Holidays are Joyful?

I made a choice this year: I will not be making a big Thanksgiving meal. The goal of my decision was to avoid spending the entire day in the kitchen. Yes, I love cooking, and I’m good at it. Yes, I love my family, and I enjoy feeding them. Yes, all of that.

But we have a small apartment that can’t accommodate a big celebration: One small table and three chairs total. Our “couch” is a two-seater futon, and we have no additional comfy seating. We only have two of our kids in the same time zone. We have a small fridge and smaller freezer, so after-dinner storage is an issue.

And we don’t even have a TV. What will everyone do while I’m cooking?

I’d rather have everyone over for board games and snack food, which is what we gorge on all day anyway. I’ll put out some bowls, the kids will bring what they like, and we’ll sit on the floor and laugh ourselves silly.

And no one has to get up and down tending to food in the kitchen all day.

And yet I have these pangs of sadness, entering Thanksgiving week, that are borne surely of glossed-over holiday memories, fuzzy in their lack of detail. Or maybe it’s the image of what the holiday is supposed to be, with the table groaning with food and a family sitting around it that actually likes each other.

Parts of my family like each other, and I *really* like parts of my family, but taken as a whole, my extended family should just not be in the same room.

I had hopes that my husband’s family would provide some kind of pleasant holiday experiences, but that didn’t work out the way I planned. I didn’t fit in, and in my troublesome presence, I brought my husband outside the relative comfort of his family. So now, we’re both ‘men’ without a country.

And I know lots of people just brush that aside and hang out with family anyway, because that’s what you do, or that’s what THEY do. It’s what I used to do too. I don’t have that option anymore, now that I’ve moved across the mountains and two time zones away from the family epicenter. So on Thursday, I can’t even pretend, like much of the country does, to tolerate the people I’m related to by blood or marriage. I could make the gorgeous feast my children love; turkey and my grandfather’s sausage/sage stuffing, sweet potato casserole,  Pinot Noir cranberry sauce, Tom Colicchio’s turkey gravy (seriously, it’s so good you could have it by itself and be in heaven), and the green bean casserole I made from scratch especially for my youngest, using my garden beans, an improvised mushroom sauce and homemade fried onions on the top. Despite being overstuffed, we’d find room for the pumpkin cheesecake and pecan pie with fresh whipped cream.

Doesn’t it all sound delicious? Describing food is my version of Instagram.

But I can’t bring myself to do it. All that food just for us. Maybe it’s enough to evoke my children’s memories of our own happy times. Maybe I should just cook it all so I have my own delicious meal to enjoy for the next four days.

But I can’t. The smells of those dishes alone threaten to disturb the truce I’ve made with my past. It’s easier to move into my own future without a thought of the ties I’ve cut from painful relationships, and this holiday, all of these holidays, really, have the potential to recapture me and lose me in sadness over what I’ve lost. Yes, I have cast off some of it intentionally, the family members who shot snide comments across the kitchen, the ones who refused to hide their disdain for me and shared it with my children, the ones who made insanely racist comments in front of my bi-racial children, the ones who targeted my husband with their criticism in their jovial salesman voice, telling him what a failure he is while offering him a beer.

And other things. Yes, there are other things.

Yes, I know I’m well shot of them, the ones who began my children’s education about suffering through holidays because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

But I still harbor the reflexive hope for family and love and good cheer around the holidays. When my kids lived at home, we achieved that bubble of gluttonous enjoyment suggested so lovingly by Norman Rockwell. Now that it’s just Tim and me, with the occasional (still much loved and welcome) young adult, the holes in our space yawn at me on holidays, a vortex of shame and envy.

Come Thursday, we’ll be elbow-deep in hummus, artichoke dip, carrot sticks and Cards Against Humanity. This might be a new Thanksgiving tradition, or it might be just a space holder moving me a little distance further away from the painful family past.

I will be donating a portion of the food budget I would have spent on that glorious but unnecessary feast to people who really need it. Hell, standing out on a street corner handing out care packages is a huge step up from crying at 9 a.m. over the smell of celery and onions sauteing in butter. My grandmother said the best way to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to help someone else. So that’s what I’ll do.

You won’t see pictures of my food online this week. With any luck, a bunch of us will drive out to the coast to enjoy some non-traditional sea lion watching.

I love my children. I love my husband. I love where I am in my life. I am happier now than I have ever been as an adult. During this week of reminders of what family is “supposed” to be, I will lie low, ducking the triggers that fly like throwing stars.

This grandma looks a lot like my mother, in later years. Someday, maybe I’ll look like that. But my grandkids probably won’t be blond.

At this point, I’m just waiting for grandchildren, so Tim and I can start establishing a different epicenter of family. We’re not in any hurry, of course, since our kids have lives to explore before starting the baby parade. I know the only way to counteract the negative family history is to build a positive family history, and I look forward to doing that as our kids establish themselves in their lives.

So for now, I suppose, I’m taking a holiday from this holiday.

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