The day for giving thanks can sometimes leave us less than thankful, as all the things that are lovely about the holiday (good food, cornucopic meals, a house full of family) are also the ones that cause the most stress (days of cooking, hours of washing dishes, a house full of family.)
Experts are full of advice this time of year about how to ease that stress, and most of their tips involve simplifying, planning ahead and not taking your mother-in-law quite so personally. Lisa McElroy, a law professor who usually hosts a full house for the holiday, has a more sweeping solution this year -- she will be opting out of Thanksgiving preparation entirely. Her plan is to take her family and escape. Would that work in your family? -- Lisa Belkin, Parentlode
You know how television or radio shows will sometimes warn you that the story to follow is not appropriate for some audience members? Well, if you're a dyed-in-the-wool Thanksgiving aficionado, the kind of person who goes to the farm to pick out her turkey, who bakes nine kinds of pies, and who assembles third cousins once-removed for a thirty-course feast, you might want to stop reading now.
For some, this story is Thanksgiving blasphemy.
You see, for many years, my house has been the go-to place for Thanksgiving. I've set my table with my wedding china (heck, it has to get used sometime), bought an organic bird from the food co-op, and welcomed everyone from faraway family members to local friends to students from Alaska who sure as shootin' are not headed home for Turkey Day.
I've cleaned for days, shopped in the wee hours of the morning (all the better to find the best produce), kneaded until my elbows threatened to wonk out on me, and hand-washed that very same wedding china. All for a meal that lasts, oh, about an hour, less for the kids at the table, all of whom are dying to get back to their Wii or their board game or their fort building, and who don't really like Brussels sprouts or pumpkin mousse or frozen cranberry soufflé, anyway.
To put it succinctly, I've stopped being thankful, at least on the day designated for feeling gratitude. Because Thanksgiving has become such a production that I haven't had time these past few years actually to enjoy it, to bond with my family, to hang with my kids while they traced their hands to make "turkeys," to sit with my husband after the meal and watch football.
Even so, I was gung ho to take on the day this year, just like in all the other years past. Carpe diem! (What's Latin for Thanksgiving, anyway? Oh, yeah, the Romans didn't have Thanksgiving. That was probably because they didn't have wedding china, or turkeys, for that matter.) But then two things happened: my usual Thanksgiving crowd all had other plans. My husband's parents, for example, who hail from Northern Ireland, admitted that they don't really get this Thanksgiving thing, they don't much care for turkey, and they especially don't like holiday traffic. I'm on research leave this semester, so I didn't have any orphaned students to bring into the fold. And all four of us - my husband, kids, and I - developed some kind of virus crud last week that took us down for the count (I, for one, am sure it is dengue fever, but my husband insists that we'd have to be bleeding from our eyeballs for that, and we're not... at least, not yet). I just didn't have the energy to pull out the cookbooks and head to the co-op to tag a bird.
And so I made a unilateral decision. No home-cooked Thanksgiving this year. We were going to let someone else do the heavy lifting, and we were just going to hang out together for a few days and enjoy each other.
The trick, of course, was finding the suitable spot. It needed to be fairly close -- I'm with my in-laws when it comes to hating holiday traffic -- and it needed to allow dogs (our two wiener dogs are decidedly part of the family). It needed to be comfortable to the point of almost luxurious, but not so swank that I'd worry about the kids or the dachshunds destroying the place in less than an hour.
The place I found was all those things, plus it has an exotic name (the Hotel Monaco) making it feel like we're traveling across continents even though we are only driving a few hours to Alexandria, Va. They not only allow dogs, they offer them beds and treats. There's an indoor pool (heaven for my kids) and a wine hour by the fireplace in the evenings (bliss for my husband and me). Best of all, its on-site restaurant, Jackson 20, offers a three-course, gourmet Thanksgiving dinner, with all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings.
Armed with all this, I broke the "we're going away to a hotel for Thanksgiving" plan to my husband and kids -- and was met with a little resistance.
"What?" my little one said. "We're not going to make the place cards?" When I replied that she could make place cards to her heart's content, but we'd use them in a restaurant where she could choose what she wanted to eat, she nodded enthusiastically and got to work with scissors and markers, stickers and glue.
"Do they have football?" my husband asked. When I reassured him that we were not going to a cabin in the woods for Thanksgiving, but would actually be part of civilization, where cable television was included in the room rate, he shrugged and looked back at his book.
"We can't have Thanksgiving without the wiener dogs!" my older daughter complained. But when I told her that the Hotel Monaco loves dogs to the point of offering a doggie happy hour, she stroked the red one's fur and whispered, "You're going to have a great Turkey Day! I'll bring you a doggie bag!"
As for me? I am not cleaning. I am not shopping. I am not planning. I am not roasting, or braising, or baking, or kneading, or chopping, or basting. Here's what I am doing: I'm sleeping late on Thanksgiving morning. I'm noshing on the fruits of someone else's labors. I'm chatting with my kids over dinner instead of jumping up to check the progress of the sticky pudding. And I'm napping after the feast, cuddling with my two wiener dogs in a comfortable room with clean sheets.
I'm going to be thankful.