By: Ellie Parker | Features  | 

The Musical Chairs of Adulthood

One of the unexpected consequences of living away from home is the strangeness of coming back as a visitor.

I spent Pesach break in Atlanta with my family. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel back and forth almost monthly since the beginning of the year. Each time I return home, I am subtly reminded that my childhood home is no longer my permanent residence. The overflowing suitcase in the corner of my bedroom serves as a constant indication of my impending departure.

If your home is anything like mine, it is filled to the brim with youthful mementos of a kindergartener stuck in time. Milestones and birthdays, each photographed and hung in a kind of timeline fashion in the center of my living room. Growing up, I passed by these photos every day and as I grew, so did the timeline.

I have two nieces, the eldest of whom possesses an uncanny resemblance to my younger self. Watching her run past my timeline in the living room brings those pictures to life -- adding movement to the motionless figure in the frames. My five-year-old doppelganger was present at my family’s Seder this year.

For as long as I can remember, my family has had a very specific seating chart for our dining room table. The heads of the house, my mom and dad, sit at each end, with the middle seats filled by guests and family members. In the corner is a little table that is occupied by a younger crowd, namely my two nieces.

As we sat around the table for the Seder, I had an almost out-of-body realization. I looked to my right and my left and, all at once, I noticed that my seat placement had changed. I was slowly moving closer and closer to the middle of the table, surrounded by a different generation of faces. I glanced at my nieces’ table in the corner and a wave of nostalgia flooded over me -- I would never again sit in that corner. How had I gone so many years without perceiving how far I had moved from that little round table? I had shifted a number of table settings since then and yet, that moment was the first time I had noticed.

As the night came to a close, my nieces assumed their sleeping positions on the couch in the living room. As I stood over them, contemplating the realization I had had at dinner, I noticed a picture on the timeline above them. There I was in preschool, playing one of many games of musical chairs.

I stood there, shocked that this was the first time I had seen this photo. As I paused, I thought about the game of musical chairs I had been playing in my dining room. The music had been on since the first time I sat at my family’s table and now, after twenty years of playing the game, the music had stopped. There I was, having circled the table and ending up in the middle, finally looking up to see what changed.

The next time I’m home, I will sit down for a meal at that illustrious table and the music will come back on. With this newfound knowledge, I have the opportunity to play with conviction and poise, not only moving up physically, but intellectually as well. I will resume the game and I will play until I reach the head of the table -- having mastered the lifelong game of musical chairs.