At family dinners when I was growing up, the adults always sat together at the actual dining room table, and the kids always sat in the living room, at a rickety card table surrounded by folding chairs and random other chairs from my grandparents’ house. All of the food and drink was at the grownup table; our parents would fill up our plates from there and bring them to us out in the hinterlands of the living room.
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For the duration of the meal, we at the kids’ table were supposed to be quiet, behave, and stay in our seats. If we needed anything, we called to our parents; we were never, EVER to approach the grownup table, and if we did, the conversation there would end abruptly, and one of our respective parents would quickly figure out what we wanted, get it for us, and shoo us away. Usually my sister and I were at the kids’ table with our cousins, all boys, who were not what one would call scintillating conversationalists; they spent their dinnertime hunkered down over their plates, shoveling it in, so we only really saw the tops of their heads. But even if they’d been chatty, it wouldn’t have made a difference to me. All I wanted was to sit at the grownup table.
The way I saw it, the grownup table was the real deal; from our table in the living room, we could hear them laughing and whispering and shouting. We could hear glasses being filled and plates being passed around. The grownup table was where the action was. It was where the GROWNUPS were, and I desperately wanted to be one of those. Grownups got respect. People listened to them. Nothing was hidden from grownups — and most important (at least, to me), they got to tell and hear all the good jokes and stories.
I remember asking my parents when I might get to sit at the grownup table; my mother informed me she didn’t get to sit there until she got married. That didn’t work for me. My plan (at the time, anyway) was to never get married, to live in a house by the ocean with a hundred cats. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “independently wealthy.” So, how was I going to graduate to grownuphood?
Eventually, as my cousins and I got older and bigger, and our parents and grandparents got lazier about setting up the card table (or somehow realized how to add a couple of extra leaves to the dining room table), the kids’ table was left behind. But I never forgot that feeling of being a second-class citizen, that sense that I was missing out on all the good stuff. All the REAL stuff.
Now, when I write, I continue to recall that sense of longing, and I try to give young readers all the respect and attention and honesty I know they deserve. I save all my best stories for them — especially the dark, surprising, funny ones, because I know those are the ones I always liked to eavesdrop on.
Unfortunately for them, the reality is that they’re going to have to sit at the kids’ table for a few years. That’s just the way it is. But while they’re there, I’m going to pull up a folding chair, and let them in on a few secrets, including this one:
Sitting at the grownup table gets old fast. As do we all.
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