For years, my mother pleaded with me to use paper plates during stressful times in my life. “Annie, why are you staying up to wash dishes after you get the baby to bed?! The Earth will be fine if you use paper plates at dinner. Recycle them if you feel so bad.”
But I wouldn’t do it. I had all kinds of reasons: they’re bad for the environment, they’re an frivolous expense, they’re flimsy. And, sure, all those things are true. But you know the real reason I didn’t do it? I didn’t do it because I had to prove to the world that I was better than everyone else. I could do it all! I could have a job, raise children, run the house, cook all our meals from scratch AND wash all the plates at the end of every day.
And every night, as I stood in my kitchen scrubbing dishes – the rest of the house dark and quiet – I would meditate on what a selfless mother I was. I would list all the wonderful things I’d done over the day. Having completed that list, I’d move on to the next one: the list of all the things my husband hadn’t done. To this day, I’m not sure which list I loved more. But for years I would compose them both faithfully at least once a day.
One year, about a week before Thanksgiving, I stood at my sink, washing dishes and making my lists. I thought about what phenomenal mother I was to give my family the gift of a perfect Thanksgiving weekend despite being pregnant with my 3rd baby. At least 2 different homemade desserts would be featured each night, not including the breakfast baking I would wake early each morning to do, a 5-course turkey dinner, a different tablecloth each day, on and on. I’d need to scrub the house from top to bottom beforehand and keep tidying throughout the days to make sure the open kitchen stayed spotless. And then there would be the craft projects to have prepared for grandparents and kids to do together. Plus, all the usual tasks like laundry and picking up toys and walking the dog.
Suddenly, it hit me like a brick to the head: this was not what my family wanted. It wasn’t anything like what they wanted. It would mean me ignoring them entirely for about a week while I cleaned and cooked and planned MY perfect Thanksgiving; a Thanksgiving to show everyone how thankful they should be for ME.
I felt like a party balloon that started to leak air and slowly sink down.
Now, I’d love to wrap this up with a nice bow saying I learned my lesson for good, but that’s not how life works. At least not my life. But I CAN say that since that Thanksgiving, I keep paper plates on hand all the time. I make stuffing from a box and double recipes so we can eat leftovers a couple of times.
Because what my family wants is me; my attention and my time.
And you know what? Banana bread from a box isn’t half bad!
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