I’ll admit it: I’m procrastinating. There is cleaning to be done before guests arrive at my house for Thanksgiving. And I’m finding other (very important) things that must be done before cleaning. Like teaching myself Mandarin Chinese. This skill could be useful for decades to come, whereas a clean house will become unclean within hours. Therefore learning another language is a more responsible choice than cleaning!
Cleaning is just not my favorite thing. I’ve put off certain cleaning tasks in the last week because I told myself that the kids would undo any cleaning efforts I’d made—in a matter of seconds!—so what was the point? But whether I like it or not, the instinct to declutter before guests arrive is simply part of hosting a holiday.
So I’ve decided to take my feet-dragging attitude toward cleaning and find the useful kernel hidden inside the mess. I’m blogging about it today, since many Americans are in the same position I am—finding things to read on the Internet rather than cleaning their homes. Hey—we’ll stuff two birds with one post. I’ll write, you’ll read. Procrastination multitasking. Symbiosis.
In truth, today’s blog post has been forming in my head for the last week. I had three moments inside of twenty four hours that pointed to my internal battle about cleaning and holiday preparation. They rolled themselves into a Thanksgiving recipe, but not in the usual sense. There’s nothing to measure. Nothing to eat afterward. But also, no dirty dishes waiting at the end. This is my playful recipe not for the perfect Thanksgiving, but for a happy gathering. Pressuring ourselves to achieve perfection only results in anxiety beforehand and letdown afterward. But we can aim for a happy Thanksgiving.
This is the time of year when many magazine covers feature the annoyingly named “picture perfect” holiday meals: glossy, golden turkeys, glistening side dishes, kids with clean faces. I’m throwing down the gauntlet and suggesting that this pressure for perfection poisons the experience. I’m going to refuse to feel pressured, and focus on having a good time instead.
The first inspiration for my Thanksgiving recipe came one afternoon last week when I was in a store, waiting in line at the register. In front of me was a man with a service dog. Just as someone got in line behind me, I realized that the dog had gas. I’ve never had a dog but even I know that man’s best friend sometimes has the worst gas. Ever. There I was, sandwiched between a stinky dog and another customer. My immediate reaction was to hope that the person behind me didn’t think that I was responsible for the smell. Within a second I plotted my two options. I could turn to the person behind me and jokingly warn about Fido’s fierce farts. But would my explanation look like a cover up? Sure, blame the dog. He can’t defend himself. Shoot--I was in a pickle. The other option was to ignore the matter and hope that Fido soon left the building. I went with that choice. Because even if the customer behind me blamed me for the aroma, was it the end of the world? No. I vowed to worry only about what’s really important. Since I wasn’t actually shopping for The Big Day, you may wonder what this story has to do with Thanksgiving. Don’t worry. I’m getting to get to that.
The second piece of today’s recipe formed the following morning, when I asked an acquaintance about his Thanksgiving plans. He said that his family’s Thanksgiving tradition came about by accident one year when plans to go to someone’s house fell through at the last minute. There were no more turkeys available so they made lasagna instead. Now it’s their annual Thanksgiving meal.
The third piece of this post fell into place later the same morning, when I was at the pharmacy and joked with a woman about the cleaning I needed to do before Thanksgiving. She said, “Oh, I know how you feel. You want it to look perfect.” To which I replied, “Actually, no. I just want it to look slightly better than it does right now!” We laughed, but I realized I was serious, too. Sure, before the guests appear I could do all the deep cleaning I don’t like doing. I could go crazy with scrubbing and dusting and end up with a massive allergy attack and a short fuse as the guests arrive. Or I could tidy up somewhat and say, “That’s good enough.” Some might call it a cop-out but I’m calling it Sanity Prevention. My being in a good mood will relax my guests and they’ll feel more comfortable, which beats my being an exhausted, grouchy host with a spotless house.
My “worry less” approach is not one I’ve had my whole life. For many years I pressured myself to be perfect, and not to make mistakes. I wanted to be loved and not to be judged as lacking. But all the pressure I put on myself didn’t end up in my feeling happy. It made me anxious and ruined the fun of whatever I was trying to do. So I’ve broken up with perfection and I’m applying what I’ve learned to Thanksgiving. A happy holiday shouldn’t be about the spotless house, festive decorations or the quest for the perfect dinner. I think it should be about enjoying the day. And if you’re aiming for perfection you’re weighted down by pressure. Where’s the enjoyment in that?
So let me bring together my three ingredients in my recipe for a good Thanksgiving:
1) If a dog farts in a checkout line and no one hears it, don’t worry that you’ll be blamed. Save energy for what matters. Likewise, don’t worry about impeccable table settings, the “perfect” turkey, ideal side dishes and flawless desserts. Just aim for good and don’t give yourself an ulcer in the quest for the Holy Grail.
2) If your turkey gets too dry, don’t fret. Call the main dish Authentic Turkey Jerky. Laugh about it. And fill up on side dishes. Or make lasagna.
3) Don’t make yourself miserable agonizing about whether your home is dust-free, polished to perfection and company-ready. Our enjoyment of Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the house looking like a glossy magazine photo.
Recipe aside, if nothing else, I hope this story has given you a laugh. In my mind, humor is probably the most important ingredient in any celebration. I wish you a beautifully imperfect, laughter-filled, memorable, happy Thanksgiving…