I always—quite smugly—profess my needs to be so simple: family, friends, food, and shelter. My adult kids roll their eyes then smile at me. They understand my marquee message: “Oh yeah, we know, Mom,” they sigh. But when the holidays loom, my satisfaction with our 1960s three-bedroom tri-level dissolves. The space suddenly seems so inadequate. I quickly go from, “I don’t need anything for Christmas except time together” to dreaming on Zillow for a massive home, complete with a commercial-grade kitchen and showplace dining room. I could graciously greet my family at the door, calmly inviting them into House Beautiful. A graceful staircase would lead them to bedrooms staged with fine furniture and sumptuous linens and window coverings, each adjoining bathroom sparkling.
My house would be orderly. Elegant. Lovely. PERFECT.
Most of the year I can beat these feelings down and remember that 95% of the women of the world would be amazed by my home; for most of the year my house is more than enough for the two of us. But during the holidays, my values are skewed by Hallmark ads and the colorful displays that this year began even before Halloween. Oh, how I secretly covet a huge old Victorian, complete with built-in buffet and resplendent butler’s pantry.
Rockwell’s Thanksgiving painting is imprinted permanently in my brain. The family is so obviously appreciative. The relatives circled around the table are radiant; their freshly scrubbed faces glow. The table so tasteful; all the dishes of the meal exactly timed and on display. But when my turkey comes out of the oven, my serenity is shattered. The gravy needs to be started and stirred; the turkey needs to be pried from the roaster and sliced; the forgotten relishes need to be opened and arranged; the water needs to be iced and poured. Calgon, Take Me Away.
It’s only when my dear family converges that my galley kitchen and dinette area seem Barbie sized. Yes, I know I could make some things easier. I did some research this year about how to create a stress-free Thanksgiving meal. I even tried a make-ahead gravy for my gluten-free family members. (I obviously added too much corn starch and the gelatinous, disgusting lump never reached the right consistency when I reheated it—even with my daughter’s determined attention with a whisk and serious brow.)
I meticulously set the tables ahead of time, but as the turkey and sides and rolls and beverages were moved to our dining area the buffet table was too small. I didn’t allow enough room for the cornucopia display I so carefully created with colorful fruits and vegetables flowing from the horn of plenty. This year it was voted off the table in the pre-serving rush and plopped on top of our wood burner, the beautiful red pears and glossy apples bouncing to the floor in its transit.
So no, it wasn’t an amazing Martha Meal—but some things made it pretty darn close:
All four of our parents were still able to attend
My husband still smiled at me from across the room
Our adult children still enjoy one another’s company,
and our grandchildren still think I’m the best Nana ever.
Not perfect. Never will be.
But it’s a fine life.