Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Making memories...

...whether you want to or not

I think I've finally mastered the skill of not making an all-out assault on a major holiday.

It has taken quite awhile, considering I've been responsible in some way or another for family holidays since I was in my 20s. I admit that the weight of that responsibility is all my own. Back in the day, I had a soul-sucking habit of attributing too much sentimentality and piling too much food into one single day. This resulted in an entire week of a misery that, I was convinced, was never fully appreciated by those who benefitted from my martyrdom. By the evening of Thanksgiving, I'd be cross, cranky and ready for bed by 5 o'clock.

I had come by my holiday obsessions honestly. There was no such thing as a "quiet Thanksgiving" for my mother. Like every good Italian, it was required that there be approximately 50 percent more food than necessary for the number of people invited -- and the number of people invited was always inflated  because my mother invited anybody and everybody and, unless they told her "no" in so uncertain terms, they were counted as a definite. My mother, though, had both my grandmother and me helping out.

So the bar was set and every year I would frantically try to incorporate any and all traditions and even concocted some of my own. I would cram my kids with so much rich food and heartwarming ritual they would feel positively miserable if they had to spend the holiday anywhere other than with their perfect mother.

The first clue I had that I was missing the mark in the building memories department was the year that I made homemade cinnamon buns for Thanksgiving day breakfast. I got up at 6 a.m. to make sure they had enough time to rise and that they'd be hot and ready when everyone got up. They were absolutely wonderful and I couldn't help puffing up at my domestic derring-do...until one of the Heirs sighed, "But I sure miss those ones you used to make that popped out of the can."

Goodness knows, I tried to deliver the homey holiday Hallmark is convinced we're all supposed to have. I've tried the tradition of going around the table and saying one thing we're thankful for -- this dissolves into chaos pretty quickly when participants list "not having a gaping head wound" or "tequila." I had to hold up the Official Lighting of the Creche so the Bethlehem stable could be festooned with prayerfully and properly respectful, but anachronistic, action figures. I only tried a sing-a-long once -- it's amazing how quickly my family can come up with alternative lyrics...and I'm not talking about the kids, either. I gave up trying to inject tradition into holidays two decades ago.

Let me tell you something about traditions, particularly ones you concoct yourself -- they're never the ones your kids remember anyway. They pick their own favorites, thankyouverymuch, and the more embarrassing they are to you, the better.

For instance, we now have a tradition of guessing what dish I made that I forgot to put out. It's usually salad, but one year I woke up Friday morning to find the tiny nubs of brussels sprouts drying in the oven. Another favorite is guessing what time it will be when I'm finally so distracted by cooking that I forget to push food far enough back so our Australian Shepherd can't countersurf the cheese.

Heir 2 began a tradition of seeing how many times he could program the stereo to play "What's New Pussycat?" before it pisses someone off (he'll usually stick in one "It's Not Unusual," just to hear someone say, "Thank goodness!" to a song like "It's Not Unusual" -- which is then followed again by more "What's New Pussycat?").

And, once again, I will dig out the basket of nuts for Heir 1. So he can look at them and know they are there. (Do not eat any of the nuts in the basket, should you visit us during the holidays. The boys weren't even in high school when I bought those nuts. But it just isn't the holiday season without the basket of nuts.)

So, I've learned to let go of the control of the holidays. I no longer wear myself out cooking a huge, complicated menu. Wonder of wonders: no one cares. Do I still fuss and cook on Thursday? You bet I do! Well, until it gets tedious. Then I stop, have a martini and enjoy myself. No one ever left my house hungry.

So Martha Stewart would probably cringe at the haphazard delivery of turkey right off the cutting board and self-serve dessert, not to mention my lumpy mashed potatoes. The wine is probably wrong and I never remember to put on my "nice clothes" after doing all the cooking.

And Topper will probably eat all the leftover Doritos out of the bowl someone leaves on the coffee table. Just like he did last year. And the year before that.

Apparently, it's tradition.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

All of a sudden...

I am that mother

When my sons were little I was determined I was not going to have fussy, demanding offspring who required a laundry list of conditions in order to function in society. I was downright smug about the fact that I could take the Heirs anywhere and they would adjust to the situation, even if it meant they'd be sleeping in drawers, wearing oversized men's t-shirts to bed or accepting strange food for breakfast (fish).

"Adjust!" I'd say nobley, the point being that the experience of being where or with whom was worth putting up with a few minor inconveniences. And they did.

Fast forward to 2013. Our nest has been empty for about two years and for awhile now the Heirs and I have been living more than an hour from each other. For the first time, only our desire to have a relationship with each other dictates whether or not we make the effort during this holiday season.

I spend most of my time being
The 2001 Sisiggy would have said, "If they want to be here, wonderful! This is what I have to offer. If it's not good enough, ADJUST! Or find a more accomodating establishment."
bewildered by the Heirs.

However, 2013 Sisiggy is running around frantically barking orders at Dirtman and obsessing over things like, "The boys don't like their towels hung up to dry; they like them dried in the dryer with fabric softener -- I HAVE TO REWASH ALL THE TOWELS!!!!"

The boys would find this strange, since while they were growing up they'd complain about being able to snowboard with the line-dried towels and I'd yell back that they were welcome to use their allowance money to check in at the Ramada for nice, soft towels. Otherwise...ADJUST!

Dinnertime was another strictly-held tradition. Either show up on time or fend for yourself: (all together) "I am NOT a short-order cook!"

So I had to know about Heir 2's plans the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving Day.

Phone conversation: 
Me: Will you be here for dinner Wednesday night?
Heir 2: By the time I get off work, run home and grab the cat and my stuff, I probably won't make it there until 9 or 10 o'clock.
Me: (pleasantly, with lilt in my voice) No problem. I can always throw something together for you if you're hungry.
Heir 2 and Dirtman (sitting with me and listening to my side of conversation):  WHAT?

I actually spent 15 minutes yesterday making sure I could find Heir 1's favorite fork. When he was little and his favorite fork was dirty, I'd snap, "Then I guess you'll be going hungry unless you can ADJUST!"

And the final proof that I'm a hopeless empty-nester: I added Cap'n Crunch cereal to my list...and didn't buy the generic knock-off.

So there you have it, my friends. I've become what I never in a million years thought I'd be -- one of those wussy, sentimental blobs of maternal goo*. And, I have to admit -- it frightens me. I'm afraid of losing my edge. The only last step for me if when I start watch all those sappy Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel -- at that point, just shoot me.
*This will open a whole new category of joke: 
How many Wussy, Sentimental Blobs of Maternal Goo does it take to screw in a light bulb?
"None, my darling. I'll just sit in the dark and think of you!"