The Keeping of Traditions

November 23, 2011 at 11:09 am (Uncategorized)

Today I am getting my monthly dose of Rituxan—the chemotherapy agent that helps to manage my systemic sarcoidosis.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Houston, we may have a problem.

Rituxan is getting harder and harder for me to tolerate. Each month I need more Benadryl to subdue my allergic reactions against this foreign protein. Each month, the infusion leaves me more tired, more nauseous, and bedbound for longer and longer with flu-like symptoms.

Cooking turkeys, whipping cream for pies, and feeling anything resembling thankful is not what I expect to be feeling like doing the day after Rituxan.

Imagine my delight, then, when friends invited us to their Thanksgiving celebration. I can rest and then just show up for their meal on Thursday. I am thankful.

But our friends are not big turkey fans. They are cooking an elaborate meal, but one that does not include the staples that characterize a “proper” Thanksgiving meal in the United States.

I think this is pretty cool. I’ve eaten turkey, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, some token green vegetable and pumpkin pie (not necessarily in that order) for almost every one of my 40 years. Even when we lived in Palau—a tropical island nation in the Pacific—we’d rustle up the makings of a conventional Thanksgiving meal on or around the day. So, the idea of having Chilean sea bass or some other groovy, non-Thanksgiving food appealed to me. Sometimes it’s just as fun to break a tradition as it is to follow one.

Andrew, however, was fit to be tied when he overheard Jay talking about our proposed turkey-less Thanksgiving. “What! No turkey! You can’t do that! That’s not fair. That’s not right. It’s Thanksgiving!” and on and on. And on. The boy does not lack a flare for melodrama.

We defused the situation by saying we’d talk about it later.

A couple of days later I felt strong enough to discuss this with Andrew. “Is it the turkey part you really want to keep?” I asked, hopefully. “Because we could cook a turkey and bring it over to our friends’ house.”

“It’s everything,” Andrew said. “I want to eat everything normal—at home, like we always do. It’s our tradition.

My initial inclination was to remind him that we’ve spent one Thanksgiving at his grandparents’, one at a different set of friends’ house, two at our dear friend Martha and Geoff’s, one with me lying virtually incapacitated in bed having only recently been released from a 10-day hospital stay, and only the last couple of Thanksgivings at our house. But, I reminded myself, it’s those last few that Andrew remembers.

I thought some more. Would the thought of breaking traditions feel so wickedly fun if I didn’t have such a long memory of traditional Thanksgivings? Or would it just feel like chaos? And while I was thinking, didn’t Andrew have enough variability in his life, given the chaos and uncertainty my illness brings. He can’t always count on his Mom being able to show up to his life—as he or I would like. Shouldn’t he be able to count at least on having large fowl and egg-soaked bread crumbs on a single day that year?

Jay and I talked and decided that Andrew’s request wasn’t completely unreasonable. Rather than bail on our friends (because, really, I will be in no shape to cook the day after Rituxan, no matter how pious about it I feel, and we really like them), we proposed having a family-only traditional Thanksgiving meal the next day. Since we don’t shop on “Black Friday,” and since Jay’s football watching life revolves around professional rather than college football (I made him choose one or the other when the baby was born), Friday is a pretty wide-open day. Why not spend the day basting our bird, mashing our potatoes, and appreciating one another? Andrew thought this was a great idea.

I’m a little worried—OK, a lot worried—that I won’t feel up to being around any food besides saltines, seltzer water, and pop-tarts (my standard post chemo fare) on Friday. But, as my Mom likes to say, we’ll cross that bridge when we’re over it.

In the meantime, it’s fun to watch Andrew get excited about Thanksgiving, and to see how rooted he feels right now to this community, our house, and his parents. That’s worth pushing through to make a turkey.

There will be time enough for him to break traditions. Now, we’ve got to make them—together.

How about you? What are the essential aspects of Thanksgiving for you? What is a tradition you are not willing to let go?


  1. Allyson said,

    Yes! You’ve hit the nail on the head! Our life has been crazy in a different way for the past four years (as you know) and I have the same struggles with TyTy. I want him to remember good things and definite traditions about his early life and not just the chaos. I think y’all have a good plan and I hope it works out for you. The Thanksgiving with y’all in Portland will always stand out as one of my best ever.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      That was an awesome Thanksgiving, Allyson. Andrew remembers it well.

      It’s good to know we’re not alone in this situation. Sometimes I tend to blame every issue Andrew has on my illness, forgetting that all kids experience upheaval. Whatever its cause, he clearly loves traditions and maintaining them. And if it’s important to him, it’s important to me.

      Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving down in Cajun country.


  2. Dottie said,

    Andrew is clearly related to Paul, who becomes very anxious if traditions are not followed. The girls, not so much. And I thought the quote was, “we’ll cross that bridge once we’ve burned it” 😉 !

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      You’re right. It is indeed “once we’ve burned it.”

      Isn’t that interesting that it’s the boys that are interested in preserving traditions? The cultural stereotype is that it would be the girls. I love it when Andrew (very occasionally) breaks those gender expectations.

      If it weren’t for the prospect of seeing his beloved cousins, Andrew would be resisting not being home for Christmas this year. “We always have Christmas at home,” he said the other day. (Not true, but I’m glad that having Christmas at home induces warm, fuzzy feelings). “But it’s worth changing that to see L, P, and J,” he concluded.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


  3. Sandra Ahten said,

    Love the “we’ll cross that bridge once we’re over it” and Dotties variation too. Did the turkey happen?

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      I think Dottie is right on the correct Mom-ism (as we call it). But I too, love the spirit of both sentiments.

      The turkey happened on Friday–along with 2 pies, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts with fresh pomegranate seeds, and fresh cranberry sauce. I was very tired and felt a little pukey along the way. But we all worked together and truly enjoyed each others’ presence. It’s a nice tradition, this family-only feast after Thanksgiving. It beats shopping or channel surfing and feeling let down. And Andrew was extremely happy.

      Thanks for commenting, Sandra.


  4. Marianne said,

    This is a great idea. I’ve talked to a lot of people who don’t eat turkey on thanksgiving and although the meals sound great, there is something about tradition. My kids are already asking to make gingerbread houses (I buy the premade kits; I am not Martha.)

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      It was fun. But we did miss the Thanksgiving feel of it, so I’m glad we cooked up a traditional feast on Friday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: