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A Seat at the Table

I was going through a box of old pictures, as one often does when processing the loss of a loved one, and I came across a picture of the infamous “Kiddie Table” at my grandparents’ house. It was a fun, chaotic table, for sure. But, as one of the older cousins, I longed to have a place at the “Adult Table.”

At least once a year, I would pile into our family vehicle (my all-time favorite being the VW pop-top camper) with my brothers, and my parents would drive us west to my paternal grandparents’ house in OH. After a rather uncomfortable 15-ish hours, involving the much-beloved backseat area game of “you’re looking out my window, so I get to pinch you,” and valiant efforts on my part not to throw up (I was extremely prone to motion sickness. I’m talking quick-pull-the-car-over-she’s-gonna-spew-again prone.), we would arrive, recuperate, and anxiously await the arrival of aunts and uncles, and cousins, almost all of whom lived in the vicinity.

When all were present, we played hard for much of the day. And, I loved it. There were piggyback rides to give and forts to build, then knock down. Puzzles and board games, tag and hide-and-seek (during which I could even squeeze in some naps when I found a good hiding spot).

But, when it came to mealtime, I was drawn to the polished sarcasm, and jokes I only half got, happening where the adults congregated to break their bread. Even the more serious conversations (definitely in the minority) fascinated me.

That is where I wanted to be, and attempts were made. Most ended in my being sent back (moping all the way) to the Kiddie Table. I would try to squeeze a chair in, or sit in one I knew I would eventually have to leave, if even to get just a few minutes at the Adult Table.

Heck, I started at the Adult Table! … as kids often do, their highchairs pulled up next to a parent’s seat.

Ok, I don’t exactly remember being there then. But, I have been told a story, on more than one occasion, about being whooshed away from my place at one such Adult Table after making the rather unwise decision to NAH nah nah NAH nah an adult relative from the children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard generation who had aimed a scornful look in my direction. So, I know for a fact I was there.

And, just as an aside, I now understand the main reason I was so quickly whooshed away from the table at the time. It is a reason that spans time and generations: so the adults could laugh their asses off without promoting bad behaviour. Yeah … I didn’t fully get it until I had my own kids. It’s hard not to laugh when your three-year-old tells his sister, in his frustrated, squeeky, toddler voice, that she might wake-up without a face. But, that’s not the kind of behavior we want to reinforce. So, we bite our tongues and hold our breath until our little ones are safely out of earshot … then completely lose it.

Anyhow, during our stay at these family get-togethers, there were occasions when a seat or two opened up at the Adult Table. And I cherished those times when I was allowed a spot, honing my own sarcasm and delivering what I hoped were zingers.

Back then, the absences that allowed my ascent to the Adult Table were temporary and fleeting. And, the occupants who weren’t able to attend one meal or another alternated so that I got to spend time at the table with them all in the end. Which was perfect because that was why I wanted to be at the Adult Table … not because of the table, but because of the adults that were there. And, my young mind never processed any other reasons for any of those chairs to be vacant…

My paternal grandparents passed years ago, before my own children were born. The last family gathering I attended at that table in their home took place after my grandmother’s memorial service, before their home was sold.

I found the sight of those empty chairs and their significance overwhelming, the end of an era. And, at the time was completely unaware of the fact that a member of the next generation was in attendance. About a week later, I discovered that I was expecting My Moon, the beginning of an era.

Our latest extended family gathering was held to celebrate the life of my my aunt, my father’s sister, who passed recently … way too soon. This, after the recent loss of the brother just above her in age. Two of the members of my ideal Adult Table, the one of which I had so longed to be a permanent part when I was a child. The one I had only been able to experience a handful of times as an adult in my own right. It didn’t seem possible.

And, when we were all gathered together, aunts and uncles, cousins, and our own children, it hit me. I was now not only at the Adult Table, my brother, “little” cousins, and I now made up most of the Adult Table. And in that moment, I wished with all my heart that I could once again yield my seat and mope my way back to the Kiddie Table…

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