I first watched "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Prime Video's hit show about a comedian who happens to be a divorcing single mom, at an interesting point. I was going through a divorce myself, and though the story is set about 60 years before our own time, some parallels were so strong as to be alarming. Some men haven't changed much from previous generations, and neither has the way we often treat adults after divorce, especially women. We infantilize them, as though only in having a present, committed partner are we truly grown-ups.
In short: I was relegated to the kids' table after my marriage ended, like divorced Midge returning to her parents' apartment for refuge . . . only to find herself in the narrow twin of her childhood bedroom, left mostly unchanged.
Listen, the kids' table gets a bad rap. It's punishment, where we put not only the children but the misbehavers, the deviants. Unmarried aunts get placed at the kids' table, manchildren, sullen teens. The adult table is where the sophicated conversation is, the free-flowing alcohol, the manners and the fancy food.
But the kids' table can also be where the decorations are, the coloring on paper tablecloths, the whipped cream swiped from pies, which are, of course, eaten first. The kids table can be less a castigation and more an opportunity: to solve issues on your own, away from the social obligations and droll etiquette of adults. This Thanksgiving, to have a good time, check out the card table with the mismatched chairs, the one pressed against the corner of the room — or maybe even outside it, in its own room. The kids' table is where it's at. And maybe you should be there too.
Thanksgiving is all about the food, and – if you're the one tasked with making it all or even some of it – all about the stress. How many family recipes must be prepared correctly? How many Thanksgivings start with someone, likely a mother, grandmother, or female relative, up at 4 a.m., and end with someone in the kitchen in tears?
Kids just know it tastes good or it doesn't. They want more or they don't.
Children's tastes vary, and anyone assuming kids all simply prefer chicken fingers and plain noodles may not have met any kids like my tween, who started ordering off the adult menu as soon as he could read. But most kids aren't burdened with the family history of food, the often-heavy expectations lacing favorite picnic potatoes, or the corn casserole a deceased relative used to make that you, the living, are trying for the first time. Kids just know it tastes good or it doesn't. They want more or they don't.
A holiday meal is supposed to be about coming together, not about perfection. And kids are often able to see through to the simplicity of the holiday easier than adults. Is the pie a secret family recipe requiring a complicated homemade crust, or store-bought? The only questions those at the kids' table are going to ask is: Is it a pie? (And how quickly can you pass it.)
Kevin Pollak (Moishe Maisel) and Caroline Aaron (Shirley Maisel) in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Amazon Studios)A good palate doesn't negate a sweet tooth. Kids are looking for candied and candied things only. And a dessert-first mentality could serve all of us well sometimes. Holidays are supposed to be fun, after all. You're supposed to enjoy them. On Thanksgiving, if you can't get yourself a serving of sweet potatoes that is mostly marshmallows, when can you?
Kids know how to eat. They know to live, and they know how to have a good time. Paper crowns? Kids will wear them. Turkeys drawn from traced fingers? Kids will make them. Ridiculous, often unfunny jokes? They will tell them. And retell them. While the adult table might get bogged down in politics, kids will go down a rabbit hole of YouTubers and knock-knock jokes bordering on the absurd.
Tony Shalhoub (Abe Weissman) in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (K.C. Bailey/Prime Video)
We continually punish adults for being single, as if only a romantic partner completes or matures a person.
At the kids' table, children are usually left to their own devices, sometimes even in another room where they can't be seen or heard, away from parental control. The advantage of this is that not only do kids have to solve problems — fix conflict without adult referees, figure out which fork to use — they have to help each other, older kids cutting younger kids' meat, making sure there are enough rolls for everyone. Kids learn to help others at their tiny table, especially those too small to help themselves. That's something many adults still need to remember.
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In "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Midge doesn't just fall back into her old life, her life before marriage, once that marriage ends. Her parents put her there, refusing to see their grown daughter as grown once she is without the "protection" of a husband. So too we continually punish adults for being single, even by choice, as if only a romantic partner completes or matures a person. As if only those having kids must be separated from them at the fancy dinner table.
Why do we separate people anyway on holidays? Why not make a giant table this Thanksgiving with the kids not at the end but grouped amongst us? We can all learn a lot by sitting together, dessert first, knock-knock jokes and all.