On Thanksgiving, I didn’t get up early and play football with friends from church, like I’ve done in years past. We didn’t drive to Utah or Idaho to see family, and they didn’t come to Oregon to visit us. We didn’t rush to cook a few side dishes and then spend the day with some friends. We didn’t deep clean the house, arguing with the kids to do their part so we wouldn’t be embarrassed when people came over. Instead, we slept late. Then we spent the day streaming Christmas movies, while cooking a modest meal of turkey, potatoes, and stuffing. We were just together. My wife Mel, our three kids, and myself. And as boring as that might sound, it was probably the simplest, least stressful Thanksgiving we’ve ever shared as a family.
At one point, I was sitting on the sofa, watching Elf with my 11-year-old daughter Norah snuggled up next to me, her head on my chest, and my six-year-old on my lap, and the older of the two said “I love you, Daddy.” It was one of the sweetest moments of my life. Mid afternoon, we left our 13-year-old son in charge, and my wife and I went on a drive around a lake not far from our house and listened to Christmas music, no rush, just the two of us, and it was simple and quiet, and we were both left with the wonderful feeling we hadn’t felt before kids of having nothing better to do.
I’ll admit, I was worried about Christmas. I was worried that it would be slow and boring, and that we’d be frustrated because we didn’t get to spend time with our extended family or friends. I assumed that the kids would really miss Grandma and Grandpa, and that they’d be let down because they didn’t get to see their cousins. The thought of us just sitting at the house doing nothing seemed like a boring way to spend the holidays. But now that we’ve done it — now that we spent a Thanksgiving as just us — I can’t help but look forward to another holiday of no rushing. No mad dash cleaning, no driving from one place to another, trying to cram every little bit of holiday into a 24-hour period, just to come home and feel exhausted, our children burned out and overstimulated.
It’s the safest thing to do. I’ll be honest here: I don’t want to bring COVID into my holiday. I don’t want to make this difficult time any harder by bringing a virus into our home that has killed over 250K Americans. And I don’t want to bring it into the homes of others accidentally, particularly our family who are at high risk of being hospitalized. So we are doing the responsible thing. We are staying home. On Christmas Eve, we will make cookies and pizza as a family, and watch Christmas movies. We are going to cook some ham and potatoes. On Christmas day, we are going to watch movies, put together a puzzle, play games, and maybe go on a drive.
Sure, we will get on FaceTime with Grandma and Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But this year, it’s just going to be the five of us in person, enjoying time together, no rushing, or arguing, or cleaning. And when I say that out loud, it sounds so simple and pure, and I can’t help but look forward to another just-us holiday.
Listen, I know that COVID really spoiled a lot of people’s plans for Thanksgiving. And I know that it is also spoiling a lot of people’s plans for the Christmas holiday. In fact, it’s spoiled a lot of people’s year. And I honestly feel terrible for those who don’t have family in the home to spend the holidays with. That’s a terrible place to be, and my heart goes out to you.
But if you are fortunate enough to have a young family at home, take advantage of this time. Use it as a moment to just be with your spouse and children. Watching movies, playing games, making cookies, cooking a simple, not-stressful meal. Forgo the holiday cleaning, and just let the house be. Go on a family drive and look at Christmas lights, or find a nice secluded hill for sledding, or go in the backyard and have a family snowball fight. Make some holiday memories that don’t include rushing, or getting up early and getting home late, or getting frustrated with the kids because the house won’t be in order before company arrives.
Take this whole pandemic as an opportunity to slow things down and just be a family, with all the snuggles and laughter that it can afford.
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