Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of money, if not a lot of time, in therapy, and I've had such a good experience that I'm thinking about renaming this blog Stay on the Couch Dad. I won't, though, because what's going on in my kitchen is more universally appealing than what's going on in my head.
Still, it's hard to divorce family memories from food, and one of the biggest food-and-family fests of the year is rapidly approaching. That is, of course, Thanksgiving. Today's Times has a good article on the troubling family dynamics that can develop around the dining room table. My favorite part of the article is at its end:
"Betsy [a high school teacher in Boston] said her cousin also complained of holiday meal tension with her own family, so the two devised a strategy to help each other cope. Each made bingo cards, but instead of numbers, the squares were filled in with some of the negative phrases they expected to hear during the meal, like “That outfit is interesting” or “Your children won’t sit still.” As comments were made at the separate family celebrations, each woman would mark her card.“Whoever fills up a bingo row first,” Betsy said, “sneaks off to call the other and say, ‘Bingo!’
For my own part, I'm getting a break from cooking. My sister Mary, who is the current winner of the family real-estate lottery with a nice house (two floors! a yard!) in Connecticut, is hosting. I'm delighted to be joining her. She is being very generous--much of the extended family will be there. I'll be bringing my in-laws along with the wife and kids. My contribution is minimal. I'll be making turnip as a side dish.
Turnip was one of my favorite dishes on Thanksgiving. The other was a spicy creamed spinach that my grandmother introduced and that my own mother has taken to making. Other than those dishes, I never much liked what is served at Thanksgiving. Of course, I feel heretical saying this, but it is true. Turkey? I could take it or leave it. Gravy? Never cared for the stuff. Stuffing? I had a weird thing about it. I only liked what I guess is called Stove Top Stuffing--the stuff my mother would bake outside the turkey. It was crunchy, and I liked that. My most embarrassing favorite dish--canned cranberry relish. I liked the way the can itself left rings around the tasty red circles.
One of the things I'm dealing with in therapy are the expectations I inherited. I'm now dwelling on what unconscious expectations I'm handing down to my own children. They're not pretty. I have a tendency to look on the dark side of things, for example. My father was a trial lawyer who specialized in malpractice and personal injury suits. For every cup of coffee, there was the case of the exploding coffee maker that burned a child. For every country road, there was an intersection in which a drunken driver mowed down two young lovers in a Volkswagen van. For every new building I lived in during college with a beautiful view of the treetops, there was a lack of a fire exit. Or so I was told by my father.
I'm now curbing my tendency to do the same thing to my kids. Nina wants to bring a toy to school to show her friends? I have to stop myself from saying, "You're going to lose it in the classroom." I'm working on it.
Thanksgiving presents an opportunity. The holiday is built around expectations. Turkey, gravy, stuffing, and a laundry list of sides. Family and friends and, what will it be? Arguments over politics? How to raise one's children? What to eat or not to eat? Those are just a few ideas I pulled from my own memory and from today's Times article. But I like to see my family, so I'm hoping that enjoying the company of family will be an expectation I'll be handing down to my children.
Speaking of expectations, I had a few of my own mangled last week when I saw a great article by Mark Bittman in the Times about what to make for the coming dinner. He offered 101 suggestions. The headline, though, is what threw me: "101 Head Starts on the Day." Missing its connection to the holiday entirely, I thought it was 101 ideas To Get Food Ready for a Given Workday. I was thrilled. Finally, an article I could really use. But, no, it was not about getting ready for the everyday, it was about getting ready for the big day. Alas.