I had gone to a restaurant the other night with some friends, and the table directly in my line of sight was divided between the adults and the children. It was obviously all family, and the children ranged from probably thirteen years to fourteen months. The two oldest girls were in charge of the children. The adults completely ignored the children the entire time. Fortunately they were all extremely well behaved. But I felt sorry for the two “almost” women who had to handle the siblings and cousins. The oldest took care of the one in the highchair and at one point, put that child in her lap while she finished her meal.
The oldest spoke with the waitress when needed, and both of the older girls cut up meat and did all the things that normally would fall on the parents of those children. Neither seemed to mind their jobs and maybe they were asked ahead of time if they would do it. Or was this how all meals were conducted in those households? Either way, those two young women did an amazing job of caring for the children.
It made me think back to times that my parents visited with family and friends. I can remember on several occasions being put in the kitchen with the children and being almost horrified. No one asked if I would like to babysit the children, it was expected. But it was the attitude that children ate in the kitchen and only adults ate in the dining room. I wasn’t a child and I didn’t like being treated as one.
I remember one Thanksgiving at my sister’s house when we had a ton of family visiting. We could have set the dining room table for all the children but it would have been a tight fit. We discussed doing something more buffet-like, but my sister didn’t want people eating in the den or living room. It was Thanksgiving and we should all sit together. My sister decided that since our children (her four and my two) were the youngest, they could eat in the kitchen. I set the table for eight and my husband and I ate in the kitchen with the kids. Later, my husband and I joined the rest of the family for coffee in the dining room.
Maybe I’m just mentally geared into children because the manuscript I’ve been working on has seven children in it with a single father. The oldest is almost eighteen and there’s a set of twins in first grade. He’s working and trying to handle all of them. Naturally he expects the older ones to help, but he also doesn’t want to burden them as permanent babysitters.
So when does a child quit being a child, and when should that child be considered an adult with the same grownup meal privileges?