August 5, 2008
I’m sitting in a colorful, chunky plastic chair at the kids table during Thanksgiving dinner, my knees nearly touching my chin. We’re eating chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs and drinking chocolate milk out of plastic wine glasses. I’m wearing the flowery pink dress that my mom let me pick out at Talbots the day before. Michael and David, my five-year-old twin cousins, are wearing matching knitted sweaters with a giant turkey on the front. They both have a cold, and green snot oozes out of their noses every time they giggle. Jenna, 7, is humming the Little Mermaid and twirling her knotty blonde hair. My brother is six, and when he pretends that his carrots are battling each other, I can’t help but laugh with the rest of them. I’m twelve, and the oldest cousin, but I like sitting at the kid table. I get to be leader. When I ask everyone if they want to watch The Lion King again, they jump up to follow me in a conga line. In the living room, we snuggle up on the couch and I throw a blanket over everyone’s laps. Jenna and David lean on my shoulders like I’m their mom. I can see my parents, aunts and uncles in the dining room down the hallway, clinking their dark red glasses for a toast. Their cheers disperse into a quiet, mysterious murmur, as if they are some secret society. I can almost distinguish the words coming out of my uncle’s mouth, but not quite. I turn my attention back to the TV, to the scene where Simba and Nala are singing “I just can’t wait to be king.” Simba puts a wreath of orange feathers around his face pretending to be his father, and strides around shaking them and showing them off to his friends. I reach into my purse and put on the shiny pink Bonnebell lipgloss that I bought at the drugstore, pursing my lips like my mother always does in the mirror. Jenna asks for some and I tell her that she’s not old enough to wear makeup, but when she starts to cry, I put a glob on her finger. Twenty minutes later, my dad comes into the room to see everyone passed out around me. He gives me a “thumbs up” and takes a sip of his wine. “You want to come eat dessert with us? Your uncle made a really delicious pumpkin pie,” he whispers. “Maybe in a little,” I whisper back. Even though the movie’s kind of juvenile, I’m completely absorbed in the scene where Simba has transformed into a lion.

Five years later, I’m sitting at the adult table for Thanksgiving. I have a dainty napkin in my lap, and my mom has just asked me for the third time to “please” fix my posture. I’m wearing a buttoned -- up cardigan to cover my too-revealing dress in front of my conservative relatives. My dad is chatting insipidly with my uncle about gas prices. My mom is now conversing with my aunt about a new diet comprised of only string beans and eggs. Nobody’s noticed that I’m pouring myself a generous third glass of wine, and I’m thankful to be a little tipsy when my snooty aunt Nancy turns to me and asks which colleges I’m thinking of applying to. “Over April break we took a trip down South to see a couple of schools…” I begin shakily. It looks as though her wine has gone sour, her Harvard class ring of ’83 glittering around the base of the glass and her critical eyes narrowing in on me. “We saw Elon, College of Charleston, and Richmond,” I continue. “Everywhere we went was really beautiful, and the people down there are all really nice.” I take a sip of wine and choke, my cheeks flushing. “Haven’t you looked at any of the schools in the Northeast?” she inquires, disdainfully. “Yale, Princeton, Brown, Middlebury? How about Bowdoin? We have a lot of relatives on your dad’s side from Bowdoin. They have a great science program at Bowdoin.” She goes on to tell me more about Bowdoin as I imagine myself in a tiny, freezing log cabin in the middle-of-nowhere Maine. “That sounds wonderful, Nancy, but I really think I want to be somewhere in warmer weather? I’m also more interested in the English major, and they have some awesome programs at the schools I looked at.” She ignores me. Everyone, except me, has joined into the conversation about gas prices. I excuse myself for a “breath of fresh air.” I find my cousins jumping on the trampoline in the backyard in a scene of unadulterated delight. They are colliding into each other and laughing raucously without a care in the world. Jenna’s skirt is flying up, but I don’t think she minds that everyone can see her Hannah Montana underwear. There’s only supposed to be one kid on the trampoline at a time, but I decide not to spoil their fun before they get too big to jump on the trampoline at all.

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