I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It's one of my favorite holidays because it's family and food-centric, and I love sharing food with my family. Even as a young parent, when we didn’t always have much food, we made the best of what we had and enjoyed preparing it together. It was as much about the cooperation in the kitchen and dance of multiple people of various ages making the meal as it was about the finished product. My daughter recently told me that a friend asked her how old she was when she learned to cook. Her answer was that she couldn’t remember not cooking. There are lots of easy ways to cook with your kids.
I had just turned twenty-two when she was born and was living on the West Coast, far from any family or friends. My husband went to work each day, and I set about learning to be a mom. From the time she was born, she spent her time with me in the kitchen. As an infant, she sat on the table in her little seat, and watched me as I baked bread, made soups and learned to cook. It was just the two of us, and I love to chatter, so I would narrate the day explaining the entire process aloud. When she was able to sit-up, I gave her a bit of flour on her high chair tray or other harmless ingredients to play with to include her in the process. Pretty soon, she was cooking, stirring the batter and adding the pre-measured cups of flour or sugar. She graduated to pre-measured teaspoons of vanilla and pretty soon she mastered egg-cracking. It wasn’t difficult to teach her if I wasn’t feeling rushed. When I took the time to show her and include her, it made my life so much easier, the jobs often went quicker and our time together was fun and utilitarian. She learned how to cook, and I learned how to include my children in kitchen tasks, including licking the beaters clean. We always cleaned up as we went along, finishing the last bits immediately afterwards. That way the cleaning became part of the recipe.
I cooked with my other children, grandchildren and whatever children happened to be visiting, too. Pancakes are a lot of fun to make. They’re easy prepare and hard to ruin. Depending on your child’s age, they can stand on a chair or sit on a stool near the stove close enough to see the griddle but far enough away to be safe. I often make animal shapes with the batter – a cat’s face, a turtle, a rabbit. After they’ve been flipped once and cooked on the second side, you can put eyes, nose and a mouth by dripping a thin line or dot of batter onto the cooked side and flipping it once more. For fun, ask your child what animal they want and go for the challenge. I’ve had some crazy requests like a rhinoceros and a giraffe, but no matter what they looked like to me, the kids always seemed to see the shape they asked for, though I must admit, I sometimes asked for a second chance. Eventually, they learned to do the flipping themselves.
With the winter holidays coming up, it's a great time to bake some cookies. I always try to include the young ones in the decisions about what to make. As adults, we're sometimes creatures of habit, making the same recipe every year. When I started letting my children have a say, I discovered lots of new recipes that have now become favorites. There are lots of great cooking magazines and cookbooks at the libraries and online. Why not go browsing together, drooling over the yummy treats? Even if I don't plan to make all of them, I love finding out what appeals to each person and our kids want to know what we like as well. Also, don't forget ... music makes everything a little better.
Thanksgiving is next week. Everyone's busy making plans for the big day. Some of you will be traveling, visiting friends or family. Some of you will stay close to home. Either way, it's a busy time, and our children always seem to pick up on the excitement. Even the youngest ones want to be a part of it all, and there are some simple and fun ways to include them. I always liked the formality of the big dinner and would get my children and grandchildren to help decorate. One year we made place cards with photos of each of us. Here's a coloring page for you of a Native American that could be used to paste a photo on: www.preschoolactivities.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/indian-coloring.gif Once it's colored and the photo attached, you can lay it right on top of the dinner plate. That way, even the non-readers can find their seat. Of course, I was never rigid about assigned seats. But it was so much fun for them to walk around the table looking for their spot. We often made a centerpiece for the table, too. We used pine cones, gourds left over from Halloween, sprigs of berries, even evergreens. Often their toys would end up in the centerpiece too, adding to the fun. Here is a link to some other fun craft ideas. www.allkidsnetwork.com/crafts/thanksgiving/
Another tradition that I've tried to keep is sharing the things we are thankful for that year. As they got older, my kids often wanted to rebel. But I stuck with it and insisted that everyone come up with something, even the simplest thing like being thankful for the food on their plate. We sometimes forget, especially in times of troubles, to be grateful for what we have. I've always thought that the more we notice and acknowledge the good things that come our way, the more good things come. And conversely, the more we dwell on the negative things, the more negativity comes at us. Also, to some degree, I think we seem to be losing the art of conversation in these modern days. Taking turns to speak about gratitude is a great conversation starter and often leads you in directions you didn't foresee.
I always try to include history in our day. I went into a couple of schools this past week and spoke about the upcoming holiday. When I asked the students, varying in age from 3 - 11, about Thanksgiving, all they talked about was the food. Eventually, with a lot of prodding, they mentioned the Pilgrims. November is Native American month. It's gotten lost in the splendor of Thanksgiving. According to Howard Zinn, in 1620/21, the Pilgrims survived their first winter in New England because the Wampanoag people brought corn, meat, and other gifts, and taught them survival skills. The Governor of Plymouth, Governor Bradford, declared a day of thanksgiving because the Pilgrims had survived due to their resourcefulness and devotion to God. The Native Americans were probably not invited to eat with them but encouraged to serve them and bring more food. I'm not suggesting that you teach your young children this history lesson, but we could be talking more about the contributions of the Native Americans in our own Thanksgiving celebrations. Without their help, the new settlers would never have survived and they are often forgotten.
Lastly, we always have music at every family gathering. This year out of 12 of us, at least 5 will play guitars. We will all sing and, hopefully, many will drum or play other percussion. Singing has always been an integral part of my family, from as long as I can remember. My dad had a song for everything and was sure to teach my brother and me. His favorite at Thanksgiving time was "Over the River and Through the Woods." I can still smell the pumpkin pie, when I hear this song.
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions?
Last week, I lost my former partner of 20 years. We had been separated for the last four years, but 20 years is a long time to share a life together. For fifteen of those years we played music together professionally, performing and co-writing music. We also combined our two families into one. His children were in high school and college when we got together. My older children were teens, my first grandson had just been born and my youngest was three. Later, we raised my granddaughter for almost 9 years. It’s been a huge loss on many levels, but because we were not together, it’s been complicated.
Families are changing. We’re combining existing families, adding more children to the mix, foster children, adopted children, step-children and biological children. When these families split up, these deep connections are often not recognized. I spoke to a woman last week who told me that she was not allowed family leave to go to her former step-mother’s funeral because she was no longer considered immediate family. Divorce between two adults doesn’t change the relationship between the step-parents and the children, or it shouldn’t. I’m still very close to my step-children. I will never lose that bond with them. Once I love someone, I love them forever, though that love may change some, and those family connections and history are important.
We often discount or trivialize the feelings of children. When my granddaughter was a year and a half, her mother died. She and her dad were living with us at the time, and she didn’t see her mother often due to the struggles her mom endured. The morning of her mother’s death, she woke up crying, and cried for a few hours. Nothing would soothe her, and we were confused and anxious. What could be wrong? Once we got the phone call about her mother, we understood. Somehow, on an organic level, this small child knew that her mother was gone. After that, she often played a game she called “dead mommy.” She would get her friends to pretend with her that their mom had died and they all went to live with their “Nana.” Her preschool called me, and I called a child psychologist friend to ask for advice. This professional told me that she works very hard to try to get children to play those games to assist in their healing process. Somehow, instinctively, my granddaughter knew how to heal herself.
It’s important to acknowledge the loss. It’s okay for them to see you cry, if you’re not out of control. Tears are important and are part of our healing process. Like the other things we model for our children, we need to model the healthy expression of emotions, too. We also need to talk about the person we’ve lost, the things we loved, the things we miss and even the annoying things. Those are all parts of our experience and shouldn’t be denied. Our children need our help in learning how to process loss. If we ignore it, it may come rushing back at some later time. You can encourage your children to draw pictures, tell stories and ask questions. I like to pull out photos of time together and ask, “Do you remember when we did this?” It often opens up a door to lots more memories.
Creating a memory book or box is a great place to start. I'll be doing this with my grandchildren to help them remember their grandfather.
Another important thing I have learned is that death and birth are very closely related in terms of the huge emotions and changes. People bring meals to new parents but not to grieving family members. A meal train for a family who has lost someone close to them is always a good idea. When I have lost people close to me, I've often forgotten to eat and, although friends asked to help out, I didn’t know what help I needed.