I have a loud and large Italian family. Growing up, Thanksgiving always saw us kids crammed together in the kitchen with our paper plates and disposable napkins while the grownups sat in the dining room and had a civilized meal complete with table clothes and wineglasses. As much as I loved eating meals with my sister and cousins, as the oldest child I always wondered what important adult conversations I was missing out on in the other room. Sneaking in to grab the butter or another bottle of soda, I'd hear snippets of conversation about things I knew nothing about: politics, the cost of retirement, something called the "Thigh Master". The adults' Thanksgiving table seemed special, and I wanted to be a part of it.
This Thanksgiving, my sister will be hosting 25 members of our immediate family, and as I'm the sole person attending from my generation who's become a parent, my twin 2-and-half year olds will be the only ones there not old enough to drink.
My children eat together the other 364 days a year, so there's nothing special about giving them their own kids' table on Thanksgiving. Plus, I want them to grow up with an appreciation for a formal meal without feeling excluded from the adults. Rather than feed them before or after everyone else, the plan is to have them eat Thanksgiving with the entire family. But first, a test run is in order.
Never one to pass up the chance to eat mashed potatoes, I decided to make a mini pre-Thanksgiving feast to see how the kids will do come Turkey Day. I tried to mimic the conditions we'll be facing on Thursday as much as possible:
- Eating dinner at 3 p.m. instead of their usual 5:30 p.m. meal,
- Fancy plates that will break if banged
- Cute sweaters I'd really like to avoid being stained
- No baby gates to keep them out of the kitchen
- And perhaps the most important (and terrifying): no booster seats or high chairs.
Can my toddlers handle sitting with the adults? Or were kiddie tables invented for a good reason? Here's what I learned.
Making A Game Plan
I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to strategically place cutlery, glasses, and the centerpiece in a way that would prevent the kids from getting a hold of anything breakable, but since they weren't sitting strapped into their booster seats, none of it mattered anyway. Once we sat down, they stood up in their chairs and reached right for the wine. (At least they know to go for the good stuff?) I managed to save most of my glass, and I'm delighted to report for the sake of the table cloth that we went with the Pinot Grigio and not the Noir.
All my fears about them shattering plates to the floor went unfounded. While they loved using (and jousting with) a grown-up fork and spoon, real plates didn't impress them. After arguing for several minutes over why they didn't need their plastic plates and trying but failing to convince them these heavy white plates were exciting and cool, I decided to choose my battles and busted out their rainbow colored toddler plates. What difference does it make, really?
I can easily toss these in my bag to bring with us on Thanksgiving, and then I won't have to worry about writing a check to cover the cost of shattered china.
First Course, Second Thoughts
The kids had zero interest in the butternut squash soup I made, but instead focused their attention on the bread and butter. I'm really glad they did this, not just because I really didn't want to see their cute sweaters covered in orange, but also because it was a good reminder that kids don't understand seasonal foods or special holiday treats. At first I was annoyed with how they wouldn't even try the soup, but realizing that toddlers are going to eat what they want, I let it go, and reminded myself to do the same on Thanksgiving. If they don't want to eat the special foods that I dream about all year long, that's fine, more cranberry sauce for me. They can eat the rolls.
Because it wasn't even close to their typical dinner time and they were free from their usual booster seat straps, the kids decided to climb down and work the room a bit, which is probably what they'll do on Thanksgiving, seeing as how they love to act cute for the family.
I'm an anxious mom, prone to a bit of helicopter parenting, but seeing as how they were munching and letting us eat in relative peace, I let them do them. We left that baby gates open, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well they listened when we asked them to stay out of the kitchen, though I did work up a bit of a sweat pulling them off of the staircase. Still, getting up to check on them so often gave me a handy excuse to refill my wine glass so all things considered, I can't complain.
Please Pass The Gravy ... And The Baby
Things got a bit tricky when it came time for the actual meal. Trying to get a toddler to eat when they're not hungry is always hard, but even more so when you're asking them to try foods they're not familiar with, like delicious brussels sprouts.
The kids were getting bored by our sitting at the table, so we played a game of musical chairs, baby edition in order to get the adults fed and a respectable amount of mashed potatoes and poultry into the kids. I know that on actual Thanksgiving there will be plenty of family willing to take the boys off our hands so my partner and I can eat, so while this particular meal felt rushed, I have hopes of actually getting to chew my food before swallowing on Thursday.
As I feared, the boys discovered cranberry sauce and my stain stick got a workout because of it. I managed to save their sweaters, but I'm resigned to the fact that Thanksgiving day outfits could be a one-time deal and I secretly wish I hadn't bothered getting special clothes for them. I'm so glad I didn't wear my new gray dress for this trial run and now I'll most definitely save that for a date night.
On Thanksgiving, I'll probably toss on some leggings and an older sweater, knowing full well my family won't notice what I'm wearing when there are little kids to focus their attention.
Just when I think this whole thing is a disaster and we should cancel our plans to go to my sister's and stay home with some Netflix and frozen pizza, it's time for dessert. My boys might look an awful lot like their dad, but they get their sweet tooth from me. (Bless them. Really.)
We might've had to sit with them and play games to get them to eat dinner, but those cupcakes never stood a chance. At least I know if things get really hectic on Thanksgiving, I can bribe them into reasonably good behavior with some cookies.
Are My Toddlers Ready For The Adult Table?
Even though having the kids sit with us for our Thanksgiving mock-trial made for a less relaxing meal, it's definitely what we'll be doing on the day of. All things considered, my boys aced their grown-up table test! And I want my kids to learn how to behave in an adult setting, and Thanksgiving will give us all — especially them — a chance to practice year after year.
I know my family adores the boys, and if Thanksgiving is about gratitude, then having my kids there at the table with the rest of the family will be worth any havoc they cause (as long as I can keep them away from red wine and knives).
Images: Courtesy of Megan Zander (4), Giphy (3)