My most cherished Thanksgiving took place several years ago, when my children were all under 10.
At that point, most of our Thanksgivings had been at home. My husband and I both hate to venture out on Thanksgiving weekend. We especially despise traveling with three kids who relish bickering in public places like airports and relatives’ houses. So for years we stayed put. We usually entertained a mélange of friends and family with a simple, casual meal and a lot of football playing and TV watching.
Perhaps because I’m a terrible cook, my kids never seemed to care that much about the turkey. Or any other Thanksgiving foods, frankly. They just ate a lot of mashed potatoes and seemed pretty happy about it.I never imagined Thanksgiving, or our haphazard family traditions, meant much to them.
So I didn’t give it any thought one year when we accepted an invitation to join friends a few miles away for Turkey Day. The family included three young sons. The parents were funny and easy-going. Perfect! I wouldn’t have to cook or clean up.
I was so blasé that I forgot to tell the kids until the night before. The trek got off to a poor start when I informed the children, who had dressed in their favorite outfits, that they couldn’t go to Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house dressed like hobos. They looked down at their chosen clothes as if I had kicked a puppy.
Once at our friends’ house, my kids were quiet and perfectly behaved. I gazed with pride upon their fancy outfits. Not a single fight or complaint. With their mouths carefully closed, my children chewed the food, which was organic, gourmet, and completely beyond anything I could have ever prepared. I glowed over the decaf. We were a fine and lovely brood, fit for any holiday card or television advertisement.
Until we got into the car for the drive home.
“They didn’t have mashed potatoes!” one kid howled as if the Geneva Convention had been violated. “Who serves orange potatoes at Thanksgiving?!?!”
Another screamed, “No ketchup! No butter?”
“That turkey was dry! With all those weird green and brown sticks on it,” the last kid chimed in. “I missed Uncle Grant.”
They all started to cry in the backseat.
“It’s not Thanksgiving if it’s not at OUR HOUSE with YOU COOOKING!” they told me in unison as if I had betrayed their deepest dream.
One key to parenting, I’m convinced, is to master flying changes and refueling in mid-air.
Another: listen to your kids.
The last is to never, ever forget what it feels like to be a child.
“Okay,” I said from the front seat. “I get it. That was a complete failure. My failure. I should never have agreed to go somewhere else without checking with you. Will you give it another chance? We could have another Thanksgiving, just the way you like it, on Saturday.”
The kids wept with joy.
On Black Friday, I bought all the fixings I had so joyfully passed up the week before. The supermarket still had a few turkeys and the gluey cranberry sauce the kids like. And plenty of WHITE potatoes for mashing.
I explained the tragedy to Uncle Grant. Sport that he is, he agreed to come over for a second Thanksgiving two days hence. No wonder they missed him.
We had mashed potatoes drowning in butter and the horrible powdered gravy the kids adore because it’s like “the gravy in the school cafeteria.” The turkey, draped in bacon, turned out wonderfully moist and non-chewy. The kids frolicked with joy around the family room, wearing their raggediest t-shirts and sweatpants. They made me promise we’d never again have Thanksgiving away from home.
Sometimes you don’t even know you have family traditions until you try to change them.