Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: Betsy-Tacy

Divorce Lesson #5

Technically, this Thanksgiving was the dreaded First Holiday. Maybe next year will be more drastically different since our living situation will have changed and we’ll be further down this road, but this year, with all the divorce-talk, the holiday has certainly had a different feel.

I’m a planner, a list-maker, a researcher. I like to figure things out, sometimes to my detriment, but often it is a strength. So weeks ago, as I saw Thanksgiving looming, I knew it would in some ways *be* different, and I wanted to make it even *more* different. Which brings me to lessons I learned this year as I did so…


Divorce Lesson #5: Thanksgiving—Changing It Up


For many years, I’ve been the Holiday Queen, as so many women tend to be in our society. I’ve taken on the majority of the planning and preparations (with some help, here and there), especially since I haven’t been working a paid 9-5 job. I don’t go all-out Martha Stewart, but there’s still a lot to do for holidays, if you try to do them at all traditionally.

Me and my kids!

Me and my kids!

We’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house for many years, mostly Bob’s relatives and a friend of mine joining our family. Preparations for me have involved planning out the meal and logistics, making to-do lists, looking up recipes, shopping at several stores, contacting guests about details, cleaning (and getting family members to help with it), and cooking, cooking, cooking. [To be noted: this is pretty standard for a lot of women in this country.] Some guests would help out and bring food items, but I did the majority of the cooking– I would often whip up 8-10 dishes over a 3-day period. Now, I like to cook and do a lot of it from scratch and I get a sense of satisfaction from it, but it is A. Lot. Of. Work. And I really didn’t think about it at the time, but directing and producing this wonderful feast was often to my detriment. I’d be driven, anxious and merciless as a task-master to myself (and admittedly, sometimes to my family). I needed to Get Shit Done, so I did it, no matter what.

I would get family members to help with some aspects when I could, but this was My Show. I was the leader and my family waited for me to tell them what to do. I barely noticed that I was quietly stuffing down my resentment as I chopped the stale bread for the stuffing, seeing them have plenty of time for sitting, relaxing, computer time while I was constantly on my feet.

Weeks ago, raw and heart-sore, I determined that this year was going to be different. As Shakespeare said (and Maud Hart Lovelace quoted in her wonderful book Emily of Deep Valley): “Muster your wits, (and) stand in your own defense.” One thing this big change in my life was teaching me was all the ways I have continued to act and behave that have been to my own detriment, often for the betterment of others. We mothers and care takers often do this, trained by the customary roles of society. We do it without thinking too much about it.

{Let me pause for a moment to say that I’m not criticizing anyone else’s choices in doing or not doing what they do for the holidays. I’m writing about my own choices and realizations, and the lessons I’m learning as I go.}

I re-examined how holidays feel for me, how stressed out and panicky I get, how long the to-do lists are, how I often dread it all. And with my life falling apart in front of me, I stood up in my own mind and told myself, “I’m not doing it like that anymore. No way.” And then I went about figuring out how I could change it so it worked for me.

After thinking, discussing it with close family members and making some decisions, I wrote a letter to everyone coming to Thanksgiving. I still wanted to have it at our place, for continuity, and to see if I could make it different. In the letter, I asked everyone over the age of 18 to make/bring something to contribute to the feast— each of my kids, Bob, etc. I said that I would make the turkey and gravy, cranberry relish, a pumpkin cheesecake and I’d provide the beverages. I gave a list of traditional dishes that people could make to add to the feast, or if they wanted, they could do something totally different. I didn’t care. And then I mentioned I was planning to go on a walk after dinner—this is something I’d always wanted to do after the big meal, but had shoved to the back of my mind because I felt constrained by how the day usually goes and what I felt were other people’s desires or expectations. This year, I was putting it out there, and if anyone wanted to join me, that would be great, but if not, I was fine going on my own. Anyone else could stay back and relax, watch TV, play games, whatever.

I didn’t put this in the letter, but told my close family I would also be doing minimal prepping, cleaning and freaking out, that I wanted them to chip in more on their own (I put ideas on a list on the fridge) and I planned to sit down and have time to relax during the day.

Despite any trepidation I had in speaking up about these changes, my requests were met with enthusiasm. Nobody minded any of it. Suddenly I had a holiday I could look forward to, despite life changes, knowing I was going to be making things different on my own terms, and in a way that took care of me.


Dante wearing onion goggles

And… I’m happy to report it all worked! I was so glad that I had put a limit on what I was going to do (I’d really had to pull myself back from not doing more than what I listed above). It really opened up space in my mind and my day, and made it all a more pleasurable experience for me. AND I noticed that there was a different feel for everyone else too, in stepping up to add to the feast, a sense of pride maybe? Gennie made a huge pot of mashed potatoes, Bob made enough hot buttered rum mix to feed an army (mixed with coffee = really good!), Dante made red velvet onion rings that unfortunately didn’t work out, but he experimented a lot and had fun with it, and Leo and Amanda brought a yummy new version of green bean casserole made with bacon, cheddar and sour cream. Others brought Brussels sprouts, salad, pies, rolls, and lots of appetizers.

Onion rings not quite to his satisfaction

Onion rings not quite to his satisfaction

Despite the fact that it was 10 degrees and bitterly cold outside, I went on my walk, joined by a hearty few. When they were ready to go back, I took a swing around the block by myself, stopping and listening to the stillness of nobody-else-in-the-city, just me breathing in the cold night air. It was a magical moment, knowing I had stepped up and done it, turned the holiday into something new for myself.

It reminded me of a few lines from another Maud Hart Lovelace book (indulge me—I grew up reading her books and she’s a favorite), Betsy’s Wedding. In the book, newlyweds Betsy and Joe are confronted with a challenging change to their routine. They are torn up about it until Joe remembers a story from the Bible where the patriarch Jacob gets into a tussle with an angel. In figuring things out, Joe comments that they need to wrestle with this new challenge to make it something better, like Jacob did with the angel. Joe explained, “Jacob took a grip on him and said, ‘I will not let the go, except though bless me.’” Betsy responds, “Well, we won’t let this job go until it blesses you!”

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do. In this whole big scary-but-sometimes-exciting, grief-filled-but-sometimes-happy, lonely-but-sometimes-more-connected-than-ever Time, and all the little challenges that are coming up as I go: I want to not let any of it go until it blesses me. I may have to work to figure out how I can transform things to make it bless me, but I’m willing to do it. I may still break down and collapse along the way, but I’ll get up and keep going, thanks to my inner drive, and to all the support you’ve been generously sending my way (love and  grateful-thanks!). Transformation is hard, but from what I’m hearing, it’s worth it.

It worked for Thanksgiving, and now I’ll see what I can do about Christmas. Ideas are welcome! Start the wrestling now! 🙂


**Want to catch up? You can read previous Divorce Lessons  by clicking on the titles:

Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment

Divorce Lesson #2: Love Is All Around

Divorce Lesson #3:  The Freedom in Hopelessness

Divorce Lesson #4:  Do It Your Own Way

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Living Inside Books

Girls playing Betsy-Tacy

This past weekend I got to experience another world– somewhat like living inside a book, immersed with other folks in the imagination of a writer… the people, places and events she created.  It wasn’t a re-enactment, but we were in a little sensory time-warp bubble.  The author was Maud Hart Lovelace, the books were the Betsy-Tacy series, and the world was “Deep Valley” (as she dubbed Mankato, Minnesota in her books) and the years were 1892 – 1917.  I was in Mankato for the Betsy-Tacy Convention.

Betsy and Tacy in the piano box

Maud wrote about her childhood and early adulthood growing up in Mankato in these books– they are based on her life, but she maintained they were ficitonalized.  She changed names and locations and situations; she created stories based on some reality; she embellished.  When I was a kid eating up these books like candy, I wished they were real.  I looked up “Deep Valley” on the Minnesota map and could never find it, so I assumed they were totally fictional.  It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I discovered the reality part of the fiction.

These were books I re-read many times over the years.  I loved the world Maud created, and these characters felt like my friends (yes, I did have real friends, too!).  I identified with Betsy, who knew from a young age she wanted to be a writer.  But until the mid-90s, “I thought I was the only one” (a catch-phrase of Betsy-Tacy fans).  For brevity, I’ll keep it short… but I discovered an email listserv of Betsy-Tacy fans, two societies working to promote the books, and I have been a part of all of these groups for 17 years now.

Going to Mankato this weekend for another B-T Convention (we’ve had them every few years) is as much about seeing the many people I’ve come to know and love online, and in the societies, as it is about seeing the actual historical sites.  We have become a close-knit community, and that made the convention extra special.





But there are also the actual houses of the real Betsy/Maud and Tacy/Bick that have been bought and restored, and many historical places to visit in the town.  Living inside the Betsy-Tacy books this weekend also meant:  listening to speakers, some of whom corresponded with Maud, a young adult author panel, a costume parade, a legacy panel of descendants of the series’ characters, a sing-along, touring Minneapolis since one of the books takes place here, a trivia contest, socializing and drinking, and much more.

I feel really, really lucky to have come across this community of fans– it’s brought me friendship and fun, shared experiences and many great book recommendations.  People sometimes look at me strange when I talk about these books, the people I meet because of them, and how excited I get about all of this.  But I feel grateful to be able to live inside these books, and have a weekend like this one where it all becomes even more real.  After all, I can whisper to my childhood self, “guess what?  You’re not the only one!”  🙂


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