57. At the Kids’ Table

57. At the Kids’ Table

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

At the Kids’ Table

It’s like being at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving—you can put your elbows on it, you don’t have to talk politics… no matter how old I get, there’s always a part of me that’s sitting there.

~John Hughes

Another festive holiday season draws near and I fondly recall a tradition hardly unique to my own tribal group: The Kids’ Table. We’ve all witnessed this common rite of family passage wherein the children are not placed at The Big Table and the motley mismatched siblings, cousins, and kids belonging to parents’ friends may even be relegated to a side room.

Every Christmas my father opened his dining room to a large assortment of his cronies and their wives and various offspring and guests. And every year there was an overflow of kids destined for the annex table that was set up in the family room far away from the main body of revelers. Here, our jubilant racket wouldn’t disturb the solemn and peaceful merrymaking of our elders. My younger sister and I, five years apart, were the primary overseers of the kids’ table. We have a brother eight years younger than I who was never required to complete a tour of duty at the kids’ table. We’ll get to him in a bit.

When we were in our twenties, my sister and I were dismayed by the seeming injustice of being consigned to this annex away from the world of grownups we were hoping to join. The worry that we would still be out there would ignite a few weeks in advance of the big day and smolder and die as the event receded in our memory. The curious thing, to me anyway, about this whole reminiscence is that my sister and I never did graduate from the kids’ table to the main event; we were never invited, as it were, into the Big House. It took us many years and post-graduate degrees to finally make sense of this, during which time we entertained countless theories and conjectures. It required even more years to finally accept and then enthusiastically embrace our position.

You see, my sister and I never produced kids of our own, while our brother, yes, we’re getting to him now, decided from an early age to experiment his way through a series of wives, leaving a trail of children in his carefree wake. At first, his place at The Big Table was ensured because he was the only son, and this successor to my father’s seniority needed representation at the main table.

At the young age of twenty, the time of his first marriage, my brother and his young bride were ushered ceremoniously and with great fanfare to the main table on their first Christmas as a new franchise of the family name. My mother wanted to afford this young woman the full dignity and privileges of adulthood and, as I later came to realize, a reward for having married. My sister and I were still out in the family room with the kids.

As the three of us entered our thirties, and my brother’s starter marriage gave way to a second incarnation, he retained his seat at the main table, while my sister and I retained ours at the kids’ table, now accompanied by, among other kids, our nephew. It all started to become, somehow, sort of comfortable. You tire of worrying over the same issue after a few decades.

My parents sensed after so much time that it was unlikely my sister and I would be producing children of our own, and the boyfriend I lived with for a decade wasn’t an actual husband, so we never did earn a place at The Big Table. But this boyfriend’s presence at the kids’ table all those years added an ironic and almost wacky spin to the mix, as our relationship outlived two of my brother’s marriages.

Later, when the second brotherly marriage failed and more of his offspring took their rightful places at the kids’ table, the whole program assumed the manner of high theater. My sister and I, comfortably into our forties, still unmarried and childless and therefore not qualified for the grown-ups’ table, were finally able to enjoy the laughter and riotous merriment of this wonderful assortment of kids.

Eventually we came to notice the odd silence or occasional grunts or complaints about the news of the day that wafted in from the morose enclave of “grown-ups.” After three decades of this ritual, my sister and I, both in our fifties, finally resigned ourselves to our proper places as the celebrity hosts of the kids’ table where we held lively court among the more enthusiastic of our holiday guests, noting with great pride the trickle of “grown-ups” who picked up their plates and wandered out to join us where they claimed it was more fun.

So there was our success, if a long time in coming. It has been ten years now since I held court at the kids’ table, having been finally released from my duties as overseer by the deaths of my parents. And as I prepare my own Christmas meal for myself and a collection of oddball friends and comrades, I think back on that dreaded kids’ table, and wish I were sitting there again.

~Aaron Vlek

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