Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Yearly Tradition: Thanksgiving Pep Talk

Every year I give myself (and Lovely Living readers) a Thanksgiving pep talk. It's meant to lift our spirits, remind us to find ways to de-stress and relax, be flexible and open to new ways of doing things, and above all to enjoy our Thanksgivings, come what may.

New and improved for the 2015 holiday season! I hope you'll take some comfort from my thoughts, if you're nervous, stressing, or feeling overwhelmed this Thanksgiving Eve! This pep talk is mainly meant for people hosting Thanksgiving at their own homes, but several parts might also apply to those traveling, attending stressful family dinners nearby, or spending Thanksgiving alone.

Here we go!

This year we'll think positive. We can do this! We'll get through tomorrow, hopefully enjoy it, and if not, we'll have stories to laugh about in years to come. (Maybe it will take a while for the laughing to commence!)

Let's remind ourselves - We're lucky to have family and friends to spend time with (even if they drive us crazy) and fortunate to have food to eat at our feasts today.

We have good friends who may be delighted to spend time with us later this weekend. They'll celebrate with us and listen to our venting or our stories about our more colorful relatives and their antics they might get up to on Thanksgiving. We can commiserate, and then agree to let things go and only talk about positive things after our brief venting is done. We can choose who we spend the rest of our holiday weekend with.

About tomorrow - Let's not stress ourselves worrying about how our Thanksgivings will go. Whether we're traveling, hosting, or spending the holiday at someone else's house, let's try to have the best day possible. We can let the stressful parts roll off of us gently, and laugh about them later.

Nothing has to be perfect today.

Pottery Barn and Architectural Digest are not coming over to our homes to photograph our elegantly set tables or immaculate formal living rooms. Our children are going to throw up, or have potty accidents, throw tantrums or behave in ways that embarrass us - That's ok. Land of Nod is not coming over tomorrow to photograph them for the next children's clothing catalog. Nor is Oprah filming a show in your home on "America's Best Behaved Children."

Vogue is not here to film our stylish outfits we wear to visit families; nor is Anthropologie sending a photographer to document our lovely vintage-style aprons and how clean we kept them during our cooking session tonight.

I think oftentimes we as women put pressure on ourselves that the rest of our families aren't actually participating in. We want to have the perfect Thanksgiving; our families want to hang out with nice people and eat food. Our kids want to play with their cousins, eat pie, and watch some of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Nobody asked us to make that fourth kind of pie, nor to serve a round of dainty hand-crafted appetizers before the turkey and mashed potatoes come out of the oven.

Thanksgiving is about being with family and friends. If you undercook or overcook the turkey, that's ok - people will happily eat your mashed potatoes and stuffing instead. If your old rude Republican uncle starts in on you about politics, that's ok, you knew he would. Sigh inwardly and try to change the subject. Don't feed the troll, and don't let him "win" by letting him see you get upset or needled.

Your tablecloth is stained or a bit ratty? Who cares - it was put on the table fresh and clean, right? The furniture your relatives are sitting on has cat-scratch marks on it? Oh well, it means you have pets you love. Stains on your apron or clothing from cooking? Good, that means you worked hard to make something nice for your family.

If something spills, wipe it up with a smile. Laugh if (when) something breaks. If someone cries, hand them a tissue, and give them a hug. If that person is you, have your cry for a couple minutes but don't let it ruin your day. Don't let yourself contribute to or escalate family drama. Go outside to talk a walk if that helps you, but sneak out quietly, don't storm out in an attention-seeking huff.

There are some things that will never change. There are some things we can't control. No, our houses will never be as clean as our mother-in-laws' homes. I won't be able to cook food anywhere near as delicious as my boyfriend's Swedish mother does. We will likely never have a nicer car, nor as big a house as our brother-and-sister in law do - and they might very well go on more luxurious vacations than we do. That's ok. We're good cooks, but there's always an Aunt Ellen or a Grandmother known in our family for being the best cook ever. That's ok, let them enjoy that title. We still still make our own delicious food.

It's all going to be ok. We can do this.

Let's strive to keep the peace. We vegetarians or vegans should not complain nor try to convert anyone (I'm bringing my own small portion of Tofurkey tomorrow). We atheists or agnostics can gracefully bow our heads and close our eyes quietly while a family member offers a prayer at the table. We can tolerate someone's pets escaping from a back bedroom and coming to visit the table. It's more important to have a peaceful meal than to voice our discomfort. There's other times we can assert ourselves, stand up for our beliefs, etc, but I don't believe the Thanksgiving table is the place for that.

We'll take care of ourselves first tomorrow morning. We'll start by getting enough sleep tonight - going to bed before midnight. If that means something doesn't make it into the oven or into the fridge in time, so be it. We'll take time in our showers, our dressing and whatever makeup or not we wish to apply. We'll indulge in an extra cup of our favorite morning hot beverage (so long as it's not alcohol, as we should be focused tomorrow morning!)

One thing that helps a lot is having some quiet alone time on Thanksgiving morning, even if it's just for a few brief minutes. Try to do something relaxing in the morning (Read a few pages in your book? Browse a magazine? Go for a quick walk? Play a quick Facebook game?) to de-stress before the stress even starts. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself, so you can give more of yourself as the holiday begins.

Delegate! Thanksgiving is not all about you, and you can't and shouldn't be the "Queen of Thanksgiving." If someone offers to help, let them. If someone offers to bring a dish, let them. (Worried Aunt Edie will bring her nasty sugary marshmallow yams? That's ok, let her and be grateful she's not bringing her mushy overcooked cold mashed potatoes).

One of the things I usually do every year to emotionally survive the holiday is this: I throw a special after-Thanksgiving casual movie night on the immediate next Saturday night for any friends who are still in town. I'll clean up my house a bit if I've hosted, but not stress over it. We'll wear comfy sweats or pajamas, eat leftovers or fresh fruits and veggies, and watch fun movies while relaxing. Friends are the family you choose, and I choose to be around happy, fun, easygoing people on my four-day weekend. Later on in the weekend, there are some friends returning from stressful holiday travel who might need to be cheered up and tell stories to a sympathetic listener.

Now for a special note to anybody reading this who might be spending their Thanksgiving alone. It's ok, it happens to all of us. Not everybody has family close by, or the ability to travel. Sometimes we get sick right before Thanksgiving and choose (kindly) not to share our germs with loved ones. Sometimes people have to work on Thanksgiving or the day after. On more than one Thanksgiving in years past, I absolutely couldn't face the whole thing and voluntarily stayed home alone. I truly did have a good time.

Instead of sitting there feeling sorry for yourself for being alone, think of all of your friends who are stuck in airports and freezing cold in winter snowstorms! Make yourself a special delicious treat to eat, watch a movie or put on your favorite music. Enjoy your relaxing alone time. If you are feeling a bit blue, skip the alcohol and have hot cocoa instead. If we're involuntarily alone, we can choose to think positively about the experience - We can eat what we want, cook food the way we want it, hog the remote, dress in our rattiest comfiest pajamas, and listen to whatever music we choose, loudly today.

A special challenge from Lovely Living:

Try to be there "in the moment" during the entirety of your Thanksgiving meal

What do I mean by this? Put your phone down. Don't spend your time texting your friends; don't spend all day on your cell phone talking to people who aren't there in person. (Definitely call a few relatives to wish them a happy Thanksgiving, of course. But keep your calls brief so you can pay attention to the people directly in the room with you). You can talk to your friends and text them all day long some other time. Thanksgiving is supposed to be about connecting and sharing with family. Give them respect by giving them your full attention. Unless you're an emergency room doctor, there really isn't a reason for your cell phone to be at the table or even in the room with you on Thanksgiving.

This is obviously quite a pet peeve of mine. I implore you to try, if you can, to spend quality time (not texting time) with the people who took time out of their busy lives to spend today in person with you, celebrating with you face to face. Your texting buddies will be there tomorrow and always.

Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving for you!


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