Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I Am Trying to Teach Today

We have hosted Thanksgiving all of 3 times in our married/adult life. Once was as vegetarians in 1994 and I am pretty sure it doesn't count as we didn't roast a turkey (or serve any meat at all). We hosted a very big meal in 2007; my mother had recently died and family and friends gathered here. I did everything from scratch, from Grand Marnier orange-cranberry sauce to a gluten-free apple-bacon-cornbread dressing that was perhaps the peak of my holiday cooking career. We roasted our first turkey and we almost set the oven on fire because we used so much butter. I swore I would never cook Thanksgiving dinner again.

Of course, I did; last year we had my father, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law join us for a small feast. The turkey turned out perfectly; indeed the entire meal was delicious. But once again the stress in our home was palpable for days and I repeated my vow not to do it ever again, a vow that I was destined to break. It seems that not cooking simply isn't an option. We have become the anchor in an extended family adrift in brokenness and dysfunction.

I don't handle stress well. That is perhaps an understatement ~ I turn into a raging mess of emotions, fly off the handle repeatedly, get very angry, and contemplate deserting my family to live alone in a small apartment with a dog and a laptop. It's completely surreal; I don't feel or think or act like myself. I think I must be allergic to cortisol, that wonderful stress hormone. Every part of my temperament is magnified and I go from quirky to insane. Trying to hold it in just shifts the effects to my physical body.

If I can't keep my vow not to cook, perhaps I can make a new one: to not get stressed out and become a different person on Thanksgiving. To model the calm that I want my children to feel. To keep it simple (or as simple as I can in a house where one person prefers mashed potatoes and gravy and the other prefers a praline sweet-potato casserole and I have to make both), to do what I can ahead to limit the stress of cooking on the big day, and to forgive myself any imperfections that arise.

Everyday is a day that our children are learning, whether we are presenting main lesson material or not. Indeed, how we live our lives is the biggest main lesson of all. I want my children to see that having people into our home to share a meal with us is a gift, and I can't pass that message on if all they see is the stress that I let build up because I am trying to live up to someone else's idea of perfect. So every time I feel the stress building I am going to stop and remind myself that it can be simple, it doesn't have to be perfect, and that being calm and enjoying the process is as important as the product.

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