December 26, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: After dinner, be a love and pitch in

By ANNE MAHLE

I know that the patriarch in a family won't change his stripes simply because I write a column. I also know that family dynamics can be complicated and nuanced, and sometimes it's better to NOT say something and instead to focus on the things that you DO enjoy about the individuals in your family. I get that. It doesn't mean that I won't try to work on it.

It's the moment I struggle with every holiday. I've done the planning, the shopping, the cleaning, the setting, the ironing AND the cooking. It's all been done with a light heart. I care about what the table looks like, and it makes me happy when the tablecloth is pressed and there are candles on the table.

So even if it doesn't matter to everyone, I do those things for myself (and my mom because she cares, too). That's cool. My choice. My choice also to do the cooking in the first place, although even if I didn't like cooking as much as I do, I'd still never pass up a chance to work side by side with my mom -- doing anything, really. Except after a long day of cooking when I'm ready to sit down and watch a Patriots game.

It's been a long day, and I felt truly blessed to have my family around to cook for. Now it's after dinner. There are a lot of dishes. One by one, the diners leave the table, clear their plates and saunter to the couch in search of the remote. At that moment, I have to work to feel blessed. And I do feel blessed ... that I have loved ones to feel frustrated with. Blessed to have myriad family dynamics and needs swirling.

But dang, people. Get off your posteriors and clean up. Give thanks to those who did all the stuff before you sat down and ate so much that now your belly is uncomfortable. I know you are logy from too much food, a warm room and maybe a little imbibing. BUT ... so are the people who stood in the kitchen all day making food for you.

Dear loved ones, don't make someone ask you to help. Pick up your heads for a second and look around. Be a part of the team that is your family. It doesn't do it to just clear your plate, although thank you very much for that.

The Patriots were playing that night. I had my personal 'game plan' all laid out by putting my time in at the beginning of the day, and the day before, etc. Now I'm on the couch and the game has started and Mom, Dad and my husband are up in the kitchen cleaning up.

There were 20 people sitting at the dinner table earlier. Mom has worked alongside me all day, and she is tired. Now I have two choices: Get up from one of my favorite hobbies to do more work or let my mom do it while I watch the game. I went to help my mom -- as I should and wanted to. But my heart was not free of resentment at that moment and it took some time before I could work myself around to a tone of voice that didn't have "tone."

Ultimately, the game wasn't that important, not as important as helping my mom (and dad and husband). Ultimately, it didn't take us that long to finish. Ultimately, I did get to watch the better part of the game . They are, after all, three hours long.

It was my choice to not say something. I see most of these loved ones once or twice a year. It wasn't worth it to me. But I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who has choices like this to make over the holidays.

(Continued on page 2)

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