By Andy Yemma
Maybe Christmas is the big day in your house. Maybe it’s the family Hanukah or Kwanza party.
For us, it’s always been Thanksgiving, from the time the kids were small and we flew from Chicago to New York to celebrate with Eileen’s parents. It’s the touchstone of our year – and this year was especially poignant as we gathered, now our kids flying in from around the country.
This Thanksgiving marked 30 years of marriage for Eileen and me. She’d floated the idea of taking everyone on a vacation Thanksgiving week but the kids nixed that idea. They wanted the Thanksgiving we always had—running in our town’s Turkey Trot, cooking together, arguing over doing the dishes, football, walks with our pooch on the beach and Scrabble in front of the fire. The last few years we’ve treated everyone to a Broadway play too.
Where did the last 30 years go, we asked as we started preparing for the annual Thanksgiving Day feast, ordering a 20-pound grass-fed, chemical-free turkey from a farm in Vermont (most expensive turkey ever!), buying potatoes, yams, onions, green beans, cranberries, stuffing mix, you name it.
Our youngest daughter, Melanie, is about to graduate from college, is helping to run her college farm and writing a column about cooking for her college newspaper. So she had a lot to say about the menu. Our daughter, Reggie, is embarking on a new career as a teacher and pursuing a graduate degree. Thanksgiving is the only trip home from the West Coast she has time for all year! Our son Matt is building his own business and working on a graduate degree as well. Both Matt and Reggie have significant others in their lives who joined us, as did 13-year-old Enesi Domi, who we have come to know through the Fresh Air Fund. He brought his older sister with him this year.
The kids all told us how excited they were for our annual family reunion. “I wish it was Thanksgiving already,” Melanie said back in September. They swapped ideas for side dishes they promised to make. Matt and his girlfriend Emmie picked up 3 dozen oysters from a fish market in New York City—a new tradition, the kids decided, would be oysters and champagne for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. Several of signed up for the annual 5-mile, 2.5 mile run-walk fundraiser.
But you know that old expression of “regression to the mean?” Once they all get home it’s like they revert to their old pecking orders. Some of the oldest sibling rivalries start to percolate. One of them suggests getting some Diet Coke (which I can’t figure out how we forgot during our multiple shopping forays). Another immediately pipes in that drinking soda is bad for you, not to mention all of the packaging.
Despite the interminable discussion via email, text and links about the menu, some of the menu items fall a little short of perfection – like the “hockey puck” homemade biscuits and the pumpkin pie, though yummy, that we put in too large a pie pan. There are disputes over whether to listen to music or watch football. They don’t let me watch the news, preferring music instead. They complain we use too much water to do the dishes. Perfection? Not.
But then we all gather around the table and, as is our tradition, we tell each other what we’re thankful for this year. “Thank you for being such wonderful kids and such terrific, responsible adults. We can’t imagine our lives without you!” Eileen says.
The kids are thankful for all the good eats they didn’t have to pay for and, I’m glad to say, the time together. With assorted friends, we had at least 10 for every meal that weekend. Afterward, I don’t even know how many loads of wash we did of sheets and towels. Yes, it is a lot of work—and a lot of expense—to gather the gang and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I know next year we’ll be joking about the hockey puck biscuits and the soda pop just as we always do about the time out late beloved black labrador, Gus, ate a large snoutful of the homemade pate a cousin had brought and left in a vulnerable place.
As the kids packed up to leave the nest again we feel a bittersweet mixture of pride and relief. How did they grow up so fast?
Nothing lives up to expectations, we agree, but that really doesn’t matter—as long as we can laugh about the imperfections. That’s what makes us a family, after all.
So don’t set your expectations too high for Christmas. Relax and enjoy the imperfection.
We can’t wait for our next adventures with them – to the Bahamas with Matt and Emmie in December; skiing with Melanie in February in Colorado, visiting Reggie and Dan in San Francisco in the spring! And of course, next Thanksgiving.