How to Cope with Being Seated at the Kids' Table—as an Adult

November 18, 2016

While back home for Thanksgiving during my first year of college, I joined my father’s extended family for dinner. And I was slotted at the kids’ table.

Can you believe this? Absurd. I was to my family what Leonardo Dicaprio is to the American public: my dumb face cast in the amber of arrested development, incapable of convincing the outside world I've aged in spite of such cosmetic signifiers as facial hair.

Ugh. I can’t say this enough, so I’ll say it again. Uggggggggggh.


What an indignity. “That’s awful,” one friend said to me when I came back to campus that December. “I’m so sorry,” another groaned.

I imagine how I'd deal with sitting at the kids' table now, at 24. Are you, like me, one of those souls whom well-meaning people try to comfort by insisting that it's good to look young—that their skin will remain taut and porcelain as everyone else's sags and wrinkles? I have compiled some tips, and I’d like to share them with you. Let's get started.

1. Ask if you can sit at the adults’ table, and ask why you are sitting here instead.

I’m sorry to begin with this, but it must happen. This is crucial. First step. Come on. Know what's going on. Demand answers of your host.

2. Scan the room for faces who understand your terror.

If you can’t get out of the situation at hand, look for someone who understands your pain. I have found that this is a real skill one must have in life “in general,” just a rule one must adhere to if you want to navigate being alive—college TA sessions, work meetings, underground trains with screaming men. Externalize your pain. Wear a face of complaint and silent terror, and seek allyship. It's key.

3. Bust out your gadgets.

Yeah, you heard me. Gadgets. You know, phones. Tablets. Pagers. Kindle. Gameboy Color. Your Vtech. Show these kids who’s boss. This can go one of two ways: You can distract yourself, pretending you’ve received an important e-missive from a friend. Or, if, you've got more than one gadget in your arsenal, why not offer it to one of the children? You get to decide. If you're a kid, you may as well be...a "cool kid."

4. Talking points, talking points. Cover the basics.

Talk about school. What subjects are they taking? Sports? Crushes? Favorite teachers? Locker stories? Visits to the principal's office? Go crazy. Next, bring up some television shows. Movies they've seen lately? Lots to unpack here.

5. Tell a tall tale.

Don’t you love storytelling? Turn the table into the kids' section of Barnes & Noble and be their R.L. Stine. Creep the kids out. It can be about anything. An urban legend, riff on the lore of the Baba Yaga. Keep it in the family. Make something up. Spread a rumor about Uncle Rajesh. Fib a little.

6. Recommend some tunes to the tykes.

Who said you can’t give these kids some taste? Tell them about your favorite Buffy Sainte Marie album; describe your favorite Dire Straits song.

7. Explain your outfit.

I’m certain you put some care into what you're wearing, new adult. I’m sure you’ve done away with your Children's Place-esque looks and opted for more chic, elegant clothing. Where’s that bowtie from? Tell the kids the backstory. Those suede shoes? The kids would love to know about that day in Payless.

8. Name the state capitals.

Bring a Sporcle game to life. Go around the table. Name states, and ask the kids to name capitals. Nebraska? They should know this. Uhhhh, Maine? Kentucky? Wymong? Good luck, boys and girls. This is elementary. Keep track of the kids' progress.

9. Play house.

Assign the roles. Offer to play the mute grandfather.

10. Assign them math problems.

Pull out that dusty SAT practice book that's embedded in your photographic memory; ask about two trains leaving Manitoba in opposite directions. Which will get to their destination first? These brain teasers will drive the kids wild.

11. Bring up politics.

Kids love this stuff, especially at the Thanksgiving table. They’re “smarter than you think,” so why not put that to the test? Quiz them. Ask them about the presidents. Talk about some world leaders, past and present.

12. Ask for crayons.

This is the kids’ table; it's basically a large Fisher Price product. There better be appropriate artistic utensils in your arsenal. Demand them of your host. You’re a kid. This is how you must dine.

13. Start singing “Crazy Bus.”

It’s a good song.

14. Play with your food.

Who says kids can’t play with their food? Ridiculous. Make a sculpture of mashed potatoes; play mixologist with the soft drinks. Lots of fun.

15. Drop a utensil on the floor.

Yeah. Shit's getting dire here, so it’s time to rebel a little. Infuse some civil disobedience into these rote proceedings. You can even have some fun with it. Whoops! Did I do that? you can say. Laugh a little. Spill some food on the floor, too. Don’t clean it up. You can do anything, so long as anyone lets you. You’re one of the kids now.

16. Feign a stomach ailment.

Eat some hearty portions of food—you must eat a full meal—before you retreat to the bathroom, dramatically, saying you "need a minute"; make sure your gait reflects your distress.

17. Throw a temper tantrum.

Be a rugrat. You’re not trying to win the good behavior award. Abandon your sense of propriety. Make a scene.

18. Find the nearest open bedroom with an anxiety pillow and scream into it.

Pick a pillow and make it your "anxiety pillow." It can be any color. Shape, too—circular, square. So long as it muffles your scream.

19. Just shut up and deal.

Yes, this is good.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


drlbennett November 22, 2016
This is the exact opposite of the advice I've been giving everyone this year. "Dreading discussions of politics? Volunteer to be the adult presence at the kids' table. Everyone will love you!"
MLHE November 21, 2016
Very funny! Thanks!
HalfPint November 20, 2016
If you're in my family, the other 'kids' at the table are your age. Which is far better than being stuck at the grown up table, getting grilled about why you aren't married yet and listening to Aunt Lulu talk about her sciatica. Meanwhile at the kiddy table, the "kids", seated in the kitchen next the liquor cabinet, have opened the gin, vodka, and rum and totally enjoying their exile 🍸
Deedledum November 19, 2016
And if all else fails, teach them how to belch. Loudly. You won't be seated at the kiddy table again.
Smaug November 18, 2016
Children tend to be kind of shrimpy and they squeak sometimes, but they're not as terrifying as they seem at first. They can often be distracted with projects such as seeing who can fit the most peas in their nose or trying to rob Aunt Beulah's hearing aid without waking her up. Above all, don't let them sense your fear.
Connor B. November 18, 2016
My new favorite pull quote, well done.
Connor B. November 18, 2016
Oh AND Crazy Bus A+
Nancy November 18, 2016
If you can't be with the one(s) you love, love the one(s) you're with.
Courtney C. November 18, 2016
I loved this - and yes, I am still seated at the kids table at 30, so it doesn't end!