Why I Embrace the Kids’ Table at Thanksgiving

(Image credit: Paul Quesnell)cc by 2.0
(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

No, I don’t embrace sitting at the kids’ table — just its existence. I get plenty of kid time, every single day. But on holidays, I’m happy for the younger crowd to have a table, a whole room even, of their own. I have fond memories of the kids’ table in Nana’s parlor, including a rip-roaring Thanksgiving involving two Russian exchange students and more than a few nips of Nana’s vodka. The kids’ table is fun.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. And I certainly don’t want the kids getting into the vodka.

This year for Easter, we hosted 36 people. While we certainly don’t live in a “tiny house,” we don’t have a table or room large enough to seat 36 people, either. Thanks to an assortment of card tables and borrowed chairs, and a thoughtfully composed seating chart, we made it work. Our crowd filled six tables, three rooms, and one porch. This is the kind of thing I do for fun.

The kids got the porch. They ranged in age from 6 to 14. (The 16- and 17-year-olds chose to eat with the adults.) We thought about putting them inside, distributing them among the adults and older teens. Not everyone loves the idea of sitting at a table full of children. I fall into that camp: I love my kids, I love your kids, I love everyone’s kids, but I don’t like censoring myself at the dinner table. I do that every other day of the week. When there are 30 other grownups over for dinner, I’m looking for adult conversation.

As it happens, the kids aren’t too interested in us, either. Do you remember being 8? Or 10? Or 16? Different children have different personalities, but a lot of them prefer cutting loose with other kids. My niece, the oldest cousin and the only girl, has always had a place at the adult table at my house if she wanted it. Seating her in a separate area with five boys, varying in degrees of unruliness, seemed cruel. I think she was around 14 when she decided to make the move to the adult table. As the boys grow older, they get a choice, too. So far, 15 seems to be the average age at which they’d rather sit with the grownups. Incidentally, it also seems to be the average age at which I find them as entertaining as grownups.

Our holidays include plenty of family, and plenty of friends we consider family. The kids’ table brings cousins closer and turns friends into cousins. Some of these kids only see each other a few times a year. Their table is where they get to know each other, laugh at jokes that would be shushed at the “big table,” and probably use less-than-stellar table manners. I suspect less vegetables are consumed away from the watchful eyes of parents, but there’s also less waste, because they don’t have to bother tricking anyone into thinking they’re eating food they don’t like. They have a blast.

After the meal, which can last a couple of hours, the kids are old friends, even if they just met. A competitive Wiffle ball tournament, a round robin-style game of pool, or a game of horse in the driveway are common occurrences. The kids may start them, but they’re gracious enough to let the rest of us join in.

I love how holidays bring family and friends together. Our kids mind their manners every day of the week at the family dinner table. Letting them have their own space gives them a chance to cut loose and bond. They look forward to holidays, I hope, and feel relaxed together, like family.

As for the memorable Thanksgiving in Nana’s parlor? Parents, let this be a warning: My sister invited two Russian exchange students to eat with us. I think/hope they were in college. By this point in our family history, there were enough kids to fill a room, and we ended up at three card tables — set with china, linen, and silver, of course — in Nana’s pretty front parlor. There was a small hallway between the parlor and the dining room, with built-in cabinets. Nana used the area as a bar.

I remember crystal decanters of … whatever it is people put in crystal decanters, and I remember seeing the adults pour small glasses of sherry and mix their cocktails with sterling iced-tea spoons in crystal highball glasses. My sister’s Russian friends thoughtfully explained to us some tradition in Russia involving vodka, which Nana just happened to have on her bar. And this is where things get kind of fuzzy. Y’all, there were definitely shots involved. Since I’m being honest, there was also definitely some underage drinking, but no driving, since we all came with our parents.

What I can also tell you is that no one was hurt, we all became fast friends, and I now seat the kids much farther from the bar at my house. There were a lot of laughs. And that was probably the best Thanksgiving at the (not-so-little) kids’ table.

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