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Tales From The Crib

December 5, 2005

Thanksgiving is always at our house

This year, we broke with a five-year tradition and we had Thanksgiving at my aunt&

s house in Inverness, Calif., 3000 miles away from my mother and her side of the family.

My mother called me the next day. &

Repeat after me,&

she said. &

I, , promise to come to my mother&

s for Thanksgiving next &

133;&

&

Mom,&

I interrupted. &

I&

m on the short list for a Fulbright in Niger &

I got the letter yesterday. I can&

t promise to come to your house next year unless you fly us back from Africa!&

That gave her pause.

My mother loves to cook. My mother loves people to eat her food. But she&

s the kind of person who if she cuts herself (which happens often) and blood drips into whatever she&

s preparing, pretending not to notice. She adds brown sugar to cucumber salad, does not wash the spinach (and exclaims, &

a little dirt never hurt anyone!&

), and insists that cranberry juice cocktail (first ingredient: sugar; second ingredient: high fructose corn syrup) is really 100 percent juice.

Nonetheless, five years ago we decided to take our new baby from Atlanta to Amherst, Mass., for Thanksgiving at my mother&

s house. Perhaps we wanted our daughter to be surrounded by loving relatives so keenly that I had amnesia about my mother&

s cooking.

My brother and his wife and her parents came from New York for dinner at my mother&

s house. The minute we pushed in our chairs and put our napkins in our laps, my daughter started screaming. My sister-in-law&

s mother looked at me. Then she looked at my sister-in-law and started talking pointedly in Japanese. Her husband nodded. My sister-in-law looked embarrassed.

&

My mother wants to know why the baby is crying,&

she said. Her mother spoke English. Except when she chose not to.

&

I don&

t know,&

I admitted.

The turkey was pink and bloody and cold, the lettuce went crunch when I bit into it, and the microwaved sweet potatoes tasted like plastic. I slid back from the table and walked upstairs with the fussy baby on my shoulder. Usually mild-mannered and placid, she kept wailing. It was hours past her usual bedtime. &

Maybe she&

s teething,&

James suggested. I tried to rock her to sleep, I tried to nurse her, I tried rubbing my finger over her gums. Everything I did made her cry harder. Jet-lagged and hungry, I called the doctor in Atlanta. She told me if our daughter didn&

t stop crying we should take her to the emergency room. My mother rushed upstairs. &

Aren&

t you coming down?&

she asked, bursting into the room. &

There&

s nothing wrong with her! Look at her! She&

s a perfectly healthy baby. Just put her down and let her cry!&

I finally managed to get the baby to sleep and went downstairs. My mother was serving dessert: a Ready-to-Bake apple pie from a nearby bakery. She had not even warmed it in the oven.

&

Isn&

t this delicious?&

she said, biting into a generous forkful.

My brother&

s in-laws put some pie in their mouths and chewed once. Then they looked at my mother with pale, horror-stricken faces.

&

Mom,&

my brother said. &

It is completely raw. It needs to go in the oven.&

&

You never cry as a baby,&

my sister-in-law&

s mother said to her in English, discretely using her napkin to dispose of the inedible pie. &

When you hungry you fuss, I feed you, you go back to happy. When you tired, you rub eyes and go to sleep. Nancy like that too. Eddy like that too.&

&

Don&

t be silly,&

my mother insisted. &

The pie&

s perfect,&

&

I wonder why your baby cry?&

My sister-in-law&

s mother turned to me. &

Maybe she sick? You call doctor.&

&

Mom, I&

m putting it in the oven. It needs to be baked!&

my brother said.

&

Oh no, don&

t be ridiculous,&

my mother disagreed, &

it&

s delicious.&

That&

s when the tradition of having Thanksgiving at our house started. We usually make a lemon-orange turkey with whole grain stuffing, homemade gnocci instead of traditional potatoes, cranberry bread, a big salad, asparagus, sundry side dishes and three kinds of pies for dessert. I serve the pies extra hot with homemade ice cream. Although she&

s always been invited, my mother has yet to come.

&

s brand new gift book, &

Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained,&

has everything to do with motherhood and babies (ages 0-1) but nothing to do with her mother or Thanksgiving.