The people that we love and care about are often the source of our greatest frustrations, and also our most profound joy. It has taken me a while, but now I understand the clenched fists, knuckles tattooed with, alternatively, L-O-V-E, and H-A-T-E.
Luckily, this weekend, the L-O-V-E fist was raised. Our son returned from school for a visit. He is hundreds of miles away on the East Coast, so he doesn’t get home often. His aunt, uncle, and grandparents hoped to see him, so we hosted a family Sunday lunch. I wanted to make the get-together happen; but, I didn’t want to spend his entire visit getting ready for Sunday. I did something I don’t usually do – I let go of the idea of creating a perfect family gathering.
The meal was simple, which seemed appropriate for a Sunday afternoon: hamburgers, chips, assorted appetizers, strawberry shortcake. The homemade items included my refrigerator pickles and strawberry shortcakes. I’ve eagerly climbed aboard the ship sailing away from port “Everything from Scratch.” I even bought the whipped cream in a can.
So, what happens when you only cook hamburgers and shortcakes the day of the party?Does your family think less of you? Do they have a bad time? Do they criticize your home and your food? Nope; but, here is what does happen:
First, you actually get to be a part of the conversation. I can’t tell you how many holidays and celebrations I have spent running between the kitchen and dining room. By delegating some tasks to the market or take out service, or even to other family members, you get to sit down and engage in conversation with the people you love. You aren’t thinking about when the beans need to be cooked, or whether you left something in the microwave (I always do). You have your wits about you to participate in the story-telling, update sharing, and reminiscing that families do when they are together. Imagine that!
A friend told me the story of her Christmas cookie revelation, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Every year, she would spend the two weeks before Christmas baking mounds of cookies, in every variety imaginable. It took hours, but she believed that those cookies were a part of her family’s Christmas tradition that she wouldn’t give it up, even when her job got intense.
Then, last year, she caught the flu right before the holidays. She couldn’t make all of those cookies. Instead, she bought several big cookie trays from the warehouse club, and mixed the few that had she baked, with the purchased ones, on her cookie platters.
She promptly gave up baking massive amounts of Christmas cookies. No one’s worse off for it, especially her!
Second, you get to participate in the fun. There were Christmases when I never saw my family open their gifts, and I didn’t open mine, until it was time for everyone to leave! Now, as I think back on those times, I can’t imagine why it was so important to refill every snack dish, or why it was so urgent that the wrapping be put out with the trash, that I couldn’t be with my family for the fun stuff.
Third, your family will actually want you to be around. By letting go of some of the perceived perfection, you let go of the work and anxiety that comes with that quest for perfection. You are not as tired or grumpy, you don’t snap at your spouse and kids. One Christmas, my daughter looked at me tearily and said, “I hate it when you get like this. How can I help?” That hurt.
As I write this, I realize (and, maybe you do, too) that I still have a way to go; but, I am getting a little better, and my kids are now adults who help my husband and me with party preparation and cleanup. The extended family has always been willing to cook or buy anything we needed. I now must start thinking ahead about what would help, and start asking for that help.
‘Cause, it really isn’t about the food.
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