"What should we do for Thanksgiving this year?" he asked as we drove along, each of us gazing out the window as we made our way home.
We had already declined invitations and decided to stay home. With illness and travel and just the bustle of daily life in the fall, I longed for a day to just stay put. So, I knew he was asking about the meal. What should we eat? His question, however, wasn't as clear to the carseat-bound child behind us.
"What do you mean?" my daughter piped up from the backseat.
"Well, on Thanksgiving, people usually eat turkey," he went on. But then he paused. And then he said the words that should logically come next when you are trying to teach your children to be open-minded, make the world your own, don't be bound by convention. Except, of course, when convention is a tradition so deeply engrained that it seems to be not just synonymous with the holiday, but actually becomes the holiday itself.
He said, "But we don't have to eat turkey."
"I don't want to eat turkey," she said, without missing a beat. Maybe it was the Indian blood coursing through her veins that makes her one of the only kids I know to crave chicken tikka. Or call it typical kid pickiness. But in her five years of Thanksgivings, she's never liked turkey. Or mashed potatoes. Or cranberries. She'll even pass on the pumpkin pie. The meal that people gorge themselves on, filling plates with second helpings of things that only seem to grace the table for a few months at a time, she could, and does, go without.
And so it began. Our non-traditional Thanksgiving meal-planning. By the time we arrived home, we had planned a meal of beef with a side of pasta with red sauce and green beans, only because we required her to pick a vegetable. Corn bread is the only traditional Thanksgiving staple to have survived, and it was non-negotiable.
There have been times in my life when this would have appalled me. I wouldn't have stood for it. Because there was a time when everything had to fit nicely into a box. Everything had to be done just the way it always had been done. Turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ham for Easter. The list, of course, covered much more than just food, and I'd continue listing them here for you if I could. But, the truth is, I threw those boxes away long ago.
Kids break the boxes. With their wants and needs and complete ignorance of the way things have always been done (or maybe it's that they just don't care), they break the boxes we set up to organize our lives. They call everything into question. What really matters? What is worth fighting for? Which boxes are worth repairing again and again with tape and staples, bubble gum and Band-Aids, and which are OK to just collapse because they weren't all that useful anyway?
What really matters?
Does it matter that this year, as everyone else we know carves a turkey and breaks a wishbone, we roast beef? Does it matter that we're calling it quits on pumpkin early this year and will, instead, probably indulge in something dripping in chocolate at the end of our meal? Or does it matter that on Thanksgiving evening, the four of us will gather around our table, happy and excited about sharing a meal together? That we'll sit and use our words to talk and connect and share what we're grateful for rather than counting bites and begging little people to "just try it."
What really matters? The people matter. And believe me, I know it's hard, this time of year especially, to focus on the people. Never does the way things have always been tempt us more than during the holidays. Tradition marks our lives all year long, but it really goes big right now and we begin to believe that it won't be Thanksgiving without the turkey. So, we force it and we make it happen, because that's just what you do to make the holiday real. But the truth is, Thanksgiving is a celebration. It's coming together. Being with family. Giving thanks. It's the gratitude and the love that make Thanksgiving a true celebration. No matter what you're giving thanks for and what you're stuffing in your face as you give it.
Originally published on Raising Humans