We have 5 counter stools in our kitchen. There are 5 of us in our family so of course, this makes sense. We squeeze the 5th one in on the corner and it’s the chair no one really wants to sit in. You can’t push it in all the way and if you’re a grownup, the space for your legs is too narrow. Our solution, is to have the kids rotate around my husband and me when we eat at the counter. Which is most nights. And they argue about it. Constantly. I’m not even sure anymore if they’re really arguing about the end stool or about which parent they get to sit next too. Maybe both. My middle child is the king of fairness and he knows exactly who belongs where. Except when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t, our youngest remembers because he, in fact, remembers EVERYTHING. And our oldest is too bored with her brothers’ bickering to care. She goes with the flow. Most of the time anyway. She’s savvy enough to know that eventually she’ll get the prime spot in the rotation … whatever that spot is?! … and it’s not worth arguing about.
When we first moved into our home, we didn’t need 5 stools. We really only needed 3, which was sort of ridiculous, so we bought the fourth. Eventually we needed a 5th stool and at that time, I had a mom’s station built in our mudroom right off of the kitchen. A central place for me to sit and work. My logic being, I could neatly tuck the 5th stool at the butcher’s block desk which is the same height as our counter. It somehow justified buying a 5th stool that didn’t fit. But you know, it’s never placed at my desk. I can’t even remember sitting there. Ever. It stays sticking out from the counter in an awkward sort of way. That is until recently.
A few years ago my husband and I started training for triathlons and the stools became counters of their own as we rode our triathlon bikes inside on our trainers. Every night we’d set up for our morning ride by lugging 4 stools into the bike room, which is really just an unused guest bedroom off of our kitchen. It’s small and tight and messy and we can barely fit both bikes in there let alone the darn stools. Somehow, we’d squeeze them in and precariously place our water bottles, bananas, laptops, towels, phones… you get the idea…. onto them. Ironically, we’re usually bickering about the damn things as much as our children do. Bumping each other, banging the bikes, stubbing toes. In our defense, we’re usually tired when we’re doing this so we are far from our best selves.
Most of the time now, we have 4 displaced stools and the lone 5th on the corner. Holding it’s post. We have stools that are dragged from one room to another and left behind. Stools that are being used while my husband is riding and the kids and I are doing the morning shuffle. Sometimes one of our kids is left standing at the counter without a stool — either because they’re being used for their dual purpose or because they’ve been abandoned in the bike room. Covered in towels and sweat and laptops and water bottles. Stools that no one wants to deal with at the moment. It makes for more arguing. And chaos: “Whose turn is it to help out and move the stools?! Oh, and while you’re at it, DON’T BUMP THE BIKES!” Let’s just say no one likes to move them because NO ONE wants to bump a bike. It’s all about the bikes, after all. But I digress…
Really this isn’t about our counter stool locations, or dining placement, or arguing, or the like. It’s about change. And possibility. It’s about being brave. It’s about being daring and being willing to try even if you might fail. When do you decide to make a change? To get up off of the stool and find another way? Or in our case, to stop lugging the stools around in this ridiculous, tiring way? When do you stop and assess and conclude that something which once brought you joy isn’t delivering anymore? Or maybe it’s not even that big of a shift, perhaps it’s as simple as saying, “I’m making this way too complicated!” You know that feeling, I know you do — the nagging thought that there could be more. That there could be an easier way if you just took a moment to figure it out. Anything could be possible if you simply believed it could be different and maybe even better than it is right now. If you were willing to take a risk and see if something new could work. And more importantly, be okay if it doesn’t work. Change is uncomfortable. Committing to it is risky. Starting simply with counters stools is a good place to start.
We finally stopped complaining about what a pain it was to move the stools around. Two years later, we had grown weary of the inconvenience of it all. And maybe more importantly, we’d grown tired of the stress they caused. We’d had enough of making things so complicated for ourselves. I think on a deeper level it really came down to owning the truth of who we are as a family. We are a family in which both parents train for the Ironman. Honoring who we are meant claiming our space. Actually, it really meant creating space for us to be who we are. Sometimes being honest about what makes us happy is really scary. In a way, only half committing to something gives you an out. It gives you an excuse or a justification if you don’t meet your goals. It gives you a cushion to fall on if you fail. Diving in and creating a space that worked meant redefining our family and being comfortable with this scary commitment. It also meant that we were embracing who we are. We were in it. We weren’t shuffling chairs anymore and pretending that our training mattered. We were leaping out of the limitations we placed on ourselves.
Our solution: we constructed bike tables that tuck right in over our front wheels and under the aerobars. We can push them out of the way and even use them for storage. They fit nicely and are useful in that small space. If you’re not a triathlete, it doesn’t matter, you don’t need to know what I’m talking about to get the idea: We had to make a change. These stools seem like such a trivial thing, but they weren’t anymore. They were getting in the way of our happiness. We had to commit to looking at that small room differently and we had to take the time to find a way to make that space work. Without jockeying counter stools.
So often the solution is simple and requires getting out of our own way. Getting off the stool. Leaping! Have you leapt lately? Risked greatly? Dared to be more than the stray chair at the corner? Or even the one in the crowded bike room with the sweaty towels and sticky water bottles on it? What inspires you and makes you want to try something new? What would you like to change but haven’t? I had cursed those cumbersome chairs for years. Hated them. Which is actually quite sad, because they’re the chairs in which our family joins together at the start and end of each day. They are the chairs with memories of baking cookies together and rolling out dough for pies and prepping holiday dinners. Of laughter and tears. And yes, they are now the chairs which helped us finish two Ironman triathlons. I can’t negate that truth. But the bike room isn’t their home. The kitchen is. They had become a burden and an obstacle and a sense of strife. We were long overdue for a change. It was time to get up off the stool.