Parent: Have yourself a merry “grown-up” Christmas

Tabi Parent, Contributor

This Thanksgiving, my cousin and I found our 18 and 19-year-old selves sitting, for the umpteenth year in a row, at the kids’ table. Last I checked, 18 is the legal age of adulthood in the U.S., and yet, there we were, sitting at a table where the youngest person still had yet to be born when Justin Bieber released his cultural reset of a song, “Baby.”

While many count down the days until they can assume a coveted chair at the adult table, I’ve long since gotten over my yearning for a seat at a table where the main topics of conversation are the stock market and whose kid is going where for college. No, I much prefer the kids’ table, where I’ve learned valuable information from my younger family members, like how to play murder mystery games on Roblox and which TikTok stars have a Netflix show that I just “have to watch” — I do what they say; otherwise they like to call me a “boomer”.

While I love the unchecked chaos of the kids’ table, I can’t help but wonder if a part of me gravitates toward it subconsciously. If I wanted to, I could be aggressive and claim a chair at the adult table before the rest of the grown-ups sit down. I was a pro at musical chairs in my prime, and I’m sure the skill would translate well.

Yet I remain content to find my place with ease at the kids’ table. There is something nostalgic and comforting, yet slightly heart-wrenching, about listening to my younger cousins tell me all the trials and tribulations of their first years of high school and what I’ve been missing out on while I’m away at school.

When I left for college, I boarded that plane and sat crying between my parents for the full six-hour flight to Boston. I imagine these feelings are only slightly amplified versions of what I will eventually feel when I graduate to the adult table.

Leaving for college is not just hard because you will miss home. Leaving for college, just like leaving the kids’ table, is hard because it means you are growing up. And when you leave somewhere, if you are anything like me, you are bound to lose some things along the way.

In third grade, for example, I lost my belief in Santa Claus after a kid named Ian laughed when I told him that I was asking Santa for a copy of The Hunger Games because my mom wouldn’t let me read it. He informed me that if my mom didn’t want me to read it, then Santa probably wouldn’t either.

Or take eighth grade, when my two cousins and I decided it was no longer our duty to direct spectacular holiday performances for our family before Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and passed the duty on to our younger siblings. The tradition has since been lost, most likely because my younger brother is old enough to refuse when I try to shove him into a homemade turkey costume and make him dance in a production of “Turkey Lake.” However, to this day, our original Thanksgiving production, “Wing It,” remains my proudest artistic achievement.

Of course, we can’t have a discussion about loss without mentioning all that we’ve lost to COVID-19. Cozy, intimate Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners around an indoor table are a thing of the past in this somewhat post-pandemic world. Now, it’s windbreakers, paper plates and “Everyone stay outside, please. If you need something from the kitchen, I’ll get it for you!”

Last year, when I came home for winter break, our Christmas tree had already been picked out, trimmed and decorated before I’d even finished my first final. It was only Dec. 11, but holiday decorating waits for no man or newly minted college student.

I found myself looking at the glowing tree that night in the quiet darkness of my living room and shedding a few tears while the San Francisco fog outside caused the street lamps to cast strange shadows across the walls. Only a few hours earlier, I’d hung the last ornament on the almost-finished, unfamiliar tree. My family had saved this one decoration for me to put up because it is my ornament, after all.

The ornament in question is a little blonde girl holding a dog made of that kind of mouth-blown glass that all the nice Christmas tree ornaments are made of. It’s meant to look like me holding my favorite stuffed animal since birth, Dodo (who sits next to me on my dorm bed as I write this now — even stuffed dogs truly are man’s best friend).

Every year, without fail, my hands have held that ornament delicately and chosen a special place for it on the tree. This year, when I come home from school, I’ll do the same. And at Christmas Eve dinner, I’ll find a spot next to that cousin who was born post-”My World 2.0” and play her some pre-2011 Biebs. Maybe I’ll ask my other cousins if they want to do a revival of all of our greatest holiday spectacular performances, just for the hell of it. Did someone say, “Wing It: Pt. 2?”

The holidays for college students are a reminder that we all have to grow up. But it’s also a reminder that you only really lose things once you stop looking for them. For now, I’m content to spend just a little more time finding my inner child at the kids’ table.

Tabi Parent is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.