Friday, November 7, 2008

On Thanksgiving...

I can’t help but laugh as I thumb through the truckloads of catalogs that find their way into our mailbox this time of year. I especially get a kick out of retailers like Pottery Barn Kids who portray the darling —and let’s face it, they ARE darling —place settings, Turkey headbands and themed utensils amid fresh-faced, squeaky clean, equally attractive children playing nicely alongside the idyllic setting. We all know the parallel, more realistic universe finds my son Jack and his cousin Cole playing swordfight with the forks or using the newly ironed napkins in a phantom bullfight. The centerpiece cornucopia has been dumped for its much more entertaining use as a makeshift bull horn. My toddler is busying himself pulling the remaining placemats off the table and subsequently wearing a path on the floor from the dining room to the kitchen, on his way to hand them to me one by one. And last but not least, one, if not all four have somehow managed to stain their holiday best in the first five minutes. And by fourth I mean my 41-year-old husband.

But it’s a tradition, right? Perhaps not what I had imagined when I gave birth and flashed forward to all my perfect holidays and Christmas photos, but a tradition nonetheless. Most of us have family traditions that warm our hearts – like my tiny grandmother painstakingly making at least 15 yummy pumpkin pies from scratch every Thanksgiving. And then there are those you’d rather forget, like at least two of my cousins ending the evening not speaking to each other over something as silly as duplicating efforts on the deviled eggs. Some traditions we’d like to keep and others, well, we could do without. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, it’s never too late to start a family tradition that’s all your own.

Like many in Northwest Arkansas, we live far away from our families. But it only took one painful trip back home for us to decide to permanently avoid the busiest travel holiday of the year. While peaceful, it made us a bit lonely so we invented the Thanksgiving “Leftovers” dinner—a tongue-in-cheek reference to all the leftover friends who also stick around and have no plans of their own. Our friends here are like family, so we couldn’t imagine a better swap. I also dug up a number of other good ideas for starting Thanksgiving traditions. Here are a few of my favorites:

Write Your Children a Letter: Spend some time thinking about all they’ve accomplished, how they’ve changed and all the reasons you’ve felt blessed to have them in your life the past year. If they’re old enough, read them aloud after dinner, and if they’re still in diapers, put them away for safe keeping.

Keep a Blessings Box: It’s too late this year, but you could at least decorate a special box and paper cut outs with your children in preparation. All year long, write down every wonderful thing that’s happened to the family – the baby finally slept through the night, Lucy got her first “A,” Dad earned a promotion — then date it, and put it in the box for reading aloud on Thanksgiving. It’s also a good way to keep a record of the year if you’re anything like me and still can’t seem to finish the baby book.

Remember: Spend time remembering family members who have passed. Talk about all the things that made Grandma Dorothy special or tell funny stories about crazy Uncle George. Bring pictures of them out to share. This is a great way to give your children insight into their family history, and the lives of people they may have never had the opportunity to meet.

Giving Thanks Turkey: Have your kids cut out the head and body of a turkey with construction paper. Art degree not necessary. Hang it on the wall. Make several feathers in fun colors and set aside. Starting November 1st, after dinners each night, have all members of your family take a feather and write down or tell you what they’re thankful for so it can be written on a feather and attached to your turkey. On Thanksgiving, read them all again. If you’re really ambitious, you could date and laminate the feathers as a fun reminder of how your kid’s answers have evolved. This year, I’m pretty sure my five year old would say that he’s thankful for “snack.”

Focus on the “’Giving”: Have a family vote on which local shelter (battered women, homeless, animal) or nursing home you’d like to give and spend time collecting warm clothes, toys, food, etc. to donate. You could even spend a little time for a visit. There’s nothing more healing than a dose of happy children on a day that can often be quite lonely.

An Oldie, but Goodie:
Find a soup kitchen that needs volunteers and as a family help cook and serve meals to those less fortunate. My mother had us do this as children, and it really helps to give a “face” to the lesson. Make sure to call ahead and find out if they still need people and/or there’s a prior orientation of some kind.

While you’re all deciding if any of these sound good to you, I’ll just look forward too fluffing the dressing while intermittently checking the temperature on the turkey. Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t go on with a straight face. I admit it. I can’t even touch a naked chicken. My husband does all the Thanksgiving cooking – and quite frankly, it’s the reason our holiday doesn’t come to a rousing end at the local emergency room for a stomach pump. Now that’s a Thanksgiving tradition I’d like to keep!