Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving With a Difference

Someone said that 'Traditions are made to be made'. In other words, don't just stick with the way it has always been done for the sake of it, adapt and change with what is going on around you. That is something we have tried to do, and this year we really needed to embrace it head on! My wife's parents are not well - her father has end-stage leukemia (has for >2 years now!) and her mother might have lung cancer, anyway they are no longer traveling - and since she and her sister don't talk, and her sister claims every possible holiday as her familily's to visit, we don't see them at holidays.

With my family it has been a different thing - we have been growing apart, and for a while I thought that both they and I were changing, but upon reflection this year, I can see that much of what is going on is just the way things have always been. The difference is that I will no longer 'put up and shut up' and do things to appease them - especially when I see them treating my kids like items on a checklist. My motto for years now has been - mess with me, fine, mess with my kids and watch out! So we have completed the fall checklist and my parents once again got in as many checklist items in one day as possible - which meant celebrating his birthday a month late (I was proud - he firmly said "do *not* sing, it is *not* my birthday). There was no mention of what they were doing for Thanksgiving.

Last year we had invited some friends over with their twin girls who are a few months younger than our older son. It was a great time, and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

So this year we knew we would be just the four of us, and decided amongst ourselves how to make it fun. So what did we decide?
  • Everyone would help make out a menu so we would all have our favorites.
  • We would have a fancy dinner that we would all work on cooking.
  • The weekend would have lots of relaxation and family time.
  • We would be out of the house by 5AM Friday on a 'Shopping Adventure'.
  • While shopping we would all get some choices of where to go.
  • We would make it to church for the first Sunday of Advent.

    Pretty ambitious list, I know ... but very do-able. And we did it all - and more. We had a great week leading up to Thanksgiving - it really started when I took a half-day on Tuesday and we had the kids' 'Parent-Teacher Conferences', and ended when reality struck again Monday morning.
  • Everyone wanted traditional dinner - so we had a great 10lb turkey with stuffing, mashed & sweet potatoes, veggies, gravy, salad, cranberry sauce ... and pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie and chocoltate ganache cake. My wife loves to bake ... and she is truly awesome.
  • I went out to get the Boston Globe to get the Black Friday newspaper ads, and got to plow through a few inches of snow. I was thankful we weren't traveling anywhere.
  • Later in the day I got the chance to work off some of my turkey by shoveling 6 inches or so of snow! Lucky me!
  • We're all shoppers - so the prospect of braving the Friday crowds was exciting rather than daunting. We decided on a shopping plan, starting with Toys R Us and heading through a few other stores before hitting Target and the Mall. We also decided that drinks and snacks would come in the car and we'd have brunch later. Another side benefit was that the earliest stores we wanted to hit opened at 6AM.
  • Arriving at Toys R Us at 5:45 AM was something ... it was interesting that Office Max had a larger line (due to the low-price computers, I later discovered). The atmosphere early on was pretty festive, but certainly frantic. Our primary goal was charity gifts, but we managed to snag a few gifts for our kids while they weren't looking.
  • Shopping was largely successful, and pretty fun, but by the time we got to Target, we were all well aware of one thing - this was *not* a day for browsing.
  • We found a new place for breakfast, a small classic diner that had recently opened. We got a nice breakfast there, for pretty decent money.
  • There were other stores we talked about getting to - Barnes & Noble in particular - but we were close to the theater, so we checked the time for Harry Potter. It was starting in 10 minutes! So we jumped right in - which worked well, as the popcorn and sode would have cost more than the huge breakfast we had just devoured!
  • The rest of the weekend was busy but casual - we had gotten an artificial tree this year due to my wife & younger son's allergies, so we spent Saturday decorating.
  • Sunday we finished the shopping - a few things at the Christmas Tree Shop (mostly gifts for the Scout caroling at the elderly housing we do next week) and a bunch of time at Barnes & Noble.
  • Monday came too early, as it always does ... I wasn't all that rested, and had certainly gained a few pounds, but felt wonderfully loved and rewarded.

    After going through the weekend, I look back on a great deal more that I'm thankful for:
  • I'm more thankful than ever for my wife and kids - it may sound corny or hackneyed, but they are the center of my universe, and we had an absolute blast together in a way you wish could just last forever.
  • I am thankful that near the top of both my boys' lists were gifts for less fortunate kids.
  • I am happy that my younger son broke down and cried as he watched this scene at 8AM in Target: a woman in standing in front of a end-cap in Toys, looking at stuff, when another woman grabs a toy off the shelf. Apparently it was the last one, because the first woman, without attempting to talk, streams explitives and then throws coffee at the other woman (thankfully the top was on so it was a trickle), whereupon the other woman returns a verbal volley and leaves her while calling out psycho. I am so glad that my son sees this as completely crazy behaviour, enough to make him very emotionally upset.
  • I am grateful that when an item for one of the charity kids - something my older son picked from the 'wish tree' at church - ended up *not* on sale, that he volunteered his own money to make up the difference.
  • I am proud that we can go places as a family without temper tantrums when nothing is bought; without having problems at the table of a restaurant; without having to ever bribe for behaviour. Days like Black Friday are so full of these problems that you really appreciate what you have.
  • I am thankful that my wife shares my values so closely, and that by parenting by example as well as by lesson we have the joy of two boys who have manners and are polite - who will say 'thank you' and 'please' even when clerks in stores are rude.
  • I am proud of my boys school work. We were at a birthday party the week before, and report cards came out the day before. While others discussed their results, my wife and I were silent - because saying anything would sound like bragging. Which it would - both kids have already mastered all skills for their grades, and the teachers are challenging themselves to keep them challenged. See - sounds like bragging! But beyond brains and grades, there is attitude and behavior - and my boys are both called a joy to have in class. Too often kids who breeze through work end up with behavior issues, so I am proud and thankful that the bahavior they display everywhere is exemplary.
  • I am proud that my older son loves playing soccer and made the fall 'travel' team, and tries hard. No one will call him the best player out there, and he certainly inherited my speed (read: none), but he enjoys playing and does his best. For a kid who has so many things come easy, and so many things he is best at for his age, it is nice to see him be happy not shining.
  • The parent teacher conferences were unsurprising yet surprising at the same time. We have been told repeatedly - since kindergarten that we are the type of parent who always comes but doesn't need to, since there are no issues to discuss. Yet this year in particular, the praise heaped on the kids was something that stuck my wife and I, and we went to Dunkin Donuts for a coffee before going home and relieving the babysitter ... just to soak it all in.

    This was a very thankful year for my wife and I - and we got to focus on the greatest things we have, each other and our kids.
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