My First Thanksgiving as a Parent

My First Thanksgiving as a Parent

Thanksgiving was different this year. Like most Americans, I was more thankful for the simple things. For life. For family and friends. For food and shelter. But on Thanksgiving day, these thoughts were far from my mind. Instead, I was busy worrying about Lydia and wondering when on earth the turkey would be ready.

For the first time in my life, I celebrated Thanksgiving without my parents. We were in Alabama and they were in Virginia and there was no easy way to get there. Even if we joined the traveling masses, we'd only have a couple days with my parents so it didn't seem worth dragging Lydia and her stuff along. Instead, we planned to have Didi's parents here and to see my parents at Christmas.

My meals were planned and my food shopping was done. All I needed to do was clean the house. Then we got the phone call. They weren't coming. Didi's mother had taken ill and was too sick to travel. Greatly disappointed, we tried to make some alternate plans to see them, but to no avail.

Instead, we decided to share Thanksgiving with two other military families who were staying in town. Since no one else had bought a turkey and the other women were willing to help cook, it seemed like the perfect plan. We'd have all the trimmings with only some of the work. Plus, Lydia was bound to have fun with the other kids, which would mean a little more relaxation for us. Wrong!

I thought the big change this year would be the cooking. It was my first Thanksgiving cooking any part of the meal. Yes, that was stressful. Although I followed my mother's explicit instructions, that darn bird took an hour longer to cook than expected. No big deal, I thought. Once we get the food on the table, then I can relax and enjoy the company and the meal.

But little did I realize that holidays are completely different when one is a parent. While being a hostess removes a layer of relaxation and inherently brings with it responsibility, it is nothing in comparison with motherhood. What mother would feed herself before feeding her child? (Now I know why the airlines tell us to secure our own oxygen masks before our children's. It always seemed pretty obvious before.) And what mother would sit and enjoy her meal if her baby isn't eating?

I spent more time trying to find things for Lydia to eat than I did sitting at the table. And I was more focused on keeping her fed than I was on the other people at the table. To be honest, I'm not sure I even surveyed the table once, let alone talked to the person sitting next to me. The other parents were in the same situation, all of us focusing on the well being of our babies.

Other than canned green beans, I hadn't brought any special food for Lydia because I figured she'd love the turkey and trimmings. Lydia is such a great meat-eater that we joke about buying her a pot roast for Christmas. And, for the most part, she loves veggies and trying new things so I'd assumed she'd eat a hearty dinner.

As a first-time parent, I often forget that children are unpredictable. Maybe it was the snacks I fed her while the turkey took an eternity to cook. Maybe it was the excitement of eating dinner with two other families. Maybe Lydia wanted to eat something else, like the veggie burgers she loves. Whatever the reason, she didn't eat much so I spent most of the meal getting up and down trying to find something new to offer her. I wish I could say that dessert was relaxing, but I think I ate it standing up!

Maybe next year we'll eat Thanksgiving early, so the kids aren't kept up too late. I don't know whether we'll be surrounded by friends or family, or how many kids will be present. But I do know I'll focus more on the people than the food. People are precious; food -- although pleasurable -- is just for nourishment. Whatever the case, I'll definitely have lower expectations next year.

Publication date: Dec. 7, 2001

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