It was the part of Thanksgiving Day when things started to slow down. The parade was over, dinner finished, wine bottles recycled, and dishes (mostly) cleaned up.
Dinner prep started the day before, and my three-year-old twins had gotten little exercise or attention since. The temperature was still in the 50s, and the house was too hot, too cramped, and it smelled too Thanksgiving-ish. All three of us needed to get outside, so I took them out for an evening bike ride.
Since it was early in the evening, many houses still had celebrations going on inside. Families were sitting down to dinner, playing games around a table, packing themselves on the couch like sardines to watch football, or talking while cleaning up. All of the Hallmark family moments you see in commercials this time of year.
Three-year-olds on balance bikes don't move fast, so I had plenty of time to reflect while jogging along with them. Although we had already hosted Thanksgiving, seeing other families celebrating made me nostalgic.
When you're prepping for Thanksgiving, you're deep in the weeds. Planning the meal, putting together the shopping list, going to the understaffed and overcrowded grocery store, interpreting your spouse's requests (what is "cranberry sauce by the deli"??), prepping the ingredients, playing oven Tetris with all of the dishes, and hoping everything finishes at the same time. Oh, and cleaning the house for guests, then worrying about how much cleaning there will be once everyone leaves.
Add in attempting to entertain and occupy active kids to get everything done, and the stress amplifies.
But when the boys and I went by other houses, we saw people relaxed and enjoying Thanksgiving. I began to feel like I was looking at how the holidays are supposed to be. I don't know if it was the fresh air, the huge meal, or the second glass of wine, but I thought about how many Thanksgivings I have left. How many more with my family. How many will the boys want to be with me after dinner rather than see their friends. How it feels like yesterday that I was at the kids' table, and now I'm making dinner.
I'm publishing this note a couple of days late because I've had trouble figuring out why and how: why is it hard for us to have the "sidewalk view" when we're in the middle of the mess, and how can we get more of that mindset in life.
For now, I've settled on three things that'll help get more sidewalk view in everyday life: patience, presence, and perspective.
No matter how well you plan the meal, it will not go according to plan. Mike Tyson said it best: "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." To get more of the sidewalk view, we need to roll with the punches. We'll forget an ingredient or preheat the oven at the wrong temperature. That's okay. Laugh it off, and don't let it snowball.
Bonus points if you can embrace Marcus Aurelius's mindset towards obstacles: "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." When everyone laughs together because you screwed up a dish, and it becomes a story to tell every year? That is a superpower.
For me, presence means bringing the fullness of mind, body, and spirit to something. You're not worried about the past or the future, but you are fully in an experience. You can't be present if you're worried about the dishes piling up in the sink or still annoyed that you burned the top of the green bean casserole.
When I had the sidewalk view of other Thanksgivings, I didn't see people worrying about the screw-ups of the day or the worry about what was to come. I saw families being present while eating dinner, playing games, and watching football. Working to physically and mentally be where you are can only help in everyday life.
Perspective is the granddaddy of them all, and it's both the fuel and supercharger for patience and presence. My sidewalk view allowed me to reflect on how many Thanksgivings I have left, how many with my family, and how many more the boys will want to spend with me. And the truth is, my math on all those could be wrong. This Thanksgiving could have been my last one. So why does it matter to overcook the turkey or have guests arrive late?
There's a bit of a memento mori here, but the idea is to appreciate what we have while we have it. Before my wedding, someone told me to enjoy the day because that mix of family and friends from different life phases won't be together again until my funeral.
That is perspective. And along with the patience and presence it fuels, it will help bring more of the sidewalk view of a post-Thanksgiving bike ride to everyday life.