Food and fun taste better at the kiddie table

Jill Howard Church has lived in Fayette County since 1994. Reach her at jillptcblog@aol.com.

In just over a week, mothers, aunts and grandmothers across Fayette County will start opening linen closets and sideboards that have remained largely shuttered since last December. They will unload piles of tablecloths, placemats, embroidered napkins and perhaps some crocheted trivets made by Great Aunt so-and-so sometime around the Depression.

Come Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, elegant tables will be set with “the good china” and the silver everyone thinks is pretty but hates to polish.

None of those things, however, will make it to the kiddie table. But that’s the place you really want to be.

It’s where the youngest and loudest get plunked down together for a meal without grown-ups or grown-up concerns.

It’s where you sit face to face with cousins and siblings who also had to suck it up and wear their Sunday clothes on a Thursday. It’s where the dog wedges himself between the table legs and your feet, knowing full well a little bit of everything will eventually hit the floor.

No one at the kiddie table cares that the tablecloth, napkins and sometimes the plates are disposable. There are no candles, gravy boats or wine glasses to knock over.

No one at the kiddie table discusses their aches, medications, work schedules or investments. No one gossips about the neighbors or the family members who didn’t show. If someone burps, someone else will just burp louder.

The food is better, too. Mashed potatoes aren’t just a side dish, they’re suitable for sculpture. Peas become something you spear on each prong of your fork before eating.

The kiddie table isn’t just for kids, either. One of my favorite holiday memories is my grandfather’s insistence on sitting at the kiddie table rather than bump elbows at “the big table.” He was mischievous and irreverent, once tossing me a dinner roll from halfway across the room (making sure my grandmother didn’t see it).

Granddaddy knew, as I came to, that the kiddie table was far more relaxed and interesting than where the adults gathered. It was simple but it was fun. Unless something spilled, you were mostly left alone to giggle and get goofy.

And that’s what family holiday dinners should be about: the company, not the cutlery. The laughter, not the linens. Twenty years from now you won’t remember what you wore, but you’ll always remember how many lima beans your brother managed to stuff in his cheeks at once. Or how funny your uncle looked in an apron. Or the joke that made your sister turn as red as the cranberry sauce.

Now that I’m the mom, I’m the one sorting those pretty napkins and setting those holiday tables. But although I sit at the grown-up table for now, if I ever get the chance to share the kiddie table with my grandchildren, you can bet there’s no place I’d rather be.

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