I was never around children much when I was a teenager. We lived out in the country, so I didn’t have the opportunity to babysit or observe people with lots of children. Consequently, I really didn’t comprehend what children were capable of at what age.
When my children were small I didn’t realize they could pick up after themselves. Once they start walking they can help as much as they are able. Now I know the chore can match the child’s abilities; it’s the best way for them to learn to pitch in.
The same is true for older children like my teenagers. I don’t always understand what they are capable of. I find myself rushing around and trying to do a lot of things myself. When I finally get exasperated and make them help, they often surprise me with their abilities.
I probably have a whole mindset about things that a mom should do, especially a stay-at-home mom. I think there are some things I’m expected to do; at least I expect them of myself: grocery shopping, cooking, laundry. Unfortunately for me, the tendency to do it all myself bleeds into the rest of our family life as well, including holiday traditions.
When I was first married, I was more than happy to let my mother-in-law cook all the holiday meals. My parents had “grown up and moved away from home,” and were living out of state for about six years. When I became pregnant, my mother had prepared herself to be a long-distance grandmother living in Texas. My daughter was born three weeks early in April of 1995, so my mom came up about a week after she was born. She took one look at my daughter and her long-distance grandparenting plans crumbled. She called my father and told him to pack their things they were moving back to Washington.
It was that first Thanksgiving with my daughter I decided to take on a Thanksgiving meal at my home just so I didn’t have to go anywhere with a newborn. I was tired and the thought of driving a couple hours just for dinner was exhausting.
I had a Martha Stewart magazine and thought it would be fun to follow all her recipes, even basting the turkey in a red wine brine all day; my father helped. Probably a little over-the-top for a first Thanksgiving dinner, but that became our new tradition. Not the Martha Stewart recipes (only two recipes have lasted over the years), but cooking Thanksgiving dinner at my home with my father helping.
After my father passed away from lung cancer in October of 2000, I have dreaded Thanksgiving every year. And as you read in last week’s column, it hasn’t really gotten easier these last eleven years.
After again struggling this year with not wanting to cook and reducing our Thanksgiving dinner to pie from Costco, my kids talked me into cooking dinner and promised to help. I did make the menu very easy by planning traditional, simple side dishes and a turkey cooked in a paper bag (really the only way and a family tradition from my mom).
I highly doubted my kids would really help me cook. They are teens and do spend some time in the kitchen on their own, but I figured I’d end up doing everything anyway with them asking so many questions it would be easier to do it myself. I figured I’d be exhausted by the time I got dinner on the table, like I am every year. When I get exhausted, I feel pretty cranky, then the sadness I’ve felt all these Thanksgivings would return.
So Thanksgiving morning I got up around 8:00am to get the turkey in the oven by 9:00am. I turned on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and woke my daughters up and my husband made us all breakfast. We watched the parade together, then we got to cooking. I even recruited my husband into being a sort of sous chef by keeping cans rinsed and recycled, throwing out compost, juggling bowls and platters and setting the table.
You know what? My teenage daughters were more than willing to help and capable of cooking the dished I had planned. They read recipes and took over their little section of the kitchen with almost little or no assistance from me.
I hadn’t had that much fun on Thanksgiving since my father was alive. We created a new tradition and I found a new lease on Thanksgiving.
Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Covington. She is committed to writing about the humor amidst the chaos of a family. You can read more of her writing and her daily blog on her website livingwithgleigh.com.