Growing up in a tight-knit Italian family meant that every Sunday I would get together to eat dinner (...at 3 o'clock) with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a zillion other people who were not aunts, uncles, or cousins but who were nevertheless given those titles. Since I attended massive family gatherings every few days, I never quite got the Thanksgiving hype. Aside from eating turkey instead of pasta (and there is always a pasta dish in addition to the turkey at an Italian-American Thanksgiving, because if we don't eat pasta, I'm pretty sure we die), it was basically exactly the same as any other night. Isn't this just a Sunday dinner on a Thursday? It just wasn't a big deal for me.
Now that I'm an adult, I'm a little more in the spirit. Another thing that has helped me get into the swing of things is having kids, because I get to see them making the kind of memories with the next generation of my loud Italian family that I made (though these days it's my loud Italian-Puerto Rican-German-Irish-Polish family). My kids are 4 years old and 18 months old now, and while children do inspire a kind of holiday magic most of us haven't felt since we were children, the downside is that having kids is that holidays do not stand a chance of being even the slightest bit relaxing (at least for the first few years until they can play, unsupervised, for hours at a time, and don't need you to fix them a plate and cut up their food into microscopic pieces because you're terrified of choking hazards. I once cut their grapes into eighths. EIGHTHS.) Even if you're going over someone else's house and don't have to deal with cooking or cleaning, you're going to be on your kids like a hawk, because chances are that house is not child-proof and you're paranoid about them toppling your cousin Veronica's ridiculously fragile crystal parrot collection.
Toddlers stand upon the precipice of independence, so as a toddler parent you have a healthy mix of fun holiday experiences with them and crappy ones that leave you wondering why you didn't fake an illness and just stay home, because it would have been so much easier. I personally don't remember what being a toddler on Thanksgiving is like, but based on my experiences with my kids I can guess some of the following...
"Who The Hell Are All Of These People?"
"Where are you going with those legs? Get them back here! I need to hide behind them. Who the hell is this joker telling me to hug them? I'm not and they can't make me. OMG, this house is full of total randos but they all seem to know me and it's freaking me the eff out. I can't deal... oh wait, is that my favorite cousin... standing next to a huge table full of desserts? Bye."
"Why Is Everyone Going On About This Parade? It Is Wildly Uninteresting. Can We Turn On Netflix?"
Is this just my kids? I feel like everyone in my family gets so excited to watch the parade with them and they could not give fewer f**ks. Maybe it's genetic; I've never cared for parades, either.
"How Can This Be A Holiday If I Don't Get Presents?"
"On Valentine's Day, I get Valentines and chocolate. Easter I get an Easter basket. Halloween means candy. My friend Aneesa told me she gets gifts on Eid. Christmas and Hanukkah, obviously you get presents. This Thanksgiving business? What do I get? Turkey? That's not a gift. This is a trick."
"This Outfit Is Coming Off NOW."
"Why did you put me in nice clothes to eat dinner at Aunt Loretta's house? Lame. I'm vetoing this decision. Don't worry. Everyone is going to love my Batman underwear."
"Why Is The Pie Out If We Can't Eat It?"
"At best, you've made a thoughtless decision. At worst, you're both irrational and cruel. I mean jeez. When will you learn I have literally no impulse control? Fine, leave the cake right there. If half the frosting is gone by the time the rest of you people decide to eat it, that's on you."
"Stuffing IS A Complete Meal."
(This is hard to argue with my toddlers, because I agree. Screw turkey — stuffing is the true Queen of Thanksgiving.)
"Why On Earth Did You Bother Putting Vegetables On My Plate?"
"Because no. Don't get me wrong: I think your attempts are noble and precious, but why would you bother? Oh. Wait. Is it because your judgmental sister and her four perfectly behaved, gluten-free vegetarians are sitting across the table from us, smiling smugly? I'll compromise. I'm not going to eat the vegetables, but I will "spontaneously" point out the next parallelogram I see then segue into facts about sharks that are intellectually advanced for my age."
"It's Funny That You Call This Food Turkey! It's Silly Because That's The Same Thing We Call The Bird. Wait... WHAT?!"
On a day when a meat product is in the spotlight, this fact of life is more likely to be realized. Just be prepared for the conversation.
"Oh. Nap Is Cancelled... Maybe Forever?"
"Hahahaha! Come on. There are approximately 76 other screaming children aged 2 to 15 running around in what I think is the largest furnished basement I've ever seen in my life. Besides, I'm bonding with my cousins. Now go away, you're kind of... intruding."
"My Parents Don't Seem To Like Uncle Larry. I Should Help The Situation By Repeating The Last Thing I Heard Them Whispering About Him. I'm Sure "Alcoholic Narcissist" Is A Compliment."
"Look at me, facilitating communication, smoothing over the rough spots in conversation... why is it so quiet? Why is everyone turning different shades of red? Whatever. I'll go get some more pie."
Images: Jamey Kenney; Giphy(10)