Paid subscriber issue: Take this Thanksgiving plan and shove it!
a really good cathartic no.
As we discussed last week, my husband and I are taking the kids to Colombia for ten days for a family wedding, leaving this Monday, due to get back the night before Thanksgiving.
Nobody in the family had a particular plan for the holiday, so since we have the room at our house, my cousin hosted last year, and I assumed all the old people would be cranky if there weren’t a plan, I volunteered to have the meal at our house. I figured it would be manageable if everyone brought some dish and we outsourced the rest.
Except, not really!
The plan still involved over 20 people at our house. It would involve, after we got home, getting extra tables and chairs since our dining room table sits 8-10 max. It would involve setting these tables. It would involve getting extra plates, little Thanksgiving table decorations, and cloth napkins from my mom. It would involve getting lots of booze and ice, keeping the downstairs clean after coming home and exploding our suitcases everywhere. It would involve washing and drying the wine glasses—or acquiring new disposable cups. It would involve finding the candles and lighting them/turning them on. It would still involve timing all the food to come out at the same time, making sure there are enough serving platters for everything, and then putting away the leftovers and doing dishes after everyone went home.
Also, our flight home is due to arrive, if all goes well, around 10 PM the night before Thanksgiving.
And my kids don’t sleep in.
Why did I volunteer this in the first place? Because based on my experiences growing up, the Thanksgiving holiday is all about busting your ass to make something nice and being mad about it. That’s the lesson I learned from watching my mom over the years who did everything herself from polishing the silver to starting the food a week ahead of time (maybe longer if she was practicing a new recipe), getting floral arrangements, getting the tablecloth dry cleaned and printing up a menu for all to see. I asked her once why she didn’t at least let Dad polish the silverware and she said, “Because he probably wouldn’t do it right.” She would maybe give me a little bullshit job day-of like filling up the water pitcher or garnishing the homemade soup ladled into glass mugs with chopped herbs and little squiggles of crème fraîche or lighting the candles. It was very this:
So in a way, being resentful and overtired felt on par for Thanksgiving. I was angry all Halloween because I knew November lay ahead and I couldn’t wait until the month (including our special trip) was over.
Finally, my cousin who has four kids who would be coming home on the same flight as us confessed that maybe it was maybe overly ambitious for all of us to get together and have a nice dinner after such a late trip when we’d all be tired and maybe they wouldn’t be able to make it.
This was the piece that sent the Jenga tower falling — and thank god for that.
I canceled Thanksgiving.
I canceled it so hard that I even turned down the generous invitation from my brother-in-law to host a mini backup Thanksgiving at his and my brother’s house for a smaller crew. I realized I didn’t want any Thanksgiving this year.
Even if I wasn’t hosting, I didn’t want to get the boys out of the house at a certain time, in nice-ish clothes, to my brothers’ condo downtown where they have lots of enticing manga figurines that are look-but-don’t-touches. I wanted to come home from O’Hare, go to bed, wake up, watch TV and movies all day in sweats, put on no makeup, have frozen pizza for dinner and have absolutely no obligations or expectations.
So that’s the plan.
Not only did I feel liberated, but my aunts, when I told them the update, were thrilled for me. “Thank goodness,” one said. My dad’s sister called me and said “That was a smart move. That took guts.” I wrote this down on a Post-It note because it meant that much to me. I felt truly cared for by these women just then.
And I realized that now I was really excited about the trip abroad and not just thinking of it as a thing to get through before I got home and hosted.
I talk a big game about being witchy and not being a martyr and breaking the obligation cycle, but I am not good at taking my own advice.
There are a lot of things I aspire to do as a mother and person with a home that I modeled on how my mom did things, but she had different time, budget, space, and values. She didn’t work, and as I realize now, she had her own baggage that she was carrying.
I guess I had always inferred that because my mother did things beautifully, then that was the way to aspire to do it myself. But recently I listened to a podcast discussing Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck where the hosts observed that women of a certain generation cooked in a certain beautiful way as a reaction against the Depression and war-era meals they had grown up with. I had never considered this before, that a certain way of serving others was reactionary, and not necessarily a standard I needed to hold myself to. Maybe being an effortless, selfless hostess and person is not an ideal; it’s just a thing some people can do if they want to. But that message got garbled in the matrilineal game of telephone and some of us got the message that it’s something we’re all supposed to aim for no matter our limitations or preferences.
There are other reasons for feeling obligated to host a holiday beyond just aping what my mom did—I want to show appreciation for the people who have loved and helped me. Logistically, we have the space to host. We have a kid house, which is conducive to having other kids over. But these are not enough reasons to wake up every morning with a pinch of anxiety for a whole month, snapping at my family because all I could think about was getting through what should be a memorable, fun trip so I could get to the end of the dreaded holiday, already worried weeks ahead of time about missing our connection home so I could resentfully host this family meal1.
A witchy pal I know who also sometimes gets into this mentality of angrily making things a certain way, joylessly hemmed in by expectations she thinks everyone has for her, told me about a cartoon she heard referenced in Lori Gottlieb’s book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone:
My friend told me, “We have a lot more freedom than we think to just opt out. And we think people will be disappointed, but a lot of times it is so not the big deal we think it will be. I actually would like to sit down and make a list of things I am going to stop doing in 2024.”
When talked to my therapist a few hours after my Thanksgiving revelation, I told her how angry I was at myself for making this plan in the first place. She suggested being happy instead that I made a decision that was good for me. We talked about other ways I could make my life easier and stop meeting standards I’d set for myself that would only make me upset. I talked through my previous plan to make dinner that night, a recipe that would be messy and take an hour and would only be for my kids and me since my husband was out doing a work thing. Like a true radical, I declared I would make the Marry Me Chicken another night and just order in Pita Inn that evening. Perhaps the children would benefit more from having a mom who was not having a meltdown about her chicken stock boiling over and washing out the stovetop flame (like I did the night before) in the name of providing a homecooked meal like I feel I ought to and who is instead is a little lighter and happier and feeling more in charge of her decisions.
I’m going to try to do this more. Make my life easier instead of agreeing to cram in one more non-essential thing to the detriment of my time and stress level—even though my people-pleasing brain says I ought to. I declined to volunteer at my kids’ 7:30 AM school newspaper club meeting this week because I wanted more time to prepare for an important client Zoom call I had later that day. I told another freelance client who belatedly asked me for significant revisions that I wouldn’t be able to turn them in until after Thanksgiving and then I didn’t even respond when he said “It would be great if you could turn them back to us before you go, though.” I said what I said!
As I write this, I also think about how this upcoming weekend, instead of finishing up client work, spending more time packing myself and the kids, finalizing trip details and resting before our 5:30 AM flight Monday, I was going to schedule some newsletter issues to run in my absence because I didn’t want to let anyone down by not turning out content while I was traveling.
I realize I wouldn’t expect that of any of you. In fact, I think most of you won’t mind getting two to four fewer emails over the next few weeks.
So I won’t do that either.
This holiday season, or in 2024, is there anything you can cancel or say no to save yourself some time and energy? Is there something you feel like ought to do that you can say no to reduce your stress and resentment? Is there something you can give up in the name of being what you think a good wife/mother/neighbor/host/daughter/friend/DIL does so that you are a little less angry and clenched? I hope so. I want to work on this, and I want this for you if you’re reading.
At any rate: I’ll be back after American Thanksgiving!
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One witchy thing
I don’t even like Thanksgiving food!!!!!!!