• Jody Kussin

#91 Math at Thanksgiving Time

#91 Family Matters

by Dr. Jody Kussin

Many of us are busy doing math these days. How much money do we have in savings? Should we pay car insurance if we are not driving anywhere? Can we cancel memberships without sustaining fines? Should we purchase ANY new clothes when our closets are seeing no action and our yoga pants really do last a long time? And what shall we do regarding December gifting, given our traditions from years of yore, given our realities of problems of pandemic? How shall we make it from here til January, keeping ourselves and loved ones safe, but also finding and celebrating joy, somewhere somehow?

There is a kind of math upon which we can focus, which maybe will be helpful. Let’s call it ‘mom math’, or even, ‘family math.’

Family math is not too complicated; repeat after me:

The WHOLE is greater than the SUM of its parts.

Aristotle is credited with coming up with this equation. Smart guy, that Aristotle. He undoubtedly was using this concept to explain important aspects of geometry, and I’m sure he succeeded. For me, however, since learning about this in what we then called junior high school, I have always thought of it as ‘family math’ because it is the best explanation I can think of to describe family. As individuals, we all have unique things to contribute to life and to the planet and to one another. We have our ups our downs, our niceties and our absurdities. But – if you add us all up, if you quantify us and then do the math – every single time, good or bad– we are much greater than what you’d expect. Indeed, our whole is greater than the sum or our parts.

This is applicable to all forms of families…. families of origin, blended and extended families, friend families, foster families, adopted families, and even, our newest constellation of family, ‘the pod family.’

Pulitzer Prize author and mom, Anna Quindlen, once wrote: Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay.

She wrote that in 2000. She also said: Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the 'Remember-When-Mom-Did' Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language - mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, "What did you get wrong?" (She insisted I include that here.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking? But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough.

2020 has been full of struggle, uncertainty, and loss and we are not out of it yet and it is not done with us yet. We are nervous, worried, anxious. It feels like all we DO is live in the moment. Our littles are having a hard time sleeping. Our bigs are withdrawing and becoming expert video gamers while their grades drop, and their missing assignments sheets grow. Young adults are ‘on hold.’ Parents are beyond exhausted. Working people are grateful for work and also overwhelmed with zoom fatigue and the juggle of myriad responsibilities. Aging adults are doing their best to master technology and interact with their grandchildren virtually. It is almost impossible to thrive during this time. Living in the moment often feels painful. However, there are choices we can make, even in times of adversity. Living in the moment with our families can have long-term positive implications, believe it or not, as noted by Ms. Quindlen, if we can find that hidden strength to make the moment meaningful.

There is time, even in the gray of the uncertainty, to make something out of nothing and to reach for whimsy and fun.

Let’s do the math.

First, find joy. Search for it and create it, even as it alludes us. What’s a memory you have that can be recreated? A family photo from ten years ago? From twenty years ago? Go for it! Model the little modes of joy for your children by striving to NOT strive to have a perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Commit to it, own it, say it aloud – this year we are planning and preparing for an IMPERFECT holiday season.

Plan for an adequate meal, not an over the top one. Unless you are inviting Martha Stewart for dinner, don’t sweat if your napkins don’t match your plates and if your dessert is not the cover of Bon Appetit magazine. Watch some cooking and baking shows and focus on their failures – it’s so comforting when those bakers take something out of the oven that is not baked all the way through or that falls over when they try to decorate it. Consider a 50-50 meal … 50% brought in and prepared by someone else (Whole Foods, for instance!) and 50% prepared by you.

Meantime decorate decorate decorate. Have a family meeting. Choose a theme. Choose a few themes. Make paper chains and cut out snowflakes. Let your family decorate placemats. Collect pinecones or order some online. (Note – do NOT put glitter on them – you will regret it for sure!) Go through old photos and make paper frames for them and hang them around the house. Start a family tree on one wall, using photos or maps. Make a circles of friend poster. Check out Pinterest or google or your sister in law’s Facebook page. Do NOT take on something aggravating though. Aim for average. This is not the year to be the overachiever of the group. Aim for fun. Aim for festive. Aim for being in the moment and counting the blessings, not the losses.

Consider creating new traditions mixed with old. Let the sports enthusiasts watch sports but also have music playing and TVs and screens turned off for some portion of the day. Dance. Make a family tik tok. Go for a walk outside. Call loved ones. Make individual holiday cards, starting this week, to mail in a few weeks. What are manageable things you have yet to try? Have you ever made jam? Granola? Pickles? Mini loaves of bread? Your own tamales? This is the time. Have you gone for a family drive up the coast? Down the coast? Have you made decorations for outside the house, for all the walkers in the neighborhood to enjoy? Do not sweat the little stuff, but do invest in a little sweat for a few little projects. Nothing huge. Just an in the moment, hold onto happiness, little thing.

Me? Well – we are down to two for Thanksgiving – a first – myself and my husband. So I will of course set the table with some beanie baby bears. And also, make my cupcake turkeys. And then drop those off at others’ houses. Because, really, how many cupcakes do we need?

You are my blessing. On my list for what I’m grateful, you get top billing. It is for you in my life that I give thanks – today, and always. It’s sometimes easier in the good times to remember this. But even more pertinent in these hard times. You. Together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

Happy pre-Thanksgiving to you and your blessings.

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