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  • Writer's picturepamradtkerussell

The Unspoken Burden of Creating a 'Perfect' Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving week.

It used to be a week I looked forward to. It was a week I could show off my culinary skills and impress my family and my in-laws.

I remember several years carefully wrapping puff pastry dough around aluminum foil to create a cornucopia, which I then filled with homemade rolls.

Cornbread dressing, old-fashioned sage stuffing, sausage dressing.

Turkeys and Turduckens.

Young, organic turkeys brined in a bucket stuffed in the fridge overnight.

Spatchcocked turkeys. Fried Turkeys.

An additional chicken cooked a few days before for broth for perfect gravy.

Pouring over magazines and websites for the perfect side dish. The perfect desserts.

I strived for years to create a gourmet feast that was several steps above my childhood Thanksgivings of relatively bland turkey, jarred gravy, regular mashed potatoes, cranberry from a can and peas with pearl onions.

I worked tirelessly those days before Thanksgiving to ensure it all came off perfectly. The good china, the fancy crystal, grandmother’s silverware. It had to taste perfect and it had to look perfect.

As the years wore on, and my children were born, I still worked my ass off the week of Thanksgiving, but instead of it bringing me joy, it became a chore. I stressed myself out to the point where I was too exhausted to enjoy the food or the holiday.

My children, my nephews, my family didn’t really care about the fancy gourmet dishes, I realized. I would spend days on a feast that would be finished in less than an hour. The cranberry orange sauce that took me two hours sat with barely a dent in it while the canned cranberry brought by someone else was eaten.

A few yeas ago, I realized no one had asked me to do all of this. Like so many other things in my life – it was a burden I had placed upon myself. I refused help when it was offered because I wanted to prove to my family, to my in-laws, to anyone who was looking, that I was a great cook and hostess and therefore a wonderful wife and a great mother and, dammit, a superwoman.

I realized, finally, in my 40s, that despite magazines and TV shows dedicated to the food around Thanksgiving, the holiday isn’t about the food. It’s about the people.

So, while it had become somewhat of a tradition for me to host Thanksgiving, I more frequently said “no” and we went to another relative’s home for the holiday.

Last year, Thanksgiving hit just a few weeks after my husband and I separated. I didn’t want to celebrate the holiday in our home alone with our daughters. Instead, I went looking for someplace else we could go to relax. A friend (thank you Leslie!) generously reached out and offered her beautiful home in Mississippi. It was just what I needed.

She met us at the house, was a friend to me, and left us with canvases and paints for the girls.

For Thanksgiving, we went and picked up pre-cooked turkey, dressing and a pie from the grocery. We made potatoes and heated everything up.

The three of us sat around the table, no fancy china or crystal. And maybe for the first time in my life I felt the weight and purpose of the holiday – I was profoundly grateful for my daughters, for the gift of this house, for the grocery store that did most of the work for us, for a beautiful day.

This year, my ex has the girls. They won’t be in town. I could have traveled to another relative’s home. Instead, I am looking forward to not having to do a single thing for the holiday. To having four days off work to reflect and catch up on household chores.

As it happens, though, invitations arise. I won’t be alone on the holiday. I will be making that cranberry-orange sauce because it's my favorite part of the meal.

But this week, this week that I used to spend making lists and preparing things ahead and stressing about table settings – this week, instead, I will spend in true Thanksgiving for the many blessings in my life.

The leftovers—though—I will miss those.

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