Thanksgiving is a few days away. Everyone I know is putting the finishing touches on menus for the big holiday feast. Recipes for the perfect turkey, gravy, and pumpkin pie can be found in magazines and on TV talk shows and blogs.
But, nowhere have I ever seen a recipe for preparing the most crucial element of a great holiday meal: Your kids.
After celebrating 18 years of holidays being a mother, 12 as the mom of three, I would like to share my secret three-step recipe for a lovely Thanksgiving. Or at least one where the kids, my husband, and I survive.
Like most recipes this one has evolved over the years as my family has grown. But the basics remain. Feel free to make this your own. Families are like ovens, they each are a little different.
Kinder Souffle (or Getting Le Children Ready)
Prep time: Depends on children’s ages.
If you are preparing tweens or teens, they pretty much do their own prepping. Babies and younger children are going to take much, much longer. Plan accordingly.
Children (preferably your own)
A place to go for Thanksgiving
* I first used dress clothes in this recipe, and though I love seeing my kids all dressed up, I no longer think this is mandatory.
Major amount of patience
Anti-anxiety medication (optional, but extremely helpful)
Just like your average souffle, Kinder Souffle needs to be assembled very carefully. If this part of your recipe goes wrong, Thanksgiving can be ruined.
First, ever so gently start to mention that it is time to get ready to go to your lucky hosts for dinner. It is critical to start slowly. If you can sing and dance, it helps to get the little dears’ attention. This is not mandatory, but it does help.
Dress your baby or toddler, help younger kids get dressed. Get ready to argue with your tween or teen that shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt may not be the best choice for the cold weather, the holiday, and their grandparents’ sense of decorum.**
**Note: How much effort you decide to put in the actual style of clothing is really a matter of taste and how much you can stand the disapproving looks of your parents and other older relatives. If comments such as, “You would never have been able to step foot outside the house looking like that when you lived under my roof” does not make you want to tear your hair out, then by all means, just skip ahead to worrying about general grooming and shoes on feet.
Take a deep breath. This may be a good time to avail yourself of the medication.
Step Two: Main Course
Roast mommy with a side of wilted nerves
Prep time: Again, this varies greatly upon the age and temperament of your ingredients. But be prepared to be helping your children while everyone is enjoying their meal. Developing a taste for cold stuffing and sweet potatoes is extremely helpful.
This is the main course, the event that everyone has been waiting for all year. Go slowly. Proceed with caution. Keep in mind the age and food/texture/color preferences of your ingredients.
Please remember that big family meals with relatives you do not see often can be stressful for everyone involved, especially your kids. Even if they are older and usually self-reliant, they may need a little extra help navigating the food and serving dishes.
Once everyone is set up, feel free to make up your own plate of food.
Step Three: Dessert
(Also known as, the course it took me years to eat with my family***)
If your children are babies or toddlers, there is an extremely good chance that by the time you get them fed and cleaned up, everyone else may be done with their dessert and coffee.
***If you are no longer knee deep in babies and young kids yourself, you may want to think about helping out a family member with little ones. Give a baby a bottle or play with a toddler. Remember, infants do not talk back, and two-year-olds are so much cuter when they are not yours.
Once you finally get to sit down and enjoy whatever remains of your meal or dessert, give yourself a minute and breathe. Take it all in.
I have promised myself that this is the year I will completely focus on this step. In the past, I have gotten so stressed out making sure everyone is having the perfect Thanksgiving that I have not taken the time to really enjoy the people I love most in the world.
I will do everything I can to ensure that my recipe for a lovely holiday is followed. Then I will do my best to remember that the beauty in this day, and my life, is not the recipe I plan for, but the one that I ultimately get.
This piece has previously been published on the Dishwasher on 11/22/15 under the title, My Recipe for a Happy Thanksgiving. It has been edited.