Monday, November 30, 2009

Where do you sit?

As many of you know, when you get married/commit to a life partner and mingle together two different family traditions, it can get fun and interesting at best and ugly at worst. Thankfully for MG and I, it has been fun and interesting. It has rarely been ugly (Oh, but when it is ugly, it is REALLY ugly!). We are both supportive of each others backgrounds and have enjoyed sharing these backgrounds with our kids - making our two backgrounds one for them to carry on and hopefully share with their families when they are adults.

There were no "power" seats at the table in my family. For the holidays in my family, when you have 30 people in a home that was not necessarily meant for 3o people, you were just damn glad you got a seat. And you were thankful to be with 30 people who you (most of the time) like. No one cared who sat where, you just tried to find a seat near your favorite family member. On a daily basis in my family, when it was usually just four of us at the table and we did not sit at the dining table, we had our unofficial assigned seats. It was not based on status in the family, but on function - my mom sat on the side of the table nearest the kitchen, my dad and I sat on the other side and my brother sat on the end because it had the least amount of space (and probably because they didn't want my brother and I sitting together). The table was more of a low counter bar and the fourth side was up against a wall.

In MG's family, there is a power/status seat - the head of the table. It appears they take this very seriously. One time when my parents were here, my dad, unaware of this status involved with the "head of the table", put his plate at the head of the table. MG made a comment later to me, so the next time it happened, I moved the plate and MG or I explained to my dad that MG likes to sit there. My dad now knows and he never tries to sit at the head of the table.

Over Thanksgiving, CJ tried to sit at the head of the table. I told him he had to move because we needed him in a different seat, being the littlest and all. My MIL shouted out, "Yes, I think the two grandfathers should sit at the heads of the table." I was a little confused at first. Based on Chris's past explanation of all this to me, about the "man of the house" and all, HE should have been at the head and ME at the the other end. My dad chuckled and said, "Oh no, MG gets to sit there." I then said, "Oh no, this is OUR house and MG and I are sitting at the heads of the table." Honestly, I didn't care where anyone sat. Something about another person giving away "important" seats IN MY HOUSE just didn't sit right.

I later asked MG about why this is such a big deal in his family. I needed more than "man of the house" stuff, especially with a family who prides themselves on not being caught up in the superficial stuff. He went through the history of kings and emporers at the head of the table, blah, blah, blah. I told him I needed a more relevant explanation since his family is not royalty. He really couldn't come up with much beyond "respect your elders" and said he was glad I spoke up because he did think it was his right to sit at the head of the table. In his family, he had waited his whole childhood to be in that spot.

So that was a short story made long. Does your family have a seating tradition? Do you have a seat of "status" at your table?

13 comments:

  1. I love posts about traditions and the merging of families.
    Wow, I am impressed that you spoke up as daughters-in-law need to sometimes do.
    Growing up, I had my seat, as Hubs did too during regular meals but switched as needed for big special dinners.
    In our house now I have the two oldest boys sit next to each other because seeing each other across the table led to bickering.
    My Father-in-law has passed away but he always had his spot at end of table at his house (and when visiting any grown childrens' homes they do whatever a hosting child family asks them to do). The good thing is that T-Giving alternates between 5 or so families each year on Hubs side and each person gets a seat but you just claim it with your wine/beverage glass (we are talking about a huge group of people). This year there were 3 tables set up outdoors on patio (I know,.....it was gorgeous outside in FL) and we were all asked to just claim a seat and stand there as we did a toast.
    There is always a kids table. Sometimes the older cousins in their 20's sit at kids table too if they want!
    Before I joined the family one sis-in-law observed the women getting up and loudly asked why the women were cleaning when they already did all the cooking. The father-in-law looked shocked. They talked about that bruhaha for years. The men did all the cleaning that year.

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  2. I grew up in a household of strict this is where you sit kind of rules; it even extended beyond the dining table. No one sat in my Dad's chair or Mom's chair in the family room either. I wonder if they were wired or something? I fully rebelled and there are no assigned seats in my house whatsoever. My brother came to visit once and wanted to know which chair was my husband's chair! Clearly he's carried on that tradition. All I did was laugh. Now, my husband's family sat where ever there was a space in the house; I doubt they really sat at the table most of the time. I do remember hating the entire kid table thing. So we're all over the map on this subject and this is one freakin long comment.

    It is interesting to see what things different families have or don't have in common.

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  3. We normally sit where ever one lands after too much arguing. Family drama is exhausting. We are just grateful for a chair. (-:

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  4. Although I never heard it stated as head of the table, Dad sat at one end of the table and Mom sat at the other end (closest to the kitchen). It was always like that no matter how many kids, in-laws, grandchildren were at the table.

    But I want him at the end of the table....not because it could be considered a sign of respect...but because I don't want to sit next to him. Jo, you've seen him....he's a big man...6'4'', 250 lbs. Could you imagine him wedged between my sisters and me??? I would really hate to sit next to him on steak night. You can picture him slicing/sawing into the steak....that knife blade going back and forth across the steak....his elbow knocking you in the chin or boob with each slice. A grandchild could lose a tooth or get a black-eye!

    I love my Dad....but I will Rock-Paper-Scissors not to sit next to him.

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  5. I'm like you - we don't really care who sits where at the dining room table (unless someone else tells me I can't sit somewhere). However, with the kids, we sit at the kitchen island and definitely have our own seats.

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  6. This is awesome! It's exactly the kind of topic I like to ponder.

    I grew up the way MG did -- there was a solid power seat and no one, NO ONE, sat in it except for my dad. The seat opposite that one held no power, though. Isn't that strange?

    Today, at my house, there is no designated power seat. In fact there are no designated seats at all. We just plop down in one that's available.

    And that suits me just fine.

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  7. Hey, Tim here from Cardiogirl's site.
    Growing up, we never sat at a table, especially for parties and occasions. We had this rotating buffet kind of thing going on, with lots of chairs spaced around and all of the food on the table, and with any luck you got somewhere to sit. We had a party for every holiday, and one for every birthday, and there were lots of people. My grandparents on my mother's side, and the families of mom's four siblings, all crammed into one little house, my Grandma's and Grandad's.
    Grandad did have his own chair, though, and no one took it. I guess it was his island in all the chaos. Everyone brought food so there was always plenty.
    And on regular nights we ate in the living room. No TV in the dining room!
    Hey, I would love to leave a comment here with my blog link, but I need "name / url" options to do that, and it isn't enabled, so I couldn't. I just don't get the need for open id.

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  8. Hello, Jo. I'm making a Party Train stop from CardioGirl's place and LOVE this post. Hmmmm....Dr. Freud would LOVE this one.

    We typically do not have authority/seating issues during the holidays. I guess the only seat that is of concern would be for the host--so that she can easily get up to get us more food. We make sure that is done FIRST and FOREMOST--we got priorities, you know.

    From there, I'd say the only real seating issue is that we make sure there is no kiddie table. Having all been there at one time or another, we all hate that concept and see to it that the kids are interspersed with the adults. Which makes it more fun anyway. You can definitely get more food cuz those little creepers are just so darned picky!

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  9. Nice to meet you, Jo. So glad when Cardiogirl introduces us to someone new.

    I think in my home, our seating is more practical than power-oriented. YS sits at the head because his booster only fits in that spot. MS sits next to him with hubby on the side to keep him in line. ES sits on the other side of YS (not sure why), but is only there for 10 minutes before returning to his room. At that point, I slide down and aid YS in finishing his meal (or we'd be there all night).

    I'll have to return and view your blog more thoroughly. It will be interesting to see if your experience with 3 sons is like mine (or perhaps you have saints and few hair-raising episodes).

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  10. For normal dinners, my family had assigned seats, but we were at a rectangular table and sat 2 on each side, so no power seats. When we eventually got a round table, there was still no power seat, cuz it's round.

    At Thanksgiving, whenever my parents would host, we always had too many people to fit around the table, so we rocked it out buffet-style and sat wherever we could find space -- chairs clustered around the living room where football was on, the hearth, the floor, standing next to the fridge -- wherever.

    The past few years we've gone to my uncle's, and he always gets the Power Seat, but that's because his daughter insisted when she was like 5 that "Daddy has to sit at the head of the table because that's where teh Daddy is supposed to sit" (where she got that, none of us knows -- since for normal meals they're all seated one to each side of a square table). And then the other Power Seat belongs to whichever cousin is youngest, I guess because at one point the youngest one was in a high chair and that was the easiest place. Aside from Alissa's insistence that "The head of the table is for Daddy" there was never any kind of "power" issue behind it, and he still tells her he has no idea why she's still insisting he sit there since she's now 13 and knows that that's not the way our family works. I think it's become tradition more than anything with actual meaning behind it.

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  11. Oh, and I'm from the Cardiogirl Party Posse too :)

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  12. As a kid, I was always the youngest, so I'd get shoved into a corner somewhere. All of my memories of family gatherings include me scrabbling about under people's legs trying to escape the table.

    Now I'm an adult, I don't sit to the table. We have a buffet, so nobody is upset. General family meals are always a source of drama (every Sunday is the same), so I sit on an end seat so i can get out quickly.

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  13. We had a circular table. We always sat in the same seats though. I think I sat in the one nearest the window because I was the smallest and my stepdad sat closest to the stove. The other chair faced the TV so my mom sat there. It just made sense.

    My FIL always sits at the head of the table for every meal over at their house. But he definitely has a power complex going on. Otherwise, there are other no assigned seats.

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