“So what are you planning to do for Thanksgiving?” our pediatrician asked us.
“Our family has a big dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s house with our extended family. There’s 22 of us now. We’re not really sure how we’ll make it work this year.”
“Yeah … you can’t make that work this year,” he looked at us sternly, “I’m sorry, but you cannot go to Thanksgiving. I can write a doctor’s note to your family. You can blame it on me. Tell them it’s medically necessary for you to stay home this year.”
We took our doctors orders. We stayed home for Thanksgiving.
This was November 2019. Not November 2020.
One year ago, my son was born on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, which made him 2 weeks and 2 days old on Thanksgiving Day. Although my heart sunk when his doctor told us (lectured us?) that we needed to change our Thanksgiving plans, I knew it was the right thing to do. Taking a 2-week-old baby to a large gathering can be dangerous. He could be exposed to colds, flu, and any number of viruses before his body is ready to fight them. The doctor even explained that enclosed spaces mean viruses could be passed more easily. He also said that family gatherings are often more unsafe for newborns – because family will want to hold and kiss and cuddle the precious little baby. How can you tell a loved one that they can’t hold a baby? You can’t, which is why you need to keep a newborn limited to visits in smaller groups, in your own home, and only with people who are well.
So I called my family and told them the news. Some of them took it well – they were disappointed but were understanding and supportive. Some of them took it less well – I was overreacting and overprotective. I offered to send the doctor’s note to these loved ones (but even they softened with understanding after a while).
I must confess, at first, I was heartbroken about it. How could I miss Thanksgiving? I had never missed a Cramer family Thanksgiving (AKA Cramerpalooza) in my entire life. Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday: 1. because it’s the only major holiday in which I don’t have to work — Pastors get Thanksgiving off too! 2. because it was my grandmother’s favorite holiday.
Grandma always claimed that she didn’t care about any other holiday but Thanksgiving. She was widowed young (I never met my grandfather), and she spent other holidays with one of her sons’ families. But Thanksgiving was THE Cramer holiday – the only time of the year when then entire extended family gathered together. When I was young, we’d all cram into Grandma’s 3-bedroom apartment. The adults all claimed the beds and pull-out couches. The kids all claimed floor space for sleeping bags. Spending time piled on top of my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandma, parents, and brother was the best time of the year. As time has moved on, our location has changed. When Grandma moved into a senior living apartment, we gathered at my Uncle’s house. As time as moved on, we’ve added family members: spouses and children. Currently, the original 14 are now 22. We would’ve been 23, but we lost Grandma in November of 2018.
So when I cancelled my family’s appearance at Thanksgiving last year, I cancelled on our first Thanksgiving without Grandma. I chose my son’s health and wellness over family tradition. It was a heartbreaking decision to make, but it was the right one.
Honestly, the days leading up to the actual holiday were harder: the anticipation of missing something so special to me, the sadness of being isolated from people I love, the worry of making it special enough at home. Yet on the actual day? It wasn’t too bad. We watched the parade on TV. We cooked a simple but special meal. We took naps. We FaceTimed with the family at my Uncle’s house (I didn’t know about Zoom back then).
I write this to you 1 year later, because I want to encourage you to make the same decision for your Thanksgiving this year. You may not have a 2-week-old, but your health and the health of your loved ones is just as important. The 2 scariest things about COVID-19 are 1.) that anyone can be asymptomatic and spread the virus without knowing it and 2.) that we do not know how well our bodies will fight this new virus if we contract it (severe case, mild case, asymptomatic, long-hauler?). The best scientists and doctors are telling us (lecturing us? imploring us?) that the virus spreads more easily in enclosed spaces. They are telling us that family gatherings are more unsafe than any other – because families want to hug, kiss, cuddle, and sit close. How can you tell a loved one to stay 6ft away and wear a mask? You can’t – you have an instinctual need to hug them. Which is why for this year we need to stay home and limit contact with only our small family group (or bubble). This year can be special in a different way for you too – you can Zoom with your larger family, cook a smaller meal, take a nap, and maybe even stay in your pjs all day (it’s better for turkey eating, anyway).
Friends, I have already missed a Thanksgiving gathering with beloved family. It was sad, but it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me. I can think of far worse things: like never ever seeing them again.