The Children's Table
Some people simply unfold faster and more stiffly creased than everyone else. They don’t feel it happening. Yet, before long, they forget the inner child they swore on conception to protect and defend against all things unimaginative. And as the perpetual child closes the door to them, they lose the fascination and unending questions they once relied on to keep from taking everything - including themselves - too seriously. Then, struggle as they do to get back to that most innocent of places, it doesn’t happen. It can’t. They have outgrown their seat at the children’s table. And they, like countless before them, are stuck in the world of unconstrained absolutes and adult thinking till a new door opens and the child in them once again emerges.
This day was no different from so many others. In the Cosmic Grill’s large banquet room, the tables were set: One large. The other, much smaller. One was clearly labeled Adults Only in neat, black print. The other held a well-smudged and slightly bent sign, with the word KIDS scribbled in barely legible, broad, crayoned strokes. By all rights, no one had to guess who was meant to sit where. Except, they always did.
The adult table was a grandiose mahogany, spotlessly decorated, with heavy chairs, heavy plates, and even heavier name tags labeling each place setting. The table was dull at its core - not dim-witted, mind you - just blandly judgmental about what mattered most to it and to those sitting down to eat in its presence.
It demanded a high gloss shine for appearance sake, but kept that shine covered under heavy cloths for fear something might spill and forever mar its most perfect finish. Just like those who pulled their seats up to its great bib, the big table appeared to be more worried about how things looked on the outside than how they actually were.
For much the same reasons, the table was obviously over-dressed, with an imposing and somewhat haughty view of nearly everything. It seemed full of itself in ways no table had any business being. Yet there it was, stretching out across the center of the room for miles on end, and filled to overflowing with everyone who thought he was anyone who knew too much to ever again be considered childlike.
The other - the children’s table - was quite a bit smaller. And like most of its occupants, its spindly legs were definitely shorter. Dressed in a worn but comfortable red plaid tablecloth, it sported an odd assortment of quirky, unmatched table settings and seats any child or child-at-heart could thoroughly enjoy.
That was just the point: Sitting at the children’s table was meant to be enjoyed. Wide-eyed and unkempt as it was, each assigned spot at the little table was a place of honor. Only those who were still unfolding and still negotiating the universe with a sense of wonder, curiosity, and unmatched edges got to sit in its presence.
No name tags were needed. Seating was haphazard, though perfectly orchestrated by the table itself. The children’s table knew who belonged, and made room for each welcome guest. It also knew who didn’t belong, and closed ranks when those who no longer remembered how to laugh at themselves tried to stuff their overgrown egos into its too small seats.
At first glance, some might think the smaller table would feel out of place in such a fancy setting as the Cosmic Grill. It didn’t look very special, after all, particularly compared to its far larger and more ornate roommate. Its legs were covered in nicks and bruises. And its top was thoroughly stained - the result of multitudes of spills and food fights. Yet, in the soft light of the Grill, the children’s table beamed. In fact it couldn’t stop smiling at itself and those seated around it. It was up to its knees in conversations. The inner worlds that joined it each day to share their stories unfolded pure joy. Giggling was its common currency.
At the children’s table, all manner of rhymes and stories found a welcome home. There was room for all of them, however mild or bitter their first taste on the tongue. And like the food itself, if a story wasn’t good enough to swallow, it was probably perfect for throwing. Somewhere, it would stick.
Only happy endings were allowed in its presence. That’s why dessert was always the first course served. And no one sitting at the little table ever had to think twice about ordering second helpings, as those appeared automatically.
Whether willing to admit it or not, almost everyone in the room wanted to sit at the children’s table - particularly those who no longer belonged there. Yet, eventually, even the most intrepid of young imaginations clouded over and had to move up to sit with the adults. That was how it most often happened. People outgrew the children’s table from the inside out.
The adult table welcomed all of them. It had no choice. Everything that went on around the proud mahogany was big. Big ideas. Big arguments. Big resentments. Big consequences. No one at the adult table threw food. Yet, the blame and over-heated opinions they did throw across its fine grains were far worse and far more dangerous.
The big table certainly didn’t talk about what went on around it. It was sworn to silence. Serious matters were discussed there. Most were terribly boring. Yet and still, they demanded secrecy. And the table knew how to keep secrets. That’s how it had lasted so long in such a respected establishment.
At the children’s table, on the other hand, there was no such thing as a secret. All thoughts and opinions were welcome. After all, opinions fed stories. And stories fed the soul. The little table tried over and over again to explain this simple logic to the adult table, but met with little success. Some things, it seemed, were simply outside the understanding of large pieces of furniture and the heavy tales they hold. But that was okay. Each in its own time.
Just as the children’s table knew that those who started at its side eventually had to leave, it also knew that most seated at the big table would return to it when they had unfolded sufficiently and were ready to reignite the spark of their inner child. It always had a chair waiting at its place of honor for the next in line. And that one never failed to show up with laughing eyes and a giggle. For some, it happened overnight. For others, it took nearly forever. Yet, each could be counted on to eventually find his or her way back.
On this day, like all other days, those who sat at the two tables in the Cosmic Grill’s vast banquet room eventually ate their fill of all that had been served up to their plates and minds. When they were done, children and adults alike pushed themselves away from the tables and headed back outside to their home worlds.
Finally, only the two tables remained sitting alone together in the dimming light. The great mahogany quietly slipped from beneath the weight of its ornate covers and heavy glosses to expose its softly dented exterior. No longer the showy master of ceremonies, this faithful old servant’s majestic legs were bruised and aching. With a slight shiver, it reached up and pulled on the comfortable worn and tattered red plaid tablecloth it kept hanging from a hook behind the banquet room mirror.
Starlight poured softly into the room. And as it did, the children’s table - still clothed in its own red plaid cover, curled up next to the big table to share all it had heard. The adult table laughed softly at the children’s stories. There was a time, so very long ago, when it had dreamed of being a children’s table. That, however, was never meant to be. Yet, this was almost as good. It reached down and patted the little one gently, before sending it off to sleep.
Thinking back through the long day, the adult table felt bone weary from listening to too many adult tales of failure, finance, pain, and destruction. Then again, a job was a job. It leaned back into itself and closed its eyes. Dreams would soon come, dreams born not of the hard and hurtful stories of its day, but of the stories shared from the children’s table - fanciful stories of princes and bears and witches and puppies.
It smiled ever so slightly as sleep tucked its blanket snugly around them both. Strange, but once all the fancy coverings and ornamentation were gone from the outside, the two tables were far more alike than different. Both were children at heart.