Kid’s Table: Betsy and Paige argue both sides of this American tradition.
YES to TOGETHER. YES to FREEDOM.
Thanksgiving is nearly here.
It doesn’t matter what you are eating, but I hope you are eating it at two tables. The second table I’m talking about is the kid’s table. Nothing fancy is necessary: a coffee table with cushions, a fisher price plastic picnic table, or the plywood-sawhorse standby. Eating with your children isn’t something that happens in every home. But if it does, you deserve a break, they deserve a break.
At our our family Holidays, Betsy, my sister Allie, and my kid’s table was a square card table wedged between the privacy of the kitchen island and my mother’s work desk, the long cord of the kitchen phone snaking into coils along the blue tile. The table, always set with a tablecloth and formal settings, felt like a long held reservation at a restaurant.
In the absence of adults, we relished our new possession. When we were eating weeknight dinner in the presence of our parents, our behaviors and even feelings felt beholden to their scrutiny. At the children’s table, adult’s expectations muddled into a quiet background track. Free of adults, we spent a considerable amount of time posing as adults. Posturing authority turned out to be a pretty fun game. We spent the rest our meal subverting these poses.
I am no longer a discernible child, although I feel more playful and free with each passing year. I am now a mother to a five year old daughter trying to define this relatively new job. I have since past the trials of feeding and changing, and now seek to help my daughter navigate her way into independence.
Ultimately what parents have to teach their children is how to exist without you. As a young adult this separation can be a painful time, but at the kid’s table, in the clutch of family, this is a time when practiced freedom can feel its sweetest.
Children live in a world created by adults. It is the sad truth that by the time you become an adult catering to the needs of a child you have forgotten the reality of being a child. Being a child is a dish you ate long ago - one you will never be able to recreate in the kitchen of tools and language manufactured by grownups. Children live in the present moment, only fleetingly accessible to their adult counterparts.
We should allow children to enjoy freedom from adult conversation and undisturbed mastication. Let’s face it, eating under the gaze of unfamiliar relatives can give anyone indigestion. There, among their peers, the discomfort of massive ice cream headaches is self inflicted.
These ice cream headaches, these mistakes, is where true learning takes place. It is the unchecked creativity and mishaps of the kid’s table where the future is being hashed out.
It’s possible, sitting next to Betsy, making elongated faces in our flatware, the first seed of Seasoned was born. Sure we all want to influence our children, but influence too heavily and you suppress the possibility of real change in the world.
Over the years, I have read various advice on how to keep your dinner party lively. Advice like: Separate couples that arrive at the party together. Alternate your seating arrangement to encourage conversation.
This suggestion assumes:
I have a table that seats more than four.
I have name tags
I have made name tags because my guests RSVP-ed
My policy for pre-party jitters has always involved stockpiling wine, and when the bottles run dry, I turn to my guests with this piece of wisdom:
“Did you know they actually have a good selection of Malbec? Yes, the gas station on the corner, the one you can walk to.”
From every piece of advice, I-have-not-taken, there is always a kernel of social wisdom. The suggestion that couples arrive at events together and turn inward is something that happens. And, the trappings of codependency are something I have experienced and now understand. So, in theory, I think this suggestion is a good one.
Parties are an opportunity to socialize. In optimum circumstances, a dinner party is a chance to have a conversation you’ve never had. And, that conversation may teach you something about yourself. When you change your perspective, even slightly, you are, by nature, a little-more gracious, a little-less you. So this holiday season, I suggest mixing up the Kids’ Table with the Adult Table because we need cross-generational banter. Our future as a society depends on it.
Now, I speak from the perspective of a proud aunt and not a mother. I know the kind of days my sisters and friends-with-children pull. I acknowledge, they need that glass of wine more than me and perhaps some adult conversation. But the conversations they have with their own children at the table promote development on so many levels. They show their children manners when they pass food, and say “thank you”. They show gratitude when they wait to eat until their host sits. When adults talk, the words spill over their children’s’ ears. The children remember the sounds of the conversation before they know the meanings. Conversation is not a sound bite or a jingle, it’s a messy back and forth, that follows ideas and stokes excitement.
I have found the best way to engage my five-year-old niece at the table, is not to put her on the spot directly. She will share interesting things about her day one-on-one but when asked point blank at family dinners: how was school? She will shrug and claim nothing happened. The best times at the table come from including the new generation but not catering to them. Everyone comes to a holiday party with an expectation of fulfilling a need, even if the need is as simple as getting a certain dish they look forward to every year. It’s an opportunity to let the family move as a group. No person, whether a child, or an adult should be singled out unnecessarily or dominate the discussion. People should be allowed to talk to whomever they desire or if the mood strikes them, chew quietly and listen.