Reflections of a graduate of the kid table

I grew up in a big, extended Irish-Catholic family. Holidays were major logistical events.

Polished leaves for enormous dining room tables were lifted from front hall closets to accommodate grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Card tables covered with hand-stitched cloths were scattered about for the kids. Bone china dishes, Wedgwood cut glass and, of course, the good, heavy silver were teased from drawers seldom opened most of the year.

When I was a kid, all of this fine stuff was mysterious. Had I been a more precocious child, I might have said that these hidden treasures, rarely displayed and much admired, symbolized the whole unfathomable realm of Living Adults.

I didn't understand the fuss. Wouldn't paper plates make more sense? Why spend all of your time fiddling with dishes?

I was well into my teens before I graduated from the kid table. The generation above my parents was slowly disappearing, making space at the big table first for the oldest cousins and then eventually for me.

At the time this felt like a natural progression. I never got to know many of those Irish-accented elders as real people. I was a shy kid. I politely answered their questions and moved on. I never got their stories. My parents could tell them apart, but all of those great aunts and uncles ran together in my head.

And then they were gone.

Now that I am firmly, though reluctantly, entrenched with the Living Adults, I am doing my best to pass this old tradition to my own kids. I am beginning to understand the fuss. As often as we can we travel to the bosom of that big family to celebrate, to eat and to reconnect.

While the kid tables quickly empty for greener pastures, Brian and I linger at the big table and help with the dishes. We discuss ailing parents, struggling children, all the good and bad things about work and family and life. Because these are the people we trust. These are the people I have known my whole life.

Increasingly, we are meeting for funerals. I lost two aunts this year, two real women who had been in my life from infanthood. My children see my grief, but they don't understand. Not really.

I am just beginning to understand myself. We are the rising generation. When the old ones die, they take huge chunks of life with them: all of their memories, their stories, their carefully handled bone china secrets.

Brian and I are hovering just under the top tier of these family gatherings and it freaks us out. Life is telescoping at warp speed and there's no going back. Our kids are going to grow up. With any luck, we are going to grow old and die. And it's all so breathtakingly quick.

Be here now, I keep telling myself. Be here now.

Because it wasn't that long ago I was sitting at the kid table myself. More and more, it seems like a blink of the eye.


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