My husband and I both
live far away from our families, so every year at Thanksgiving time we
check flights and see if we can swing a trip across the country. Because the cost of getting our family of
four across the country is staggering, we usually decide to stay home and save
our pennies for the longer Christmas break.
I mope around for a few days, swathed in self-pity and sadness that we won’t be
with our families for the holidays. When
that gets old, I look at my husband and say three magic words: “Let’s host Thanksgiving!”
He’s always game
because he loves to cook and entertain. I do too. But this routine has
gotten more challenging now that we have two kids. And by “more challenging,” I mean that we’ve
had to spend as much time planning how to manage the kids as we do coordinating
the stuffing and potatoes.
After three years,
we’ve perfected the recipe for preparing a great meal and taking care of our children. Like our famous pumpkin pie, this recipe has been honed through a
tremendous amount of trial and error.
So if you’re going to
be far from your family this Thanksgiving, jump into the hosting game, but
don’t forget to make a plan for taking care of your kids because it will make a
long day feel like an eternity if you don’t.
1. Art Project During Key Cooking Time
While I am cooking, I generally want my kids out of the way. It’s dangerous to have them near the hot
stove and boiling pots. Oh, and sometimes I curse when I cook. Pick a time when you know you want them out of
the way and give them an art project. I let my kids make the place mats for the
meal. A day before we collect fall
leaves and on Thanksgiving morning, I give them a bottle of glue and construction
paper. When they are absorbed in their
project, I get a few moments of peace to baste my turkey and drop some “F”
2. Setting the Table
Toddlers and preschoolers like to organize and arrange stuff, so I let
my kids organize the table. Pile everything you want on the table and let
them set the table. Be sure to give
yourself a few moments at the end to give it some finishing touches (read: fix
it) and voila!
3. Let Them Cook
If you’ve been a parent for more than 30 minutes, you already know you have to let go of control.
If you’ve been a parent for more than 30 minutes, you already know you have
to let go of control. Thanksgiving is no
different. I pick one dish that I am
willing to cede to my children and let them prepare it. My 5-year-old likes to cut the ends off
the green beans (with a dull knife) and my 3-year-old likes to get his
hands on the potato masher. It take a
little longer, but it’s worth it to let them take part in the meal preparation.
4. Ask for Help Giving the Kids Attention
As parents, we all know we can’t do it all. I have to work the day before and the day
after Thanksgiving, so I’m not going to be able to do a bunch of preparation
ahead of time. While I’m busy in the
kitchen, I don’t want my kids to feel ignored for hours. I’m asking a friend to come over and play
with the kids. Luckily, I have friends
who hate to cook and love my kids, so they are happy to come and do Legos or
draw pictures while we get the food ready.
Maybe it’s just my kids, but they love to be in charge. Nothing gives them more pleasure than the
feeling that they are the bosses of themselves. For the Thanksgiving meal, I’m going to let them be in charge of what
they eat. No griping about how few green
beans they eat. No badgering them about
their protein-to-starch ratio. I’m
giving myself and them a night off from the power struggle that so often seeps
into our meal times.