Thanksgiving used to be one of the most stressful days of the year for me. Weeks of planning and prep, agonizing over oven space, and prep work for days ahead of the actual meal- which actually lasted a tiny fraction of the time it took to prepare it. Frankly, it was a chore. A nice chore, better than folding fitted sheets, but a chore nonetheless. I found myself dreading the volume of work ahead of me (and Jon, who is the better cook of the two of us) and resenting the kids’ lack of literal ‘thanks giving’ for our efforts. And the clean up… ugh. It was hard to get in the ‘thanks-giving’ spirit when we were mad about the lack of ‘thanks-getting.’
A few years ago, we started a new tradition, and it has turned Thanksgiving into one of my favorite days of the year, and one of the times I enjoy our children the most. Mostly because it involves me sitting still glass of wine in hand, while the scent of Thanksgiving favorites wafts from the kitchen, overwhelming l’eau de cleat. For once.
Because we are a blended family, it is tough to coordinate Thanksgiving on THE Thursday every year, so we celebrate Thanksgiving on THE Wednesday before. This means that we are laying around eating leftovers and/or napping on Thursday, while the rest of those blessed enough to have food, family and friends are not. So for once, we are relaxed while the other half stresses out. I just like the sound of that, to be honest. And, no one interrupts our naps. Which is good. Really good.
Here’s how Thanksgiving 2.0 works in our house:
About a week before THE Wednesday, the kids decide what they want to make and pair up with siblings for specific dishes. Jon and I make two chickens, because neither of us wants to the pressure of getting a turkey just right. The kids have their favorite selections- cornbread, green beans, mashed potatoes, sausage stuffing, squash soufflé a la Lee Ann’s kitchen, apple sauce- and new this year, pineapple upside-down cake.
There is only one dish with Fluff and/or Nutella allowed, and jello doesn’t count as an entre. They make a grocery list and we all go together to the supermarket the night before, and the kids shop while Jon and I find a place to hunker down and field questions (about 10,000 of them) that start with “I can’t find the…”
Once home, we make a plan for the next day so that no two sets of siblings are competing for stove-top or oven time. Then Jon and I proceed to sit on our happy a$$kolas and watch the kids cook Thanksgiving dinner from a safe and incomprehensibly fabulous distance. We laugh at and with them (in that order), we drink wine, we bark orders, we give the necessary developmental coaching, we drink wine, we taste test and enjoy each other’s company while the kids rush around and break a sweat in the kitchen. It’s downright beautiful. And no one leaves until their dishes are clean and put away. No dish left behind (for us to do). That’s our mantra.
Can you feel the magic? I can. And it’s giving me goose-bumps as we speak.
The kids set the table, and get the food ready for serving. All the while we delight in our marital company, and in seeing the kids struggle through the machinations of preparing food for a cubic boatload of people. Déjà vu the other 364 days of our year, kids, so have at it and stop yer moanin’!
Once we sit down, I give them each a 3 x 5 card, and they write what they are thankful for, and read it aloud. Unbeknownst to them, I have kept these cards lo this past decade, so have documented proof of their sweetness, generosity of spirit and ‘thanks-giving.’ By the time dinner is made and the table ready with napkins and place-settings, they are exhausted, and vaguely aware of new levels of gratitude for us and our daily efforts to feed and clothe them. They have had a great day together, and helped gather and prepare food for people they love, and who make up their big, crazy family. They are grateful, and too tired to try and hide it. And we are beside ourselves with pride in them, and full of gratitude, of thanks for the gift that we all give one another as a family built from love.
So, give kid-led Thanksgiving a try if you’re inclined, and let me know how it goes. I always love to hear your stories! @CoreyJamisonLLC
This blog was originally published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.