on a few days. Our young people are coming through the door. They hug me tight. “We’re glad to be home, Mum." We sit down to a meal and everyone talks at once.

“We went swimming…”

“You should have seen…”

“We had all kind of treats while you were away…”

“We missed you...”

But I am silent. I am too busy looking around the table. With my family gathered around me once more, I whisper, “Thank you God for bringing them all back safely. And for filling up my kitchen table once again.”
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  1. How I ache to fill a table with 10. So beautiful. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing my story, Leslie. At one point in our lives, I didn't think we'd ever need a table for ten. But God is good and often surprises us!


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