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Kids('?) Table

                 Josie sat in her father-in-law’s easy chair in his den and continued her third reading of a book she had not liked the first two times she’d read it. People kept raving about the book, though, and Josie kept wondering if she’d missed something, if this would be the time when it clicked for her. Josie’s husband Madden was in the kitchen with his parents, Felix and Ava, his brother Kyle, and his brother’s wife, Kary. Josie was the only adult who was not helping with the preparation for Thanksgiving dinner, but the kitchen was crowded enough without her. They didn’t want Josie’s input on the food anyway. Cooking was not one of Josie’s areas of expertise. She was much better, for example, at sitting alone and forcing herself to like a book she’d already hated twice.

                The kids, all seven of the cousins, were playing together in the basement. Or, more likely, watching movies. They were quiet, at least, which meant that the only distractions to Josie’s reading came from the adults in the kitchen, the holiday frivolity occasionally bursting out in excited teasing (“That was not a ‘little taste!’”) or raucous laughter. Kyle, Josie’s brother-in-law, was an especially raucous laugher. Kyle’s wife Kary had become a more raucous laugher since joining the family. When Kyle and Kary had first started dating, Kary’s laugh had been moderate. She’d probably felt pressured to adjust its intensity just so people wouldn’t think she was humorless compared to her husband.

                “Where are you going, Mom?” Josie recognized the voice as Madden’s.

                “I’m going to see if Josie will round up the kids for dinner,” said Ava, Josie’s mother-in-law.

                Josie placed her bookmark back into her book, disappointed with her progress, and stood.

                “Oh,” said Ava, poking her head into the den. “You’re up. Would you mind telling the kids that we’re almost ready to eat and they should start washing up?” She was a small woman in her mid-60s with a lopsided perm dyed a muted red.

                “I don’t mind,” said Josie. “I’ll tell them.”

                “Thank you,” said Ava, and she was gone.

                Josie walked down the hall and into the living room where the furniture had been pushed aside to accommodate the kids table. To Josie’s left, the living room gave way to the dining room where the main dinner table was set for the adults with nicer plates and cutlery. Ava had also arranged a pile of gourds and colorful fake leaves as its centerpiece. Through the living room, Josie turned the corner and found the basement door closed, which didn’t really bother her, but she knew that Kyle and Kary didn’t allow the kids to close the basement door when they were visiting because they wanted to be able to “hear what the kids were up to.” They considered any closing of the basement door to be an attempt at secrecy, which made them suspicious. When Josie had once gently suggested that she didn’t think there was any harm in the kids closing the basement door, Kary had asked, “Why wouldn’t the kids want us to be able to hear what they were doing unless it was something they knew we wouldn’t like?” Since their kids were mostly younger than Madden and Josie’s kids, and since Kyle and Kary were more protective in general, Josie set aside her irritation and instructed her kids to defer to Kyle and Kary’s rules when the family was together. Now, finding this violation of the rules, Josie decided she would lightly scold the kids for closing the door, but not mention it to Kyle or Kary. No need to make a big deal out of it.

                She put her hand on the doorknob, gripped it, and tried to turn it, but it didn’t turn. The door was locked. Josie hadn’t known it was possible to lock the basement door. Maybe the kids hadn’t known it could lock either, maybe they’d locked the door on accident. Why would they deliberately lock the basement door? Still, she knew how Kyle and Kary would react to finding out that the basement door was both closed and locked – “What are they trying to hide!?” – so Josie knocked and in a voice that had little chance of being heard in the basement, especially through the closed door, said, “Kids, it’s time to come upstairs and wash up for dinner.”

                In response, a piece of white paper slid out from under the door, the front edge crumpling against Josie’s ensocked toes. Then Josie heard footsteps hurrying down the basement stairs followed by silence. She squatted to pick up the piece of paper, turned it over, and saw a typed, center-justified message that read:


We will not leave the basement for Thanksgiving dinner unless you promise that all of the kids can sit at the adult table. Since not everyone can fit at the adult table that means the adults have to sit at the kids table. To show that you agree and promise to do it every adult has to sign this paper and slide it back under the door. Then we’ll come up for dinner. If you sign the paper but don’t let us sit at the adults table then none of us will ever trust any of you about anything again.


                Josie smiled. She wondered whose idea this was. She assumed Lottie, her own 14-year-old daughter, had probably been the one to type and print the message using her grandparents’ computer in the basement office, but the idea itself had more of a Jamie feel to it. Jamie was Josie’s 12-year-old daughter. Or maybe this was the result of a Kale brainstorm. Kale was Kyle and Kary’s oldest, an 11-year-old boy with a mild rebellious streak that Kyle and Kary often mistook for a major rebellious streak. Regardless of who had thought it up, Josie found the solidarity between her children and their cousins charming. Staging a mini-uprising in order to avoid another Thanksgiving relegated to the kids table was cute. She liked that the older kids were including the younger kids in their scheme. Perhaps it would have been cuter if they hadn’t defied the door rule, but she was glad they had been up to more in the basement than just watching the same vapid animated movies they’d all seen dozens of times.

                Josie knocked on the door again, a bit louder this time, and said, “I’ll take your demands to the other adults and come back with an offer. Stay ready! I’m sure we can work something out.” She grinned, turned, and headed for the kitchen.


                “Where are the kids?” asked Felix. He didn’t look up from the turkey, which he had almost finished carving. There was a dish piled high with carved turkey meat next to him on the counter. One end of the dish was white meat, the other end was dark meat. Felix was a pretty good father-in-law. Josie liked him a little less than her own father, which seemed about right for a father-in-law. He had small, flimsy glasses, a gray mustache, and he always smelled like cigarettes even though Josie had never seen him smoke.

                “They’re still in the basement,” said Josie. “Look what they slipped under the door.” She extended the typed message from the kids toward Madden, who leaned against the counter with his arms folded, sweatshirt sleeves pushed up to his elbow, having apparently completed his kitchen tasks. He took the message from Josie, read it, smirked.

                “What door?” asked Kyle, a bowl of steaming stuffing cradled against his sweatered stomach.

                “The basement door,” said Josie.

                “It was closed?” asked Kyle.

                “I think they just want to be mysterious,” said Josie. “Read the message.”

                Kyle put the bowl of stuffing down on the counter and took the message from Madden. The furrowedness of his brow became more and more pronounced as he read. A smirk did not appear at the end. “They’re still down there?”

                “Yes,” said Josie. “I just brought the message straight here when I got it. I thought it was funny.”

                “What does it say?” asked Kary from the other end of the kitchen where she was arranging dinner rolls in a basket. Her hands were red from frequent washings. “What’s going on?”

                Kyle stalked out of the kitchen, still holding the paper containing the kids’ demand.

                “The kids wants to eat at the adults table,” said Madden. “They say they aren’t coming to dinner until we agree to trade tables with them.”

                Felix chuckled. “I suppose it was just a matter of time until they noticed how much better we have it.”

                Ava, pouring gravy from a pan into a gravy boat, frowned. “What’s wrong with the kids table? I thought they liked the kids table.”

                Stern pounding came from the other room. “Open this door right now or you will all be in trouble!” More pounding. “Unlock this door immediately!”

                Kary’s eyes widened. “They locked the door?” She washed her hands once more, then rushed out of the kitchen without drying them.

                Josie looked at Madden and sighed. “This is going to be our kids’ fault, isn’t it?”

                Madden glanced at his parents. “Lottie and Jamie are the oldest.”

                “Kale! Open this door!” Kary was shouting now, joining in Kyle’s door-pounding. “Kaylee! This is your mother! Open this door!” Kaylee was her 9-year-old. “Kamden! You unlock this door right now!” Kamden was her 7-year-old. Kary was just moving down the list, her voice growing more frantic.

                “She’s panicking,” said Felix. “You can hear the panic.”

                “I’ll go calm them down,” said Ava, and she left the kitchen to join the developing situation at the basement door.

                “Kloe! Kloe, open the door, honey!” Kary was appealing to her 4-year-old now, a sign of true desperation.

                There was a pause that probably coincided with Ava’s arrival on the scene, then several shuddering thuds that rattled the dishes on the kitchen counter.

                “Kyle, stop it!” shouted Ava. “Stop it!”

                “He’s trying to break down the door!” said Felix, tossing the carving knife into the sink and rushing out of the kitchen.

                “They’re going to think we don’t care if we don’t join them,” said Madden.

                “We don’t care,” said Josie. “Right? The kids are just having fun. We should play along. Slip our counter-offer under the door. Tell them they can have the adult table for dessert or something. They’ll get a kick out of that.”

                “Kyle and Kary won’t go for that,” said Madden.

                “Then we can play hardball,” said Josie. “Just ignore the kids until they’re hungry enough to come up on their own. They’ll get bored fast once they realize it’s not working.”

                “Kyle! Calm down!” This was Felix, no doubt most concerned about his door. He was a woodworker and a handyman. He spent most of his retirement on household projects. He’d just finished a shed-expansion that had tripled the size of his shed. Josie didn’t know for sure if he’d made and installed the basement door himself, but she wouldn’t doubt it. Regardless, he seemed certain that he didn’t want his younger son to drive his shoulder through it.

                Madden turned and left the kitchen, walking toward the conflict, into the flames. Josie was very, very tempted to return to her bad book in Felix’s den, but she didn’t want to further cement her status as the worst parent in the family. More than that, she didn’t want to leave Madden alone to defend Lottie, Jamie, and their 6-year-old son MJ when it came time to assign blame. She heaved a sigh for the benefit of the various Thanksgiving dishes forgotten on every inch of the kitchens’ counter space, already cooling from peak deliciousness, and followed everyone else to the front lines of the crisis.


                “Let’s say you break through the door,” said Felix, holding his younger son at arm’s length by both biceps. “You’re gonna go right down the stairs. You could break a bone. You could break your neck. And what if some of the kids are on the stairs? Maybe just on the other side of the door? You’ll hurt them, you’ll hurt yourself. It’ll just be all around bad news. I’m not convinced you can break it down anyway. It’s a solid door. You’ll just keep bouncing off of it until your shoulder gives out.”

                “Take it off its hinges,” said Kary.

                “Look at it,” said Felix. “The hinges are on the other side. It opens inward.”

                “Get an axe,” said Kyle. “Or a sledgehammer.”

                “Kyle, please,” said Ava. “That will be even more dangerous for the kids.”

                “We’ll yell at them to stay out of the way,” said Kyle.

                “There has to be a way to solve this without destroying the door,” said Felix. “Be serious, Kyle.”

                “He is being serious,” said Kary, clasping her hands together so hard that they’d gone from red to white. “He’s the only one trying to solve this.” She rushed back to the door and began slapping on it with open palms. “Lottie! Lottie, let my kids come up to dinner! They don’t want to be a part of this, I know it!”

                So the blaming had already begun. Josie had arrived just in time. “No one is holding your kids captive, Kary. They’re all in on it together.”

                “You don’t know that,” said Kary. “Lottie is the oldest. And Jamie is the second oldest. If something happens, they’ll be held responsible, I promise you that.”

                “If something ‘happens?’” said Josie. “What do you mean?”

                “If someone gets hurt,” said Kary. “What if one of the younger kids is hurt right now? Or sick? And Lottie and Jamie won’t let them come upstairs because it’ll spoil their plan?”

                “Why would any of them be hurt or sick?” asked Josie.

                “I don’t know!” shouted Kary. “We don’t know how long the door has been closed. Anything could have been going on down there!” Josie expected her to burst into tears, but she didn’t.

                “Let’s talk about this somewhere else,” said Ava. “Where we can sit down and discuss it calmly.”

                “I agree,” said Madden, putting his hand on Josie’s shoulder. Josie couldn’t tell if it was meant to comfort her or restrain her. “We shouldn’t argue about this where the kids can hear us. They might be listening through the door.”

                The adults, all six of them, turned to look at the basement door, closed and impassive, betraying nothing.

                “Fine,” said Kyle. “Let’s go to the living room.”


                The living room was not a good choice. The kids table was in the way, crowding the center of the room, displacing the furniture. It was difficult to find a seating arrangement appropriate for serious conversation.

                “Let’s go to my den,” said Felix.

So the adults trooped down the hall to the den, which was cramped, but less awkward than the living room. Josie’s book was where she’d left it on the end table next to the easy chair. Since the den had originally been conceived as a place for interested parties to watch basketball games, there were two couches in addition to Felix’s chair. Felix, Ava, Madden, and Josie all sat down, but when Josie saw that Kyle and Kary intended to remain standing, she stood up again, unwilling to grant them whatever power they hoped to gain by speaking down to everyone.

“We should call the police,” said Kyle. “They’ll have the equipment to break the door down.”

“Whoa, hold on,” said Madden. “Let’s not jump right to the most extreme solution.”

“I don’t want my basement door broken down,” said Felix. “The police have better things to do than make the kids come to dinner.”

“Thank you,” said Josie. She was happy that Felix was being reasonable. He usually sided with the most forceful personality in a disagreement, and Kyle was usually the most forceful personality.

Felix continued without acknowledging Josie. “You just have to threaten to take away something they care about. Tell them if they don’t come up for dinner, they won’t get any Christmas presents.”

Kary nodded approvingly. “That might work. But how do we tell them? We don’t even know if they can hear us when we yell through the door. Lottie might have all the younger kids in the basement office with the door closed so they can’t hear what we’re saying. That way she can keep them in the dark and control the narrative. She might not even tell them their Christmas presents are in danger if she’s worried that will cause them to pressure her to give in or simply overpower her and open the door.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Josie, almost laughing at Kary’s level of paranoia. “I know you don’t like my kids, but you’re losing your mind. This is all just speculation. Wild speculation.”

“You’re the one who lets your kids close the basement door when we aren’t here,” said Kyle, stopping just short of pointing his finger in Josie’s face.

From his seated position, somewhere down and behind the eye of the argument, Madden said, “Lottie and Jamie have cell phones. We could try to text them.”

“And what will that do?” asked Kary, glaring at Josie as if she’d been the one to mention the cell phones. “Are you offering this as a solution because you know we don’t let our kids have cell phones? You’re trying to make us feel bad about that?”

“No,” said Madden from the couch in a tone tailor-made to be ignored by Kyle and Kary.

Josie turned and picked up her purse from the floor next to Felix’s chair. She pulled out her phone. “I’ll text them both,” she said. “I’ll tell them that you’re really upset and that they should just come up here.”

“Tell them they won’t get any Christmas presents unless they do,” said Kyle. “Make sure they know what’s at stake.”

“I’m not threatening their Christmas presents,” said Josie as she typed and sent the text message to her daughters. “Not over something that I’m sure they just think is funny.”

“This is what your family thinks is funny?” asked Kary.

“I don’t think it’s funny,” said Ava, her first contribution to the discussion since it had moved to the den. “I thought the kids liked their table. What’s wrong with it? I would have happily gotten a better table for them if I’d known they hated it so much.”

“Mom, come on,” said Madden, moving from one couch to the other in order to sit next to Ava. “You know how kids are. They just want what they can’t have. They don’t actually hate the kids table.”

Kyle looked over his shoulder at his older brother and his mother. “We’re going to punish them, Mom. Don’t worry.” He turned back to Josie. “Have they responded yet? What did they say?”

Josie glanced at her phone. “They haven’t responded.”

“Have they read the message?” asked Kary.

“I don’t know,” said Josie. “I don’t have that feature on my phone.”

Kary rolled her eyes, not once but twice. “So they aren’t willing to communicate at all. That’s proof that Lottie and Jamie are co-leading this rebellion.”

“What?” said Josie. “How? Maybe they aren’t responding because Kale took their phones away.”

“You know that’s not true,” said Kary, and she was probably right. Josie knew her daughters well enough to know that they would never surrender their phones to their dorky, younger cousin for any reason, nor would he have the guts to ask them to.

“There’s any easy way to end this,” said Josie. “A very easy way.”

“What is it?” asked Kyle, full of suspicion.

“We could all sign the paper,” said Josie. “And let the kids eat at the adults table. Who cares, right? Who really cares? The kids table is fine. It’s a little smaller, but it could be fun. We could make the kids carry the different dishes over to us and scoop food onto our plates like we do for them. They’d get a kick out of it. We could turn it into one of those things like, oh, you want to be adults? Then you can do all the work and have all the responsibilities and we’ll have fun being kids. They’ll probably want to move back to the kids table after, like, five minutes. And even if they don’t, well, at least we’ll be eating Thanksgiving dinner together instead of arguing or calling the cops on our own kids or whatever.”

Kary shook her head, an incredulous smile doing unflattering things to her face. “Why are you so intent on sticking to your ‘cool aunt’ routine, Josie? Is it because I’m younger than you? Is it because I have a tattoo sleeve on my left arm and I’m almost done planning the tattoo sleeve for my right arm? Is it because I lost more weight than you in our weight-loss competition?”

What weight-loss competition?” asked Josie. “We never had a weight-loss competition!”

“You never officially acknowledged it,” said Kary. “But everyone knew it was going on.”

“Josie’s right,” said Kyle, tapping the front of his chin with his ring finger, his wedding band glinting in the den’s low lamplight.

“She is?” asked Kary, hurt flooding her face, voice, posture, aura.

“We sign the paper,” said Kyle. “All of us. They open the door. But they do not get to sit at the adults table. They sit at the kids table, just like always, but they don’t get any of the good food we prepared. They just have to watch us eat Thanksgiving dinner in respectful silence. Then, when we’re done eating, they all get plates of stuffing. Only stuffing.”

“Why stuffing?” asked Ava, audibly bracing herself.

“They hate stuffing,” said Kyle.

“I thought they loved my stuffing,” said Ava, reeling from this fresh blow.

Madden desperately patted her shoulder. “I love your stuffing, Mom! No kids like stuffing!”

“Yes,” said Kary, fully recovered now that she knew Kyle wasn’t actually agreeing with Josie. “Yes, that’s what we’ll do. Where’s the paper? Let’s sign it now and slide it under the door. When they come out, we grab them. That will teach them that they don’t get to negotiate with their parents.”

“I won’t go along with this,” said Josie. “I won’t sign. Not if you’re planning on lying to them.”

“You want to give in to their demands?” asked Kyle. “Then what’s to keep them from doing this every time they want something? What if your kids lock themselves in the bathroom and won’t come out unless you let them drive drunk?”

                “Oh, please,” said Josie, wishing that saying something cutting wouldn’t just further entrench Kyle in his position so she could do it without guilt. “Look, Kyle, right on the paper, right there in their message. They already anticipated that we might try to lie. It’s right there. ‘If you sign the paper but don’t let us sit at the adults table then none of us will ever trust any of you about anything again.’ That may very well be their whole reason for doing this: to test our honesty. Kids need to be able to trust their parents.”

                “Well, I need to be able to trust my kids to not take themselves hostage when they decide they’d rather have fudge pops twice a month instead of once,” said Kyle.

                “You only let your kids have one fudge pop per month?” asked Felix.

                “They’re the healthiest kids in the county,” said Kary, offering no evidence to support this claim. “And we intend to keep them that way.”

                Kyle pulled out a pen and picked up Josie’s book to use as a writing surface. He signed the paper below the kids’ demand. Then he handed the book, the paper, and the pen to Kary and she signed too.

                “Come on,” said Kyle. “Everyone has to sign.”

                “I’m their grandma,” said Ava. “I want them to trust me.”

                “It’s an empty threat, Mom,” said Kyle. “I’ll make sure they still trust you.” He pushed the book, pen, and paper into her lap. She looked worried, but she signed. Then she handed everything to Madden.

                “Are you really going to sign that?” asked Josie.

                “We have to get them out of that basement,” said Madden. “We…we can let Lottie and Jamie sit in our seats at the adult table. MJ won’t care one way or the other, he can sit with us at the kids table. And Kyle and Kary can do whatever they want with their own kids.”

                “Don’t you want the kids to stick together?” asked Josie. “Don’t you want them to support each other?”

                “Not really,” said Madden. “Not like this. If they’re upset about the trick, we’ll just tell them it was Kyle’s idea.”

                “Sure,” said Kyle. “Make me the bad guy. Find out if I care. You just keep letting your children set their own bedtimes.”

                “Madden, don’t sign it,” said Josie.

                “Oops,” said Madden. “Well, I’d already started when you said that.”

                Kyle snatched the paper away from him, then extended his hand for the pen, which Madden hurriedly surrendered.

                “Dad,” said Kyle. “Dad, wake up. Sign this.”

                “I wasn’t asleep,” said Felix, bleary-eyed. To prove it, he signed the paper with unnatural and unnecessary care.

                “You’re the only one left,” said Kyle, turning to Josie. “Just sign it so we can eat. Please.”

                “I’m not lying to my kids,” said Josie. “And I’m not going along with your lie for the sake of convenience.”

                “OK, well, we’ll forge your signature, then,” said Kyle.

                “My kids know what my signature looks like,” said Josie. “It won’t work.”

                “But wasn’t that your Christmas card hanging on my parents’ fridge in the kitchen?” asked Kyle. “You got them out nice and early this year. Way earlier than Kary. Not that you’ll admit it’s a competition, of course, although we all know that it is and has been for years. But I do recall that each of your family members signed it, correct? Except MJ, of course. I think this paper is thin enough for tracing, though. Especially if we use Dad’s drafting light table.”

                “Why are you delivering this speech like a movie villain?” asked Josie.

                Kyle chuckled, which made Kary chuckle. “While we’re finishing up this problem, I suggest the rest of you start re-heating the food,” said Kyle. Josie considered lunging at her brother-in-law and making a grab for the message, but before she could act, Kyle and Kary left the den. Then Josie considered running out of the room, pushing past them in the hall, grabbing the Christmas card from the fridge door, and tearing it up before they could trace her signature from it, but she thought there was a good chance Kary might actually fight her if she tried, like Kary was actually hoping Josie would try something like that so they could finally have it out. Instead, Josie took her cell phone from her pocket. Neither of her daughters had responded to her previous text, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t read it. Josie typed a new message. Uncle Kyle is tracing my signature. I didn’t really sign the paper. They’re planning on tricking you. They aren’t going to let you sit at the kids table.

                “Who are you texting?” asked Madden.

                “The girls,” said Josie. She sent the text and put the phone back into her pocket.

                “What did you say?” asked Madden.

                “I don’t even know if they’re going to read it,” said Josie.

                Madden sighed and leaned his head back, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. “Josie…I’m so hungry.”

                “Don’t tell Kyle or Kary,” said Josie. “Please. Do you promise?”

                “I just want this to be over,” said Madden.

                “Do the kids like the silly songs I make up about them?” asked Ava.

                Neither Josie nor Madden said anything. Eventually, the silence became as clear an answer as if they had.

                “Wow,” said Ava. Her voice was uncharacteristically flat.

                “I like them,” said Madden.

                “You’ve never heard them,” said Ava.

                “Yes, I have,” said Felix, but he was asleep again before he could see his wife’s glare.


                Minutes passed. By now, Kyle and Kary had no doubt traced Josie’s signature onto the paper and slipped it under the basement door. Yet the kids had not come up. The house was eerily quiet. Josie sat on a couch in the den by herself. Across from her, Madden sat next to Ava on the other couch. Felix slept in his chair, hands folded atop his stomach as if to soothe its hunger pangs. Kyle and Kary were probably posted up by the basement door, waiting to pounce as soon the children cracked it open.

                Maybe the kids hadn’t yet seen that the paper had been signed and returned. Maybe they’d seen it, and it was just taking a while to organize their exit. Maybe they’d received it, but there was some disagreement about the next step. Maybe they’d seen Josie’s warning text and were adjusting their strategy to account for the adults’ intended deception.

                “Doesn’t any table the kids sit at become the kids table?” asked Madden.

                “I don’t know,” said Josie. She wasn’t interested in the philosophical aspects of the situation.

                “Because if that’s the case, then it isn’t even possible for all of them to sit at the adults table. The adults table will become the kids table because it will be the table at which all the kids and none of the adults are sitting.”

                “We know what they mean,” said Josie.

                “Is it grammatically correct to put an apostrophe after the ‘s’ in ‘kids’ table?’” asked Madden. “Is ‘kids’’ possessive?”

                “I have no idea, Madden,” said Josie. “Why does it matter?”

                “I just think it’s an interesting distinction. Is it the ‘kids table’ because it’s named after the people who sit at it, that being kids, or is it the ‘kids’ table’ because it’s temporarily theirs?”

                “Neither,” said Kyle, striding into the room. Kary followed, mimicking his stride. “The kids table is whichever table we say it is, apostrophe or not. We’re the authority figures, so we determine what things are called. We dictate reality for our children.”

                “What’s going on?” asked Josie, rising from the couch, preparing herself for another round.

                “You’ll find this interesting,” said Kyle. He handed her the paper with the kids’ message and the adults’ signatures on it. Josie’s forged signature was crossed out with orange crayon. “We met their conditions, slipped the paper under the door, waited for several minutes, and this is what came back to us.”

                “I guess your tracing wasn’t as good as you thought,” said Josie, although looking at it now, she herself probably would have taken the signature for authentic if she hadn’t known better.

                “You told them,” said Kary. “You texted them. You’re on their side.”

                “I don’t even know if they’re seeing my texts,” said Josie.

                “So you admit that you texted them to tell them our plan,” said Kyle.

                “You forged my name,” said Josie. “You knew I didn’t want my name associated with your lie and you did it anyway, adding a lie to a lie. Why would I be on your side after that?”

                “All right, then,” said Kyle. “Just so it’s clear. In all future matters, I will know where you stand: against the adults.”

                “Against you,” said Josie.

                Kyle shrugged. “Madden, Felix, and Ava all signed the paper too.”

                Josie looked at Madden, but he was explaining to his mother that Josie didn’t dislike her.

                “So what now?” asked Josie.

                Kyle turned the paper over, took his pen from his pocket, knelt next to the end table by his snoring father’s chair, and began to write.

                “What are you doing?” asked Madden.

                “It’s a counter-offer,” said Kyle. “I’m negotiating.” When he finished, he showed it to Josie. In Kyle’s aggressively slanted print, the counter-offer read:


                We, the adults, agree to allow the children to sit at the adults table for the entirety of this Thanksgiving dinner on the condition that Aunt Josie be considered one of the children and, therefore, she must sit at the adults table with the children. As such, her signature is not among those included beneath this message since that space has been reserved for the signatures of the adults.


                Josie’s face flushed. Kary watched her with gleaming eyes, enjoying all external signs that the blow had landed. “Fine,” said Josie. “Sign it.”

                Madden had the grace to hesitate, at least, but in the end, every adult signed the counter-offer. Every adult except Josie, who was still in adult no matter what Kyle said.


                Josie sat at the foot of the dining room table with her back to the adults at the kids table in the living room. She tried her best to ignore the adults’ tedious conversation, which was even more tedious than usual because of the lingering strain of the afternoon’s events. The kids were happy, seemingly oblivious to the tension between Josie and the other adults. None of them were sick or hurt, of course. They’d been perfectly safe in their grandparents’ basement, even with the door closed and locked. Josie had expected Kyle to grill them about whose idea the standoff had been, but he’d been surprisingly sanguine as the kids came trooping up the stairs, chattering excitedly among themselves at their victory.

                Now the food had been warmed up, prayed over, served, and the kids were focused on eating. The extended delay before dinner had ensured that even the pickier eaters among them were ready to dig in. None of them seemed to mind that Josie had joined them at the adults table. The older kids were probably relieved that she was there to help the younger kids with their food, pouring their drinks, cutting their meat.

                “Do you want me to butter your roll for you?” asked Josie. Kloe, her youngest niece, was sitting to her left, balancing her roll on her spoon.

                “Yes,” said Kloe, but as she nodded, the roll fell off of her spoon, bounced toward her off of her plate, and fell over the edge of the table. “Uh oh,” she said. “It’s on the floor.”

                “It’s OK,” said Josie. “I’ll get it.” She scooted her chair back from the table and got down on her knees. The roll had tumbled far enough that Josie had to crawl under the table to reach it. “Don’t kick me,” she said, smiling at all the little legs dangling various distances from the carpet on all sides of her. She reached for the roll, grabbed it, but as she backed up, her head drifted up too high and she struck it on a piece of the table that stuck down farther than the rest. “Ouch!” She pressed her free hand to the top of her head and twisted around to look at the offending table part. Instead, her eyes were drawn to something else on the underside of the table. There, in black marker, the words “kids table” with no apostrophe had been written in bold, definitive letters. The handwriting was the same as the handwriting on the counter-offer. It belonged to Kyle. He had dictated reality, probably before he even showed Josie the counter-offer.

                Josie backed out from under the table, returned to her chair, and set the roll on the table next to her plate. “We’ll get you a different roll, Kloe,” she said. “This one’s dirty.”

                “Everything OK over there?” asked Ava.

                “Yes, Kloe just dropped her roll,” said Josie. “We’re getting her a different one.” She cut and buttered Kloe’s roll as she waited for the adults’ conversation to pick up again, for their attention to drift away from the kids at the kids table. Because that’s what it was, even if the kids didn’t know it, even if Madden and Felix and Ava didn’t know it. Kyle and Kary knew it, and that explained their attitude shift, their seeming tilt toward reason. They had tricked Josie and they had tricked the kids, if there was even a difference. Josie had no doubt that the words “adults table” were written on the underside of the table in the living room in the same black marker, the same handwriting.

                “Kids,” said Josie, in a casual tone. “When I say ‘now,’ we’re all going to go back to the basement, OK? Lottie, you carry MJ. Jamie, you carry Kloe. Everyone walk as fast as you can. Understand? As soon as I’m through the basement door, be ready to shut it and lock it. OK?”

                The kids nodded. They trusted her. She was one of them.

                Behind Josie, Kary said, “Believe it or not, there’s still a stigma attached to tattoos. And that’s something that I fight against every day.”

                Josie smiled at the kids. “Now.”

Discussion Questions

  • Is it ever OK to negotiate with terrorists or “terrorists" (your own children)?

  • Should children be allowed to close a basement door AND have more than one fudge pop per month?

  • Whose responsibility is it to shield grandmothers from opinions that will make them sad?

  • To what extent do you think tattoos still carry a stigma? To what extent do you think that talking about the extent to which tattoos still carry a stigma should carry a stigma?

  • Who dictates your reality? Whose reality do you dictate?

  • Is it interesting to ponder the distinction between “kids table” and “kids’ table?” What ARE the philosophical implications of the distinction?