Mel Walsh: Holiday table should be iPod free |

Mel Walsh: Holiday table should be iPod free

Christmas would be fun if it weren’t for the grandkids. They ruin the whole thing. They spill cranberry sauce on the antique linen tablecloth, knock the ornaments off the tree and won’t share their toys with us.

As revenge, we grownups invented the kids’ table. Kids’ table is a form of exile where young hooligans are sent to spill gravy down the fronts of new suits and dresses. But most kids like having a kids’ table. Manners are not required because grandma isn’t watching. Peas are picked up with fingers. Dinner rolls are thrown and mashed potatoes artfully sculpted. Brussels sprouts are hidden in the middle of napkins. Under the table, bits of broccoli are fed to Queenie the Herbivorous Dog.

Is this fun or what?

But sometimes the grandparents catch on to the antics of visiting kids. So grandma says to grandpa: How will they ever learn company manners if they are not allowed at our table? Grandpa knows he is not supposed to think of a reason, so the next holiday, the kids are back with the grown-ups.

A primer for sanity at the table

Here’s how to survive so that holiday meals are fun – with kids, parents and grandparents sitting down together to enjoy The Sacred Turkey.

Keep the meal simple: You’ve already suffered enough from the lousy cost/benefit ratio of holiday cooking. Five hours to make it, five minutes to eat it – that’s the story of the family cook. So cut the menu. Six side dishes are not necessary. Neither are homemade pies. Bakeries are a girl’s best friend. I know your grandmother went to a lot more trouble. So did mine and all she got for it were bunions from standing in the kitchen so long.

Keep the table setting simple: Ignore those fancy ideas from Martha Stewart about tablescaping. She has no grandchildren. Do not use expensive throws as a table covering because you saw that in a magazine. Do not use the tablecloth your mother brought back from Florence. Instead, use place mats that can take a beating.

On no account give a child a stemmed goblet. Stemmed goblets are ergonomically designed to fall over, especially when full of Cranberry Nectar. On no account give anybody under 3 a plate that costs $10.

Entertain them: Give the kids something to do at the table. Look for the English party favors that pop open to offer a prize and a paper hat. Distract them with nostalgia. At each place, have some tangible bit of that person’s biography. Use photos and show the grandkids what they looked like when they were babies or even what their parents looked like in a third grade class picture. I’ve also used school drawings, nursery school report cards – “plays well with others” — and stories written in grade four – whatever bits of the past you saved because you have a sentimental heart and a blackmailing soul. Yes, nostalgia will play well during the winter holidays – ghosts of children past and memories of the olden days.

Set some rules of the table: You may be regarded as the Witch of the West for saying that they may not bring their electronic games and music players to the table, but say so. And any kid who tries to wear earphones and a wire to the table will be shoved in the oven just like Hansel and Gretel. So that’s our line in the sand – an iPod-free zone during dinner.

Punish them for infractions: Anybody’s child who does not behave has to listen to a Dean Martin Christmas album.

Take care of yourself: Visiting relatives can incur profound nappiness. Maybe it’s the tryptophan in the turkey, but by three o’clock on a holiday afternoon, I want to take a time-out and nap just like the littlest grand child. Truth to tell, I am this way every day. The call of the bed in the afternoon, the rosy checked awakening to a good cup of tea – this is the life I was made for and it won’t hurt you either. I figure taking a nap is like shutting down your computer for a while and booting it up again – it seems to run better and a lot of the little glitches are gone.

So Happy Holidays and don’t worry about the peas the grandkids spill on the floor. Queenie the Herbivorous Dog will take care of it.


The author of four non-fiction books, gerontologist Mel Walsh has a new book of advice for the 50+ woman coming out in March – “Hot Granny,” published by Chronicle Books. Write Mel at or at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945. More info at

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