Shrinking tables

FamilyDinnerThis is a great time of year: spring is finally loosening winter’s grip, kids are preparing for spring break, (mostly) women are cooking and shopping in preparation for the annual holiday and the traditional feast.

And yet . . . For some families the holidays have become more nostalgic than joyous. Holiday tables that used to have children that are now parents themselves welcome the next generation — little ones squirming, toddlers on the move, pre-schoolers hiding under the tablecloth; teens texting; middle-schoolers sharing their latest discoveries; adults trying to carry on a conversation; grandmothers pulling everything together; grandfathers pouring wine and helping out wherever needed; indulging aunts, a grouchy uncle — some of these holiday tables are suddenly silent. Where have all the families gone?

The middle generation — parents struggling to spend quality time with their kids while fielding the demands of work and perhaps also caring for an aging parent, not to mention nurturing loving relationships with their spouses — this middle generation is stretched by responsibilities and pulled in many directions at once. Some scatter, enticed by job offers too good to turn down that require relocation to faraway places.

The women, now grandmothers, actually enjoyed the planning and the endless errands and the pre-holiday work overload. They enjoyed the tumult when three and sometimes four generations converged in their homes a few times a year, even though by the end of the evening they couldn’t wait to kick back and put up their feet after the last child had gone.

Years ago we learned that Hallmark cards and Norman Rockwell pictured fantasies that didn’t exist in reality. Still, when the realization hits that the family can no longer be gathered, planning a festive occasion seems futile, too much work for minimal reward.

That’s when friends come in. They are in the same boat and all too happy to join forces to celebrate the holidays in a new way. They forfeit the rough-and-tumble, trading it for adult conversation and shared experiences. Different, but not bad at all.

Photo by Toby Simkin

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Filed under American Society, Personal, Women

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