Friday, November 16, 2007

Ahh, Thanksgiving... Time of spending ridiculous amounts of money on over-priced food...

...that's going to go bad in the fridge because after that magical day of family hell, no one wants to ever look at turkey again.

When I was younger, I loved the holidays. My mom was the world's biggest bah-humbug for Christmas (one year, she made me wrap my own presents because she just didn't feel like it - it became a tradition after that). I always knew if I wanted to go all out for the holidays, my mom would buy the stuff, but she wouldn't do anything with it. If I wanted our house festive, it was all up to me. I always decorated for Halloween, Easter, Valentine's, 4th of July, etc. And in mom's defense, she never skimped on the gifts, especially the ones we made ourselves - she's incredibly crafty, and would always help me make gifts for everyone I knew if I wanted to. The one holiday I never got into though, was Thanksgiving. I don't know why, but I have always had a sort of animosity towards that particular holiday. I think part of the reason might be because my birthday is so close (several years, it's been on Thanksgiving - this year, it's the Saturday after). I never really was able to have much of a birthday party as a kid - everyone was out of town for the holiday. That, and my mom was never really all that strong on history, or tradition, or being thankful for anything, so to me, it just seemed kind of silly. That, and I'm not a big fan of turkey, especially dry, over-cooked turkey, and I was the youngest (by almost 10 years) in a family with very few children, so even the obligatory family gathering was pretty lame to me.

When I met my husband, he was not exactly as big of a humbug as my mom, but not far from it. He wasn't really into the holidays, or birthdays for that matter, especially Thanksgiving. I think he saw it in much the same light as I did - boring with crappy, expensive food. That, and in small town Oklahoma, hunting season falls right over the holiday weekend, so no one was ever around to eat all that turkey anyway. Neither one of us is a hunter though, and after we had a family of our own, we started looking at Thanksgiving as an opportunity for all of our "orphan" friends (the ones without families close by) to gather for food, and cards, and a few drinks, and kids to gather together. The first year we tried, it was a pretty big success. We had 1 close friend and family over, and my MIL, and my SIL and her husband dropped in after hunting. The next year, we added a few more friends, and lengthened the time - instead of a formal dinner time, we just invited people to come over any time after 3, and stay as long as they wished. There was invariably 1 or 2 people with a plate of food, 3 or 4 people playing cards or dominoes, a few people out on the porch watching the kids chase each other around the yard. Even in our tiny house, there was still room for everybody, and the fun lasted all day. We never came close to running out of food though, and always had huge piles of leftovers in the fridge that went bad long before we could eat them all - and that was after sending plates home with everyone. So our Thanksgiving gathering became a tradition, one we followed for 3 or 4 years.

Then, after our son died, suddenly all the holidays seemed... flat. That first year, we didn't even try to have it at our house - we went to my MIL's and cooked there, for just us and her and my SIL. A couple months after that, we picked up and moved 4000 miles away. Last year, we attempted to renew our holiday gathering here. I honestly think the only reason I did it is because a friend of my husband's from work was moving over the holiday weekend and wouldn't be having a Thanksgiving of their own. Something about that bothered me, I don't know why, so we invited them and their 5 kids over for dinner at our house. His wife and me became fast friends that day, and our kids all got along great. It was a horribly stressful day for me though. Partly, I was ashamed to have anyone in our home (you would have had to see it to understand - let's just say that when it was hauled off to the dump, it disintegrated before it completely the 5 mile journey), and partly there as the stress of meeting new people. But mostly, there was this memory of my little boy, and I missed him so much it took everything I had not to kick everyone out and just bawl my head off. Which is really unfair to him, because I know he wouldn't want that. But it's so hard to participate in family events when he's not there. It's like there's something missing - you know the feeling when you have a dinner party, and all night, you keep thinking you've forgotten something, and then after everyone leaves, you realize you left the appetizer in the fridge, or the place mats in the washer? It's like that, just a nagging disquiet, like something needs to be added to make it perfect. It works as is, but it's just not quite right.

So this year, we have moved into a new home, one I'm proud of, so I actually WANT people to come over. We have a few friends, more than last year, so we are going to attempt the day-long food fest again (last year, we just had a sit-down meal, followed by a card game). We also decided to have our Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday, kind of a combo dinner/birthday party for me/housewarming party. So now I am in all out frantic clean mode. And I am on my own - John has been out of town all month, and won't be getting home until early Thursday morning. He can, and will, help with the last minute cleaning, but the deeper stuff is all on me. Like our garage, that is so full of stuff that there's just barely a walkway through it - all stuff that needs to go under the house, be sold on craigslist, or go somewhere in our already overstuffed house. (Yeah, I know, who cleans the garage? But our entryway sucks, and we have brand new light colored carpet, so in the winter, we use the garage as our entrance to keep the snow and dirt to a minimum. Plus, that's where the extra fridge and freezer, and pantry shelves are, so I need to be able to have a clear path to them. We don't actually park in it, our car is 2 inches to long to fit without taking out an added on closet in the master bedroom. Do you have any idea how much it sucks to live in Alaska and NOT be able to park in your garage in the winter?) So, my nanny is staying over late tonight to watch Peanut and Chunk, and Princess will be assisting me in scrubbing every surface in the house. Then on Saturday, my mom is coming over (thank god she's in town right now) for a Shrek movie marathon with the boys while Princess and I tackle the garage and crawl space. On Sunday, I will be converting our guest room into a kid-friendly space, so the entire third floor will be a kids-only zone - three bedrooms and 1 bath for them to tear apart, all full of kids (read: non-breakable) stuff. The guest room has it's own TV, with VCR, DVD, and 3 different video game systems. Hopefully, that will keep all 10-15 children occupied. My bedroom/office will be converted for the teenagers to use the computers (we have three set up in there), which is my plan for Monday and Tuesday night I think, after the kids go to bed. Then I have 2 other bathrooms to clean, because there isn't a bathroom on the main floor, so I have no idea which one is more likely to be used by guests. The kids will have the bathroom off the guest room all to themselves, but we'll have plenty of adults too, so maybe it's best to go ahead and open up both baths for use. I've never had a house this big, so I really don't know what I'm doing here.

As much as I am looking forward to starting up my own Thanksgiving tradition again, I am floundering. I'm not really sure I want to do this. As much as I want to show off my house, and my family, and actually relax with friends I haven't really been able to see since I started working again this summer, I'm just not sure I'm up to this. I don't know if it's lingering sadness from yet another birthday and Halloween without my Pumpkin, or if it's knowing that this year is officially my last 20-something birthday, or if it's just work blahs and tiredness, or if it's stress left over from this summer's extremely extended visit by my MIL, or if 'must losing my mind in general. Not to mention the cost - I made up my menu/shopping list last night, and it's two pages long. Even hitting every sale I could find, it still comes up to over $200, just for one meal. Maybe that's not a lot to some of you, but to me, that's an astronomical amount of money. We usually only spend about 400-500 a month on groceries, so to blow half of our monthly food budget on one meal is nuts to me.

Does anyone else do this every year? How do you deal with holiday stress overload?

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