How My Vision Of Thanksgiving Differs From The Reality

As I prepare my shopping lists and try to decide on this year's menu, why am I also filled with a growing feeling of exhaustion?
11/25/2014 08:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I love the concept of Thanksgiving. I love seeing folks I adore gathered around the table. I love taking time to feel grateful for the blessings in my life. I love the lyrics from David Roth's song, May the Light of Love:

"As we come around to take our places at the table
A moment to remember and reflect upon our wealth
Here's to loving friends and family, here's to being able
To gather here together in good company and health...

May the light of love be shining deep within your spirit
May the torch of mercy clear the path and show the way
May the horn of plenty sound so everyone can hear it
May the light of love be with you every day."

But as I prepare my shopping lists and try to decide on this year's menu, why am I also filled with a growing feeling of exhaustion?

Thanksgiving will forever be associated in my mind with the birth of my first daughter. Prior to that, I have vague memories of growing up celebrating the holiday with my siblings, parents, and grandparents. Of course there was turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. The most distinctive item on the table was the slices of jelled cranberry straight from the can. My father loved this delicacy, but I hated the looks of it and avoided cranberries until I realized they could actually be prepared differently.

The Thanksgiving of my daughter's birth, my parents sat with my young son, my husband, and me staring at my belly. I was "overdue" and not in a great mood. I have no memory of what we did to celebrate Thanksgiving, but I banished my parents by the end of the weekend. Thanksgiving was early that year, November 22. They left November 25, and she was born November 26. Yes, I was a jerk. They literally turned around and came back from Michigan to care for my young son.

The year of my daughter's birth was the last time I was not in charge of Thanksgiving. Because it was her birthday, it became my holiday. So for 40 years, I have hosted it in various evolving iterations. My husband's ever-expanding family lived in town, so they always came. My parents came every year as well. For a time, my siblings and eventually their wives drove in from Michigan. At some point, they had kids and splintered off to celebrate with their own families at home. Still, the numbers grew and grew.

By the time I was setting three huge tables and squeezing over 30-40 guests into my house, I knew my relationship with Thanksgiving was in trouble. It was time for family counseling or a divorce would be inevitable. My kids were now married and having kids. It was just too much.

So Thanksgiving evolved once again. My father died and my mother no longer travels. My husband's family broke into smaller units to celebrate, and this year it's just two of my kids, their spouses and six kids, and my husband and me. That's a very manageable 12. So why am I starting to stress out over this?

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Our current version of Thanksgiving

Well, it's a funny thing about the Thanksgiving menu. No matter how many people come, I feel obliged to make everyone's favorites. Of course, there is the turkey, dressing, fresh cranberries and vegetables, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. With my family, that feeds about half of them. I also need entrees for vegetarians and fussy grandkids who will not eat most of these traditional foods. Of course, I need a birthday cake for my daughter, but I also need an Elmo birthday cake for my two-year-old grandson. Maybe they can share?

Then there are my unrealistic expectations. We should listen to the Anne Hills recording of May the Light of Love. We should all be dressed nicely. We should go around the table and tell each other what we are thankful for. We should even sit at the table together until the meal is done. LOL!

Instead of Anne Hills, we will hear Taylor Swift's 1989 blaring from our CD player. My grandkids will have dress-up clothes on so they can perform to Swift's music after eating 20 percent of the food made especially for them (mac and cheese, pizza, etc.). Someone will make a joke about what he or she is thankful for and we will never get around the table. By the end of the meal, maybe four of us will be left still eating. And then there are the dishes.

But the scene I described above IS my family's newest tradition. When I bring out the Elmo cake and we all sing Happy Birthday, I will feel ever so grateful that, 40 years later, Thanksgiving will still be associated with now two special birthdays. So maybe I should stop writing this blog, order the cake, and start shopping.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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