Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A New Generation of Thanksgiving Day Stress

I was talking to my mom on the phone last night about our Thanksgiving day plans.

“Now remember,” she said, “I’m your sous-chef. Plan out what you want me to do when I get to your house, so you don’t wind up standing in the middle of the kitchen screaming.”

My mom knows me well. With my shoulders superglued to my ears since last Friday, I’ve been frantic to complete all the Thanksgiving preparations that I think are necessary before I host 10 to 14 people this Thursday afternoon, and I’m stressed out.

“You know me,” I told her, “It’s bound to happen regardless.”

Thanksgiving is truly my favorite holiday. When I was younger, we’d go over to my Aunt Carole’s house for Thanksgiving – a tiny house on a creek off the Chesapeake Bay that was built by the hands of her husband when they first married. A tiny house containing a tiny kitchen that was perpetually “almost remodeled” and usually additional tables and chairs in the tiny living room, so we didn’t have to eat in shifts – she has four kids with four spouses, three brothers and sisters and their spouses and kids, an occasional cousin, her mother, and toward the end of her reign as Thanksgiving hostess, a gaggle of grandchildren to boot. My Aunt Carole ALWAYS wound up standing in the middle of the kitchen screaming.

Times have changed. I took over Thanksgiving dinner nearly five years ago, but it’s only my parents who transferred from my aunt’s house to mine for the big day. More recently, it’s just my mom. Regardless, on Thanksgiving day my slightly-larger house is packed full of people. There I cook in my tiny kitchen, the room next to what will one day be my larger kitchen (if ever remodeled), and prepare my dining room table by inserting both leaves for max table-sitting capacity, thus causing the people sitting on either end of the table to be pinned between the table and the wall, not allowed to exit their seats until they feel comfortable slithering out of their chair and onto the floor beneath their table setting, having to crawl the rest of the way out, which certainly can’t be accomplished while anyone else is seated (okay, maybe it’s not THAT bad…). I love hosting Thanksgiving, but I want it to be just right – all the food must be warm as we sit down to dinner and I mustn’t forget anything, which ultimately ends up with me standing in the middle of the kitchen screaming.

Either my friends and family enjoy the tradition, or my cooking’s just so damn good that they don’t mind my expletives – I’m not sure which it is. Even still, I’m hoping to break habit this year and not lose my shit. I may sweat, but I won’t swear (my aunt, too, use to sweat profusely in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day – at least one of her drawn-on eyebrows would have been rubbed off while trying to rid herself of a sweaty brow before dinner).

Not too long ago I heard someone make a comment about how you could taste “hate” in food (and if you know where I heard this, I’ll give you a dollar to keep it to yourself). The idea is that if you don’t create food with love, it won’t taste as good and it might even make you sick if you eat it. Even though I have good reason to disregard this theory (the Hell’s Kitchen guy is a popular chef, right?), it’s made me think twice about automatically giving myself permission to become annoyed or pissed off Thanksgiving day. The truth is, I love having people over for Thanksgiving (I totally do it for me – I’m a motherfucking nurturer), so why wouldn’t I want to put all the love and good vibes that I can into the meal we’ve all gathered to eat ?

(Side note: when did I become such a fucking hippie?!)

Whatever my reasoning, I deserve to attempt to have a stress-free Thanksgiving, so this year I’m letting it all go.

It’s funny, thinking back on it my mom took the same role with her sister, Carole, as she now does with me. She sees herself as the stress deflector, the sous-chef, the project manager. She comes up with ways she can be helpful and alleviate stress, and she does the grunt work that no one wants to do any other day, let alone Thanksgiving, like chopping food but not getting any of the credit for the dish or hand-washing dishes at the end of the night when everyone else is relaxing on the couch. Damn, I got a mom who’s willing to be that person just so I can have a stress-free Thanksgiving.

People often ask me if my mom reads my blog. My reply is always the same: luckily my site is blocked at her office, and she just did away with her home internet access.

Tongue-out-of-cheek, I do usually portray her on here in quite a negative fashion, but like anyone else she has her good parts and her bad – her bad parts are usually just more relevant and interesting.

This Thanksgiving I’m not only going to disallow myself to stress, but also I’m going to take a moment to pause and really look at the familiar faces in my house, and I challenge you to do the same. The people at the table may be just mom or dad or sister or friend, but if you pause for a second and pretend that you’re outside looking in, you might just realize (like I just did) that someone you thought you knew is actually someone different – different in a good way.

As for my Aunt Carole, she has Thanksgiving at her son’s house now. I’ve never attended their Thanksgiving, but I can only hope she’s carried on the tradition of being loud and sweaty, because her being loud and sweaty means that she loves you, one eyebrow and all.

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