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The last time I hosted Thanksgiving Dinner at my house was 2012. Ezra was 2. I was exhausted, and it was a disaster. It took me 8 years to recover.
You can read about the whole ordeal here:
I’ve learned a lot in the last eight years.
I’ve learned that cooking and baking is NOT my spiritual gift. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s incredibly stressful, because, by the time I’m done cooking I’m too tired to attempt clean-up.
Coming from a long and beautiful legacy of great cooks and open-tabled hospitality, I often felt like a failure in those early years.
Even the last seven Thanksgivings, when I didn’t have to do any of the cooking, just being around family and managing my special needs kids and anxious husband – I often didn’t even help with the dishes. (Sorry, Sandy!)
I’ve also learned that opening my home to others is very draining. I love having people over for rich conversations and fellowship. But even less-than-perfect cleaning and simple meals on top of the extroverting required to host (and the noise noise noise noise of extra people in my house) leave me feeling like I just got hit by a truck.
I LOVE Thanksgiving. I’ve always wished I had it in me to recreate the ambience my mother and grandmother did for my family.
I remember the smell of the celery and onion simmering for the stuffing, the steam rising off the bubbling cranberries, the sound of the food mill scraping as the sauce drips out the bottom. I remember how the Velveeta cheese feels sticky as I cube it for the broccoli casserole.
It occurred to me yesterday that I remember all of that because I was there…helping. By my mother’s side.
I don’t remember her being stressed, although I’m sure she probably was. But I know now, that those little things that I did for her and my participation in the dinner prep wasn’t just a learning opportunity. I was actually helping.
I had this realization because, this year, it was MY SON beside me.
Ezra has had a phenomenal year of growing up. Ages 9 and 10 are true game-changers. The maturity, combined with some medication tweaking, homeschooling, and several other factors have combined to really grow Ezra into this really amazing kiddo.
I’m enjoying him in so many new ways, and it’s been really beautiful to watch him take on new responsibilities.
As part of homeschooling, math in particular, both The Good and the Beautiful and Masterbooks encourage cooking and include recipes to practice every-day life math skills. Thus, we’ve stumbled upon a new activity that Ezra LOVES!
We have also worked HARD over the last year and a half to both inspire and require Ezra’s participation in the household by way of chores. It took some painstakingly challenging parenting sessions and a lot of patience, but Ezra is now capable of unloading AND reloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash and recycling, wiping down the table, sweeping and Swiffing the floor, and so much more. These are now chores that he does on a daily basis. And I have come to greatly rely on his help.
When I found out our Thanksgiving dinner table was going to have few guests, I was excited about having Ezra’s help and making Thanksgiving dinner with him!
He did not disappoint!
When Big Boys Cook Thanksgiving Dinner
Another thing I’ve learned in the last year is PACING. So, I decided we would make everything we could the day before, so Thanksgiving day could be more peaceful, and I didn’t have to be exhausted.
We started at about 1PM with the apple pie. We stood beside each other slicing and peeling the apples. We also sang through a song we hope to be singing in our upcoming Christmas service. He’s very nervous and still struggling with pitch, so we just hummed and la-ed and boo-ed through the melody three or four times as we worked. It was so precious, something I will tuck away in my memories forever!
Then he worked to add the ingredients to turn the apple slices into filling while I worked on the pies. First, I had him calculate how to double my pie crust recipe, which he did gloriously well.
We joked and smiled about The World’s Loudest Food Processor, and he eventually got to the point that he didn’t have to cover his ears. We shared our hope that the food processor eventually breaks so we can get a new, quieter one.
Then, I worked on the pie crusts while he started on the pumpkin pie filling. He ran into the kitchen with dirty garden gloves so he could crack the eggs (he’s allergic), which I promptly removed from the kitchen. I cracked the eggs myself while he made faces, but I did let him use the mixer to beat them.
I was finishing the pie crusts when LB entered the scene and started distracting us. It was also med-transition time for Ezra, so he was very wound up, excited, and having trouble focusing. It was a crazy hour or so, as I got the pies in the oven and he unloaded the dishwasher for me. It took him a LONG time with lots of reminders to stay on task, and I felt my frustration levels rise, but he eventually got it done.
He sweetly asked, “Mom, can we work on the reloading TOGETHER?”
How could I resist?
We got the dishwasher running. I went down to the basement and turned on Praise Baby Christmas for LB. LB asked me, “Are you SURE I’m still little enough to watch that?” and I thought my heart would burst from that bittersweet feeling you get when you are both insanely happy your kids are growing up but also want them to stay little and cute forever.
Ezra’s meds had finally hit his brain, and he was ready for another round.
I showed him how to peel the potatoes, and I started on the cranberry sauce and “slime” Jello salad, two recipes passed down from the grandmother I never really had a chance to know.
All the while, he peppered me with questions:
What are cloves made out of? What do they look like? Why do potatoes have eyes? Are they holes or just dents? Why is a paring knife called a paring knife? Why can’t you use applesauce instead of eggs in pumpkin pie? What would happen if you did? Why don’t you use the fork test on apple pie?
Around 4PM, he asked me the most important question: What are we going to eat tonight?
LB was done watching his show and was underfoot again. We enlisted his help to finish the cranberry sauce and assemble some grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.
Now I had sandwiches grilling and tomato soup simmering while was trying to mix up the Jello salad and mash the potatoes, and the boys energy and noise level was rising, which stressed out Daddy. I was nervous we were spiraling out of control, but somehow we managed to sit down and eat our grilled cheese without anyone going full on meltdown.
While the boys ate, I got the dishes finalized and wrapped up for the fridge. I ate while Ezra got a shower and worked on rinsing the dishes for the next dishwasher load (the first load was still running).
We ended the night by having read-aloud time while the boys did some puzzles. I got a bath while they tried (and failed) to settle down in their rooms. I started watching figure skating about 8:30 PM and then played whack-a-mole-bedtime with the children for the next hour. They finally both fell asleep around 9:30 PM.
It was a long day, but aside from a few small peaks in my stress levels, it was a GREAT DAY.
Words can’t really express what a burden was taken off my shoulders by having Ezra help me, especially when it comes to tasks like peeling the potatoes and slicing apples. What’s even more precious is that he was so happy to do it!
I woke up around 7:30 this morning and got the cook-in-a-bag turkey in the oven. Then I crawled back in bed and meditated on my blessings. The posts I wrote back in 2012 came into my memory, and it highlighted even more how things have changed in the last eight years!
Today, the boys were much more rambunctious. LB was downright cranky most of the morning. They weren’t quite so helpful, but Ezra eventually pitched in and helped. He unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher (again).
He helped slice Velveeta for the brocolli casserole (at least he started to). I love the progression of these photos before the sensory aversion took over!
He Swiffed the floors.
He helped to set the table.
He made the crescent rolls, all by himself!!
With all the prep we did yesterday, the few things left on the menu for today seemed like a breeze. Everything was ready to go except for carving the turkey when our guests arrived. Nothing too hot or too cold, nothing overdone or underdone. (We will just pretend my pie crusts weren’t tough.)
As we were getting the drinks together, I poured Ezra a glass of root beer. We discovered he liked it a year or so ago, but it is a very rare treat for him to have. I told him he had definitely earned it this time.
The boys didn’t eat much beyond turkey and rolls, and LB continued to be a grump through dinner and frustrate Daddy a bunch.
I ended up pulling their go-to lunch favorites out of the fridge for them to eat instead. Ezra gagged down one bit of apple pie, then had a mini-ice cream cone instead.
After our special Thanksgiving dinner, we hung Christmas lights in the living room and the boys decorated their “fort” in the basement for Christmas. Then the boys and Grandma cuddled and watched Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, one of our annual favorites.
All in all, it was a great Thanksgiving. I’m so thankful for my little family and how they have taught me to enjoy the simplest things in life. I’m so proud of Ezra and the growth and maturity I’m seeing in him. I’m so proud of how far we’ve come as a family.