I have never run a marathon but I have hosted many Thanksgiving dinners. Yesterday was the biggest Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever hosted, 24 people. Like a marathon, T-day prep starts way before the actual day. The invites go out weeks in advance. The food purchases start the week before. The smaller details like who will bring the pies and extra chairs have to be covered ahead of time too.
Besides the meal, our house also had to be prepared. As luck would have it, Minnesota got its first real snow fall of the year (8-10 inches) two days before Thanksgiving so the driveway and sidewalk had to be cleared. On the inside, bathrooms were cleaned. Trash was emptied and clutter disappeared (i.e. moved to the laundry room where no one would see it). Mark, my husband, did most of these tasks.
The physical work of hosting is also accompanied by emotional labor. I’ve heard that word tossed around a lot recently, as in “Women still handle most of the emotional labor in a household.”
I take emotional labor to mean, the concerns about whether or not everyone feels taken care of and seen. Will my kids feel comfortable talking with my new husband’s family? Checking in with each person to see how life is treating them. Sending leftovers home with those who will appreciate them. Thanking everyone for coming and for their help. Interestingly, this holiday work both drains and energizes me. It’s really my favorite part. Each year, I get a little better about letting go of making every detail perfect for everyone.
Who’s running with me?
I used to do the holiday marathon mostly by myself. I pushed through it to get to the end as fast as possible, so I could rest.
Some years my mom, sister and brother-in-law helped. Like running buddies, we encouraged each other by discussing if the mashed potatoes had enough salt and how to make gravy. My mom was the gravy expert. We could talk and laugh as we got through the holiday meal tasks. All work is easier when shared.
Years of practice to be good
This year, Mark was my running buddy. There was still a lot of prep work and cleaning up afterward but I paced myself as an experienced marathoner does. I also allowed myself “water breaks” throughout the day. I sat and watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Mark for a half an hour between food preparation. I talked with my sisters-in-law for a few minutes amid the hustle. They also helped with food and clean up, bless them. My kids even jumped in and made the mashed potatoes. I sat down and leisurely ate a piece of pumpkin pie. The breaks allowed me to reach the finish line without collapsing.
As an experienced Thanksgiving runner, I told my husband to stop carving the turkey (he’d already carved up one bird and was deep into the second one) and sit down to eat with me.
At the end of the night, as we lay in bed, Mark said he can’t remember when our bed felt so good. He was exhausted. His help was instrumental to the success of our dinner. I will have to teach him how to pace himself.
How was your Thanksgiving? Did you host? Does it drain or energize you?