People don’t agree on much during the holidays, but I think one thing we can agree on is that this time of year is nuts. Even if you don’t have a big family visiting or a ton of people to shop or cook for, just existing in a populated area in November and December can be a bit overwhelming.
We hosted Turkey Day at our house, so there was a bit to juggle. In addition to cooking the bird itself and 99 side dishes, we also had to rearrange furniture to fit a few extra people, make sure the kids got through their homework on time, help my stepdaughter study for a reading test, work on several more paintings for an upcoming art show I’m in, go to work every day, maybe the gym, possibly sleep at some point, and try to remain at least partially sane.
That’s kind of how I felt last week.
I mean, sure, losing your mind is pretty much part of the seasonal tradition. But sometimes, it helps to not take things so super seriously. Sometimes, you just have to roll with it.
That’s what I told my husband when I suggested the kids should help us cook the Thanksgiving side dishes.
“It’ll probably be a little stressful,” I acknowledged. “But we got this. I think it’ll be worth it.”
+ accomplishing holiday chores
+ teaching life skills
He was on board, so we all gathered in the kitchen and dove in headfirst. Well, some of us dove. Some of us dipped a toe in and found the water rather cold, but still begrudgingly stepped deeper.
My 7-year-old stepdaughter was the enthusiastic one. “Don’t start without me!” she yelled, bounding to the sink to wash her hands.
“Wow, she’s excited,” commented my 11-year-old stepson. “That’s the exact opposite of me right now.”
But though he wasn’t thrilled, he didn’t sound actively upset. And we weren’t discouraged! Nope, we were going to make this HAPPEN.
We started with potatoes, reminding the kids how to hold a knife, and soon, both were chopping away like little sous chefs.
Each time my stepson’s pile of chopped potatoes on the cutting board grew too large, he informed his dad, “The product is ready for export!” Which meant, his dad could move that pile to the bowl. (I thought it was funny, and showed he was at least a little engaged.)
Then beets, sweet potatoes, onions and seasonings.
My stepson was in charge of reading the instructions and doubling the ingredients (we were aiming for lots of leftovers). Both kids took turns measuring the spices and olive oil. So far, everything was going pretty darn well.
Then it was time to mix the sweet potatoes with the seasonings. Everything had been put into a large ziplock bag, and my husband reminded his son to close the top before shaking everything together.
As we watched, he slid the little zipper thing across the top. He did. I saw him do it. But just as he grabbed both sides of the bag and heaved upwards to shake it, I saw something else.
If slow motion were a thing in real life, it should have set in right there.
Both my husband and I started rushing forward at the same time, our combined cry of “Noooooooo!” filling the kitchen. Both kids froze, my stepson’s hands still on the bag, as he tried to combat the upward momentum of the shake.
The top hadn’t closed. He’d zipped it, but it hadn’t closed. Sweet potatoes and diced onions flew from the bag’s open mouth, soaring overhead and raining down in a hail of orange and purple, splattering to the floor in a chorus of little thuds. (Thuds. Spuds. Thuds of spuds. Hah! Sorry, that just happened in my brain.)
“Oh my gosh I’m so so sorry!” my stepson’s face instantly morphed into a picture of panic.
That was the last thing I wanted. Sure, ingredients rolling all over the floor wasn’t something I wanted either, but having the kid feel terrible over a cooking mishap would be even worse.
“It’s OK!” I reassured him. “It was an accident! That happens sometimes.”
Sure, it would have been easy to get frustrated and yell at him in that moment. “You should have looked! You should have checked it! How could you miss that?”
But what good would that have done? It would have only made him feel worse, and turned him off from cooking even more than he already was. Yes, this meant a little more work to clean up and rechop a few things. But so what? Sometimes, it helps to not take things so super seriously.
Hugs were given and reassurances were made. As we swept up the once-airborne vegetables, he inspected the bag, and realized the zipper didn’t actually zip closed at all, no matter which way it was slid. It hadn’t even been his fault, and I think that made him feel better.
With a little bit of effort, everything was put right, and we were back on track — which had been easier to reclaim because we’d managed to keep a level head even when things didn’t go as we’d planned them.
See, sometimes, you just have to roll with it. Like a sweet potato across the kitchen floor.
Originally published in The Herald News on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.