Thursday, December 29, 2011

On tablelism....

Tableism - the practice of sorting large families into smaller groups by table and age.
Phillip's New World Dictionary

When I was growing up, my grandmother's house was the place where everyone met for holidays and family gatherings; I called her house The Hub because it was where everything happened.  Since my extended family was scattered across several states, and I rarely got to see them, those gatherings at grandma's were special times indeed, and they occurred all too infrequently.

My grandmother always had two tables, a smaller one that was used for every day meals and a larger table that was used when my relatives were visiting.  My grandparent's, like most people, were tableists; when we had family functions the bigger table was reserved for the adults and the smaller table was used by us kids.  I used to always think that being an adult meant two things; that you got to sit at the big kid table and that you got to drink coffee.  I still don't drink coffee and I suppose that my refusal to drink it is just an expression of my desire to stay young and not grow up; coffee's always been just a little too grown up for me.  I do get to sit at the big kid table though, so I guess that I'm at least partially grown up.  For me sitting at the adult table was a right of passage, a sign that you'd arrived at adulthood.

The people at the big kid table always seemed so cool; they would drink their coffee, talk about their jobs and divorces, and tell dirty jokes.  I yearned to be a part of that cooler, older table, minus the divorces.  The younger table talked about stuff like school, the books we had read and what we had done during the long, lazy summers that is one of those unique gifts of childhood.  Though it was nice to see my cousins and I enjoyed their company very much, there was nothing in any of those conversations that was going to leave an indelible impression on your young mind; I couldn't tell you one thing that was ever said at that table, but I remember well some of the jokes told at the big kid table.  The conversations at that big kid those were special.

There was also a group that I dubbed "the Tweeners", they were the people who were too young to sit at the big kids table, but too old to fit in at the little kid table.  When my grandmother had more people at the house than she could fit at either of the tables the Tweeners would get a folding tray table to eat at.  I always tried to be a Tweener whenever I could because it made me feel a little less like a kid and a little more like an adult.

I've come to realize that my life-long desire to be welcomed as a full voting member at the big kid table, with all of the rights and privileges thereto, was overrated and that I had idealized what occupying a spot at that table really meant.  Heck, I never could tell a good joke anyway.  It took me years of observation to reach this enlightened state, years that finally culminated in a kind of epiphany.  I came to this epiphany while sitting on the couch in my in-law's living room this past Thanksgiving.

As I sat there I observed that although we were obviously all there together, the larger group was made up of several smaller groups, with each group member interacting with one another in completely different ways.  The first group was the Wee Ones; they were all under 5 and were playing with dolls or crawling across the floor putting things into their mouths that didn't belong there.  This was the equivalent of the little kid table, though the age range didn't stretch quite as far as I was used to.

The second group ranged in ages from 16 to around 21.  This group was talking about World of Warcraft, games in general, and electronics.  This was the Tweener group from my childhood.  The only thing missing were the folding tray tables.

The third group was the full-fledged adults, the occupants of the big kid table. What were they talking about?  Social Security, maintenance medications, medical conditions and other old people stuff; it was like sitting in a cardiologist's waiting room.  It was at this point, sitting on that couch in my in-law's house and watching these three groups interact, that my soul begged to be thrust back into the comforting arms of my grandmother's little kid table, if just for one more time.  Either the big kid table isn’t what I had made it out to be or the kids that sit there, me included, aren’t nearly as cool as they used to be.  I think maybe it's probably a little of both.

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