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In my 39 years, I have logged some serious time in the kitchen entertaining people. I’ve hosted bridal shower brunches and engagement dinners. I have baked pizzas from scratch for bosses and cranked out homemade pastas for birthdays. Just this past weekend, I cooked up Giuliani Bugiali’s crazy-complicated, crazy-delicious minestrone for my neighbors. But in my heart of hearts, I know I haven’t earned my stripes as a dinner host. I know this because I’ve never hosted Thanksgiving dinner. Not even once.
If it sounds like I’m dealing with inadequacy issues, please know it’s quite the opposite. At my family’s feast, I am expected to help out with a few side dishes, and I believe this marginal role (literally marginal role, by the way) is the main reason Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite celebration of the year. My mother and sister deal with the really stressful parts of the meal: the turkey, the timing, the setup, the cleanup. The only thing I’m really expected to do is make sure the Brussels sprouts are roasted, the mashed potatoes are creamy… and the kids are happy and far away from the feast preparation.
It’s not really that the kids get in the way. It’s just that, lest we forget, they are human, too, and tend to get thrown by the off-hour eating and end up gravitating toward the kitchen and grazing on the platters of cheese and crackers and crudites like everyone else. (But without realizing they are stuffing themselves.) It’s also because, well, it is Thanksgiving, after all, and I feel like if we can do a few fun activities that might help the kids conjure up a warm-and-fuzzy feeling next time they hear the word “Thanksgiving,” then we can pretty much retire as parents.
The trick is to conduct activities that accommodate a wide range of ages. (At least that’s the trick in my house, where the ages range from 3 to 9.) There was the one year I organized a scavenger hunt in my sister’s house, writing clues in pictures so that even my 3-year-old nephew could participate. If you can get yourself organized, it’s fun to have prizes for everyone when they get to the last clue—even if it that prize is only a stick of gum with a bow tied around it.
When the kids were really little, my sister and I bought make-a-plate kits for every kid whose motor skills were developed enough to hold a marker, and then had them draw “commemorative plates” for Thanksgiving that they would use for every Thanksgiving from that point forward. Maybe you will be more disciplined than I am and not wind up using the plate for other occasions like, say, the pre-soccer game, quick-and-dirty Hebrew Nationals-and-baby-carrot lunch. (And it would also help if you remember to bring the plates back to the feast every November.)
The last thing I make sure we do—usually with the grown-ups, but this year I’m going to enlist the kids, too—is our annual Turkey Trot. Even in high school, no matter how cold it was, my sister and I would throw on layer upon layer of sweatshirts and Hind spandex and hats and gloves and jog a mile or two while the turkey roasted. For the past 10 years, our brother and our spouses have joined in the run. This year, even if it’s just around the block once or twice, and even if we have to carry them most of the way, the kids are joining us.
And then we feast.
Jenny Rosenstrach is a writer, editor and mom of two young girls. She writes the blog Dinner: A Love Story.