Eileen Ogintz, Taking the Kids, November 16, 2012
We must have been nuts.
We bundled up the kids and their visiting cousins, grabbed the diaper bags and strollers and headed into New York City the night before Thanksgiving to watch the giant balloons being blown up for the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of course, we didn't anticipate the crowds. The kids couldn't see anything, nor could we. Everyone was freezing. Luckily, we didn't lose any kids in the crush of people that blustery night - just each other. We didn't reunite until we got back to the suburbs.
Was it memorable? Sure. Just not in the way we anticipated. That's been my experience wherever we gather over the holidays with the kids and extended family.
My mantra these days for Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas: Embrace imperfection. I can't think of a better way to de-stress the holidays and we all know how stressful family holiday gatherings - and the travel to get to them - can be, especially when kids are part of the equation.
Kids will get sick; flights do get canceled. Relatives leave the table in a huff (yes, that was my family) the gravy is lumpy (I never was good at gravy), the grandkids hate the holiday play after Grandma spent hundreds of dollars for tickets and your niece forgot to tell you she's now a vegan and conspicuously won't eat anything.
Have any of you ended up in the ER Thanksgiving weekend? My sister- and brother-in-law did after my toddler nephew drank the pink medicine prescribed for my son's ear infection that we'd inadvertently left within reach. Unfortunately, pediatricians say ER visits increase during the holidays because we tend to let our guard down when we should be most vigilant (http://www.takingthekids.com/tips-for-safe-travel).
Of course, you can skip the turkey altogether. Since two of my three kids must fly long distances for us to be together over Thanksgiving, and we're celebrating a special wedding anniversary Thanksgiving weekend, I floated the idea of heading off to some exotic place - my treat. (Email me at eileen(at)takingthekids.com, if you have taken that route.)
My family immediately nixed that idea. They wanted a "traditional" thanksgiving just like we've always had - running in our town's Turkey Trot, everyone helping (or not) in the kitchen, a huge turkey, mountains of mashed and sweet potatoes, the chance to tell everyone what they are thankful for and then arguing about who will do the dishes.
Inevitably, we'll reminisce about less-than-perfect Thanksgiving gatherings, like the time we arrived back home at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to discover our car battery was dead, or the time in Connecticut our dog devoured the homemade pate a cousin brought to Thanksgiving dinner before anyone had a bite. We remember that pate we never ate more than a lot of other dishes, of course.
I hope you can join me this season in embracing imperfection and your family, as quirky and as annoying as they may be. Here's how:
THANKS BUT NO THANKS - Instead of crowding into your in-laws' house, opt for a hotel or short-term rental apartment nearby (check out www.vrbo.com) that will make Thanksgiving more of a mini getaway than an obligation. Check the official tourism site for the region or city you are visiting to see what hotels might be offering special deals. You can even join the conversation on the Embassy Suites (www.embassysuites.com) Facebook and Twitter pages where comedian Nate Dern of the Upright Citizens Brigade hopes to show families across the country how to be "good company," by not being a house guest this holiday season.
GET EVERYONE OUT OF THE HOUSE - If it isn't too cold, send the gang to the zoo, the local ice-skating rink, children's museum or playground. Many local museums offer special holiday activities. Check out the holiday lights displays. (Many go up Thanksgiving weekend, http://www.takingthekids.com/travel-topics/backyard-vacations/55-great-places-to-see-the-holiday-lights-in-2012/.
MAKE YOUR LITTLEST GUESTS at home. Suggest that if your houseguests are driving, as most will be this Thanksgiving, that they bring along favorite pillows, blankets, crib sheets and night lights to make little ones feel more at home. Create an informal kids' hangout area, even if it is just a portion of the living room or den with toys, a TV and a place for play.
DON'T BE SHY about setting ground rules. No teasing the dog, no disciplining anyone else's kids. Don't be shy about asking the kids to help either. Even 6-year-olds can set the table, help with cleanup or make their beds if they are staying over.
SAFETY FIRST, especially if there are preschoolers or toddlers coming. Are the electrical outlets covered? Medications stored high in a cabinet? Cleaning supplies locked up? Where is grandma's purse? Even baking ingredients such as vanilla and almond extract can be harmful to young children, as can holiday plants like mistletoe berries or poinsettias. For more safety tips, visit the National Safe Kids Campaign website at www.usa.safekids.org.
CALLING YOUNG CHEFS - Instead of getting insulted if your young guests won't touch the dishes you've slaved over, have the ingredients for a favorite simple recipe and invite all of the children to help prepare a dish when they arrive. Even better, suggest that one of your guests with kids bring the recipe and the fixings. Others can decorate the kids' table. (All you need is a roll of butcher block for a tablecloth and washable markers.) Remember, the important thing is the conversation around the table, not what's on the plates - or left behind when the meal is done.
LIGHTEN UP and excuse the kids when they are done eating. Buy a new holiday movie, game or children's book to entertain them while the adults are lingering at the table.
LEAVE THE EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE at the door. Remind everyone that the holidays are not the time to air long-held grievances.
When all else fails, bring out the chocolate turkeys - and another bottle of wine. Happy Thanksgiving!