Prepared With Complicated Emotions
For those of us with eating issues, Thanksgiving is fraught. I’ve made the long journey from lonely eater, to competitive pie-baking guest, to overwhelmed hostess, to becoming a more loving and thankful person. I have gradually realized that no one wants the turkey with exotic spices; no one wants the healthy version of mashed potatoes; other people want the sweet potatoes with marshmallows even if I don’t. (Surprise, they are now a favorite of mine!) Like the Grinch, I have very slowly realized that it’s not about me, nor the food, nor my ability to control the holiday experience. It’s about everyone being together. And who wants a hostess that is tense and competitive and judgmental? A hostess should be happy and inviting and joyful, like a beloved yoga teacher, making you feel like the most important and most loved person. Yes, I know. Duh. A mundane epiphany. It only took 52 years.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to enjoy the holidays. Making my resolve more concrete, I shared my decision out loud with my husband. He characteristically said in his no-nonsense way, “Good! Our kids love the holidays and you should be proud that we’ve created traditions that make them feel loved and happy. Besides, the more you enjoy the holidays, the more they will want to come home for the holidays.” Ah. There it is. The circle of life. As they grow older, I want them to want to come home. Unlike me, I want them to want to visit their parents.
I dug out the recipes, made my shopping list, even found the notes I had made a year ago of missing items and ways to improve the process. I was calm, organized, and ready. And So Excited for my daughter to come home from college for the week.
Then my father called. My 92-year old mother was back in the E.R. The “rehab” center where she was barely surviving the recovery from a broken hip had rushed her there. She was on Coumadin and her blood was too thin. This was it, according to my father. I better prepare to abandon my family and my Thanksgiving to rush to her side to say good-bye. I was, sadly, somewhat immune to his dire predictions. He’s been predicting her demise for the last ten years or so. I went through a laundry list of self-questioning:
- Was my father’s dramatic pessimism warranted? Maybe. After all, she is 92 and one of these days his dire prediction is going to come true.
- Did it make sense for me to abandon my family and my Thanksgiving to rush to her side and to help my father? Probably not. It was snowing and the worst travel day of the year.
- How would I feel if my mother died before I could see her? Deeply sad.
The range of emotions over the next 48 hours was wide and intense.
- Guilt that I am not near by and don’t want to be more of a caretaker.
- Anger that my father can still make me feel like a scolded bad girl who must resort to explanations of duty and responsibility to explain why I don’t visit more. (I’m busy, busy, busy!) As opposed to the truth: I am angry at what you did. (Make peace with it, Sally. It’s part of your journey.)
- Compassion for my father who is so devoted to caring for my mother that he feels shattered at this latest crisis leading to her further deterioration. Compassion for his loneliness and worry about his increasing confusion.
- Despair that the care options for our aging parents are so medicalized and impersonal, based on aiding survival, not on facilitating love.
48 hours later, on Wednesday, after the hospital treated her for the Coumadin overdose and discovered that she had a UT infection which they were now treating with antibiotics, my mom perked up. About to hop on a train, because my father just that morning had insisted that I really probably should come say good-bye, I spoke to the nurse who said she was doing better. Feeling jerked around but relieved, my father held the phone up to my mother’s ear and she kind of squeaked in greeting. My heart jumped up to my throat and I was overcome with emotion. Would that happy squeak be the last sound of maternal love I hear from my mother?
I decided that I was going to enjoy Thanksgiving. I do believe you can change your thoughts and make thoughtful decisions about how you are going to react and make conscious choices about what emotion will prevail. More and more, I am choosing joy and laughter. I am still angry, guilty, sad, confused, anxious. I am also loving, capable, funny, generous, thoughtful, and frequently happy. My daughter is home. My mother is alive. I am thankful. So thankful that, at midlife, I feel fully thankful along with all the emotions that come with a poignant sense of gratitude.
(P.S. It’s now Saturday and I am, sadly, on my way to say good-bye to her.)
Simple Thanksgiving Roast Turkey
- Brine the (≅13 lb) turkey Thursday morning.
- Dissolve 1½ cups kosher salt, ½ cup dark brown sugar, 1 container orange juice concentrate in a quart of boiling water.
- Remove neck, giblets and metal truss from the turkey. Throw away because the giblets make your husband gag. Rinse and place turkey in a cooler or bucket.
- Pour brine mixture, 1 gallon of cold water, 1 gallon of ice cubes to submerge turkey. Add chicken broth if turkey is not submerged. Place container out on back porch where it is 40°.
- Let soak in brine for 5-6 hours.
Go take a yoga class. Marvel at how beautiful the class is and wonder what it is about the teacher that makes her so popular. Perhaps it is because she is the most welcoming hostess, making each person feel special. Let the revelation sink in. Maybe I too can be a joyful yoga teacher, a welcoming hostess.
Back home to make sides, side by side with my daughter. Imagine Thanksgiving someday at her house where I hope to be a gracious and loving and helpful and proud guest.
After a light lunch, it’s time to deal with the brined turkey.
- Preheat the oven to 500°. Lug the turkey inside and haul it into the kitchen sink. Pat it dry. Do NOT stuff it. Slather it with canola oil. Think about how you feel about eating turkey and honor your hesitation. Give thanks to the poor turkey for giving its life so you can honor a family and cultural tradition. Place the turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan and place it in the very hot oven for 25 minutes. Do not peek. (Alton Brown taught me this.)
Go watch football with your husband and son for 25 minutes. Wonder why this violent sport is so popular. Acknowledge that you find the familiar sound of whistles blowing on the tv in the background to be nostalgic and comforting. Muse about what Janay Palmer is doing today and how her relationship with Ray Rice will evolve when it is announced that he is being reinstated into the NFL.
- After 25 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven. Watch the smoke! (Gotta clean the oven!) Turn the temperature down to 350°. Cover the breast with a double layer of foil, cutting out a little hole for the button to pop so you can see it. Place the turkey back in the oven. For 2 hours. Do nothing. REALLY. No basting, no checking, no nothing. (Alton Brown taught me this.)
- After an hour and 45 minutes, begin peeking at the button to see if it’s popped. It should pop at 2 hours. If it doesn’t pop at 2 hours, take it out anyway and use your own thermometer to check the temperature. I swear it’s done. Do not overcook.
While it is resting, finish your sides and consider making gravy. Have someone else carve it. Serve buffet style, because you are done! How simple was that? Ask everyone to help with the clean-up.
Image Credit: Wild Turkey Cock, Hen and Young by John James Audubon