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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Obamacare, Not Enough Turkey, and Too Many Brussels Sprouts

This November, I did something unforgivable. I offered to host Thanksgiving.

“Are you crazy?” Monty asked me, when I told him what I was thinking. We were sitting on the couch, and MSNBC was on mute during a commercial break, so we had about three minutes to dissect the entire issue.
 I figured his was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t answer him directly. Instead, I laid out the talking points, or the foundation of my platform:

·         If we hosted it would easier for my dad to be part of the celebration. Ever since he had a stroke last summer, it’s overwhelming for him to be in unfamiliar places. He mostly stays home, and if he does go out, it’s usually over to Monty’s and my house.
·         Our three-year-old  (Noah )still takes naps, so having it at our house would save us the hassle of trying to get him to sleep at a certain time or in someone else’s bed. Plus, the kids would be able to play in the playroom all day, and we wouldn’t have to worry so much about entertaining them.
·         Monty and I have a ton of room and a massive kitchen that ought to be used for family gatherings. Otherwise, what’s the point of even living here? We should share the wealth. We could even invite friends and neighbors to join in.

Monty looked skeptical, so I clutched his knee and went on.  “We’ll take a free-market approach to the whole affair.  People can show up whenever they want and we’ll keep the day laid back. It will be fun.”
He arched an eyebrow. “I suppose next you’re going to say that if people like the current side-dish that they bring, that doesn’t need to change?”
“Well, why would it?”
Monty shook his head and chuckled. “Babe, you’re not thinking things through. I can understand your motives, trying to care for people with pre-existing conditions and providing a quality Thanksgiving for everyone. But you’re forgetting one thing.”
I sighed. “What’s that?”
He took me by both shoulders in a burst of drama. “The status quo will want you to fail, and she will exploit every flaw in your new system.”
“Nope,” I said with utter confidence. “There won’t be any flaws. I’ll make sure of it.”
He peered deeply into my eyes and spoke in a slow, measured tone.  “Lucy, of course there will be flaws. Everything has flaws. And she will pounce on them, insist that you’ve ruined Thanksgiving, and declare that your new system is completely defunct.”
Then Monty looked away from me, realizing that Rachel Maddow was back from commercial. He released his grip and turned the sound back on the TV. It was as if his having the last word was the conclusion to our conversation. And it’s not like I didn’t think about what he said. I did. But in the end, accommodating my ailing father and my young son seemed more important than placating the status quo, aka Natalie, my mother-in-law.

She always hosts holidays. But this is the first year that Monty and I have actually lived here in town, and I figured it was time to revamp the scheme of things. She’d still have Christmas. But Thanksgiving? We could afford a caring holiday celebration that wouldn't simply accommodate to those who were already covered, but to everyone involved. Who could argue with that?
At first, nobody did. Even Natalie welcomed the idea. “Oh, it will be a relief not to have to host,” she said. “It’s a lot of work. Thank you for offering to do it.”
I took her at her word. I mean, sure, Natalie and I have had our differences, but I’ll never forget how supportive she was this summer, when my father was in the hospital and Monty was in Botswana. She cared for Noah and Abby without expecting so much as a thank you in return. It reminded that me that fundamentally, we’re on the same side and we do want the same things.
 “She’s just messing with you,” Monty said, when I told him her response. “You’ll see.”
So I made sure to have all my bases covered. I sent out emails, telling people to bring side-dishes, but I also made suggestions, like “bring a vegetable dish” or “some sort of dessert would be great.” I gave people a window of time for arriving, and stated that dinner would be at four. And I bought a beautiful clay casserole dish, the most expensive type there is, to bake the turkey in. I heard that these dishes make the turkeys incredibly moist, so I figured I couldn't go wrong.

But then I lost my focus, and became more concerned with the details than I was with the bigger picture. I cringe now when I think of it: I just wanted to learn how to sear Brussels sprouts.  Jack has been serving a seared Brussels sprout and bacon appetizer at his restaurant, thus combing two of the hippest food trends right now into one, and capitalizing on both. I have tasted this appetizer, and it’s AMAZING. I made him promise to teach me how to make it, and he said he would.
So on Thanksgiving Day, people were milling around, enjoying appetizers, drinks, and conversation.  The kids were playing and everyone was happy. The turkey was in the oven, and Jack and I were in the kitchen, getting ready to sear some Brussels sprouts. 
Then Natalie came in with a covered dish. Before she even greeted us she looked down at the cutting board and said, “Oh. You’re making Brussels sprouts? I wish you had told me! I always make my Brussels sprouts with pecans dish, and you had said I could bring whatever I wanted.”
“Mom,” Jack said. “It’s fine. They’re different enough. People will eat both.”
Then Robin, Jack and Monty’s cousin, walked in and greeted us. She was carrying a large salad bowl and looked excitedly to Jack, “It’s a shaved Brussels sprouts and walnut salad. I got the recipe off of Pinterest, after you told me how big Brussels sprouts are right now.”
“Wow,” said Natalie, sounding skeptical. “Hopefully not everyone has heard this news yet, and they’ll bring something else. Like broccoli with cheese? That’s always a good staple. Or corn? Corn on Thanksgiving is nice.” Natalie eyed me with contempt. “You did ask someone to bring the corn, right?”
I rolled my shoulders back and tried to keep them from drooping. “I wanted to keep things open.”
Natalie put her hands on her hips. “So we’re having turkey and Brussels sprouts? Anything else?”
I was about to yes, in fact, we were having rolls, and cranberry sauce, and a vegetarian friend had brought a cheesy polenta dish (which counts as corn), but I couldn't get the words out. Because then there was a huge, awful cracking sound in the oven, with a loud popping and some smoke.
“What in God’s name!” Natalie yelled, which only drew attention and several people, including Monty, came running into the kitchen.
“Step back, everyone,” Monty instructed, as he turned off the oven and gingerly opened it up. He scrutinized the disaster and shook his head like a regretful doctor after an unsuccessful surgery. Monty turned in my direction and spoke softly, only to me, but of course everyone else could hear. “I’m sorry, Luce. But the turkey is ruined. That clay pot you bought split down the middle, and everything is just a huge mess.”
“But I bought the most expensive pan they had!” I said, instantly desperate to defend myself. And I was met with the cold, unforgiving eyes of my mother-in-law. She said nothing, but she didn’t have to. She had already won the moral high ground.
“It’s not your fault the pan was defective,” said Robin. “Sometimes that just happens.”
“We’ll clean it up. It will be fine,” said Monty.
“But not in time to fix Thanksgiving!” said Natalie.
“I’ll run down and grab more food,” said Jack, referring to his restaurant kitchen. “We can scrounge stuff together. There will be plenty to eat.”

So everyone was very nice about it, nobody blamed me, and there was plenty to eat, even if we had not enough turkey and too many Brussels sprouts. But I had to live with the knowledge that sometimes, even if you work hard and you really want to succeed, you can still fail. A small crack can grow into a huge, unhealthy gap if you’re not watching. Then what do you do? You hope that there’s nobody waiting, rooting for a fiasco and ready to exploit your mistakes.

To her credit, Natalie was actually very gracious after the mess was cleaned up and dinner was served. “Thank you for a wonderful day,” she said, kissing me on the cheek, “and I’m so sorry about your turkey.”  I could tell she was sincere. So that was enough for me to be thankful for. Because I know, in this country, in similar situations, not everyone takes the high road. Maybe it’s time that we do.