Sitting at the Big Table
As November 26th gets closer, lots of us are spending time in preparation and anticipation. We’re busy comparing prices for frozen turkeys, finding grandma’s recipe for cranberry sauce and ordering chiffon pumpkin pies. We’ve assigned a favorite aunt the task of bringing the green bean casserole and asked our neighbor if he has folding chairs we can borrow. All of this organization is necessary to carry out our vision of the perfect holiday dinner; one that merits a symphony of satisfied after-dinner sighs that continue long after the wishbone has been pulled. But to me, these details are secondary. While many of you are dusting off your crystal and sharpening the carving knife, my energies are spent on how to fit 19 and a highchair at a table that comfortably accommodates 10.
Everyone who’s coming to Thanksgiving dinner at my house sits at one table, no matter how long, awkward and cumbersome that table turns out to be. Some therapists might consider this fixation of mine a character flaw — one that traces its beginnings back to my childhood. An unnecessary expenditure of energy that I should have resolved over the years. “Just set up an extra table for the kids,” they would advise “and don’t worry about it.” But I do worry and I worry a lot.
I’m the youngest of four children. The baby of the family. Over the years, I’ve been placed at the children’s table a time or two, or twenty. And to this day, I’m still a bit sensitive about where I sit during holiday meals. So much so, that when Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is held at my house, I make every effort to link as many tables as it takes for everyone to sit together. The banquet often spans the length of my dining room and encroaches well into our kitchen/TV room.
Why such a campaign against a kids’ table? It has a lot to do with the age span between my older siblings and me. Some say I was a surprise addition, born about a dozen years after the then youngest, Paul. My brothers and sister are more than a decade older than I am. It’s no wonder that they’ve treated me like a child instead of a peer. So when the seating at the dining room table became snug, it was easy for mom to demote me to the kids’ table to feast with my nieces and nephews.
Sitting at a card table or a coffee table located closer to the garage than the formal dining room magnified the fact that I wasn’t on the A (adult) list. The “kids” were out of earshot of the grown-ups. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but I knew it had to be better than discussing Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons or Romper Room’s magic mirror.
My complaints fell on deaf ears. “You’re going to eat the same things we are,” came the calming retort. It didn’t matter. I was still ticked. This was an unfair division of family. I wasn’t one of the kids even though I was 11 (technically eligible for the child’s discount at the movies). I was Aunt Claire. So what if I was barely five years older than my oldest nephew. I was still an aunt, not a child. I demanded the status that was rightfully mine.
I wanted to sit at the table with the stemware, not the Tupperware. To be closer to the turkey platter and gravy boat than the chocolate milk and bibs. I envisioned myself eating off the nice plates and drinking my apple cider out of a goblet instead of a jelly jar. At least that’s what I claimed.
Truth be told, mostly, I just wanted to be near my big brothers and sister. They were grown and out of the house. Their lives were busy, raising families of their own. On these special days, they were back home and I wanted their attention. I wanted to fit in with the adults. I was too young to know that time passes quickly and once you’ve grown up, you’re an adult for a long, long time. Sitting at the kids’ table might not have been such bad thing.
Fortunately, the emotional scars I’ve endured from the years of sitting at the little table were fleeting. At holiday meals, I now focus on happy moments like “Who ate the marshmallows off the sweet potato casserole?” On occasion, I’ve even fought back the urge to seat my siblings at a rickety folding table near the refrigerator.
We youngsters from the kids’ table now have children and grandchildren of our own. The dilemma of making room for everyone continues to challenge my creativity. I hold fast to my desire for us all to be at one long, connecting surface, even if that means bringing the redwood picnic table in from outside. But there are no complaints. Any day that finds me surrounded by more family than I have chairs to accommodate, is a day that I happily give thanks for.