By Guest Blogger Laura Simon
On my first Thanksgiving as a wife, I decided to throw open the doors of my 900-square-foot house and make dinner for both sides of our newly-connected family. That I had never actually prepared a turkey mattered not at all: HGTV and Food Network had me convinced that this was totally feasible. And totally a good idea.
My mom offered recipes and advice, but I opted for a turkey recipe I’d found in a cooking magazine, because nothing says “Thanksgiving Surprise” like an untested recipe. And when my mother-in-law offered to bring a dish, I told her not to bother. A master chef doesn’t need help in the kitchen. I had brand-new china, a floral centerpiece, and candles. I was good to go.
My mistake was the frozen turkey. I’m always just a little bit behind, and I can’t promise that I popped it into the fridge quite as early as I should have. Consequently, when the cooking guide said the turkey should be done…it wasn’t. Not even close. The meat on the inside of the bird had salmonella written all over it.
All the side dishes were piping hot and ready to go, so I plopped the turkey back into the oven and had an epic breakdown right there in my tiny kitchen, with my horrified brand-new in-laws looking on. All I could think about was how Thanksgiving 2005 was going to go down in history as the year the potatoes were cold. Unsurprisingly, ten minutes in the oven did nothing for the raw and frozen core of my turkey and at that point, the mashed potatoes were positively frigid.
Ultimately, my dad talked me down off the ledge (actually, out of the fetal position on the floor), and we wound up cutting the cooked meat off the outside of the bird and microwaving the rest. I can’t recommend this strategy to anyone I consider a friend, but there were two Thanksgiving miracles that day: the meat that did get cooked actually tasted pretty good, and no one wound up in the hospital with food poisoning. I should have been thankful, but I was mostly sulky, embarrassed, and angry that things didn’t go just right.
The lesson I should have learned that day has taken me another decade – and three children – to begin to grasp: sometimes (always) I need to maintain realistic expectations and focus on what really matters. I tend to resemble Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation: I build things up in my mind until I create expectations no family could ever live up to. Those expectations are not limited to Thanksgiving dinner, but they do steal my gratitude and my joy.
And so, I’ve learned to cook something simple and unpretentious – and something I’ve made before – when I’m having people over. That way, I can give my attention to my friends and not a three-course meal. And if you come over for a playdate, my living room will look less like Potterybarn and more like Toys R Us the evening after Black Friday. When I clean for company, I settle for “good enough” over spotless any day. My twenty-year-old self would be so disappointed. If I define my success by my expectations, I’m a complete mess.
But darn it, I’m so thankful. I’m thankful for the babies I was able to carry and deliver, who spill milk on my furniture and smear Nutella on my floor. I’m thankful for my constant fatigue and the general chaos that defines our house. I don’t like it, but I’m even thankful for the bickering and the incessant wrestling because it means my kids have siblings to do life with, whether they want them or not. This little family, partially clothed, picky eaters that they are, is the single greatest gift I have ever been given, and I do not take that lightly. Slowly but surely, I’m learning that something doesn’t have to be perfect to be oh, so good.
This Thanksgiving, I’m in charge of the turkey again. And this time, I did the right thing: I ordered a smoked turkey that I don’t even have to cook. It just showed up on my doorstep, courtesy of UPS, bless its heart. Instead of slaving over a ten-pound bird, you’ll find me making the things I do well (you know, pumpkin pie) and hopefully sprawled out on the couch watching football with my kids. On this day devoted to gratitude, I am choosing to be thankful for the gift that is motherhood – and all the imperfections that come with it. I hope each and every one of you finds a way to do the same.
And by the way, if you have a tried and true way for staying sane during the holidays, please share it here! Your fellow moms want to know!