Never underestimate your pint-sized adversary

Gategate

Gategate

“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” – Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

They broke the gate.

If it had happened any other day, it would just be the latest occurrence in a long line of broken household items.

But on this day — the first of summer vacation — it cannot be mistaken for anything else.

It was a message. An omen. A pre-emptive strike.

Not so innocent

Not so innocent

This wall — which has separated the relatively child-proofed safety of the living room from all the pointy, chemically, structurally treacherous remainder of the house — has fallen.

And along with it, any of my own self-delusions that this summer would be anything other than a three-month siege upon my blood pressure and sanity.

The fighting over toys and the TV, the midair launching of small human bodies from one piece of furniture to another, the noise — my goodness, the noise.

This just isn’t a couple hours a day anymore. It’s the whole day.

Miles’ second year of preschool was a godsend in many ways. He’s made new friends, become much more self-sufficient, learned to embrace the differences in different people and is quite the budding little artist.

It also kept this seeming bundle of furious energy focused, and if I am being honest, the simple fact that he has spent hours away from home each day has limited the amount of chaos visited upon my otherwise peaceful days.

Before now, the divide-and-conquer strategy has worked brilliantly. Owen, our little one, is a breeze without his big brother around getting him all riled him up in the morning. And by the time Miles got off the bus in the afternoon, Owen was solidly in the depths of his post-lunch nap. Weathering the 2-3 hours with both kids together at the end of the day wasn’t always an easy task but it was doable.

But divide and conquer is no longer a viable tactic. They’ve got me outnumbered. And they know it.

Today, perfect example.

I mean, it’s not like they couldn’t have escaped from the living room by just pushing the flimsy wooden divider down. Owen has done that with regularity of late. Still, it has at least served to slow him down until I can get there.

Definitely not innocent

Definitely not innocent

 

This time, though, they literally broke the thing in half — the first flaming arrow lodged in the castle wall.

Message sent; message received.

SECOND gate broken. Gategate round two.

SECOND gate broken. Gategate round two.

Of course, you know, this means war.

Michael Doyle is stay-at-home dad to Miles, 4, and Owen, 1. He’s married to features editor Abbey Doyle. He’s also a copy editor and designer at the Courier & Press.

Good job, mom

Opening up the mailbox as a kid brought such joy.

Would there be a package? A brightly colored card? A handwritten letter with stickers from my friend who lived down the street? Or maybe a thick envelope with five pages of folded up yellow legal pad paper from my church camp pen pal?

I didn’t mind those long, white envelopes with the clear windows. I know my mom and dad used to sigh when I’d bring them in; I didn’t care though. I was looking for the good stuff.

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Fast forward 20 years.

Opening up the mailbox doesn’t quite give me that same airy feeling of joy as an adult. Honestly, there are some months when those long white envelopes with those crinkly, clear windows cause dread and anxiety. I now get why my mom and dad weren’t so thrilled to see what I’m sure seemed like heaps of bills.

But the corners of my sometimes-grouchy mom mouth always turn up when I catch the glimpse of a colorful envelope in that bill-keeper of a mailbox.

Usually they are for the boys. My mom is awesome and sends a card to each of them for every imaginable holiday. Michael’s parents are amazing too, sending cards for the holidays along with aunts and great-grandparents. The kids love it, carrying the cards around the house opening and closing them and making the little bears, leprechauns or Cupids dance around the living room.

But when I popped open the mailbox Wednesday there was one lone envelope inside — fuchsia and addressed to little ol’ me.

I recognized the handwriting right away — my mom. Never mind the fact that I’d seen her three days before and I’d see her on Friday and Saturday and maybe even Sunday. She knows how touched I’d be to receive it in the mail. Also, never mind the fact that this not-together-at-all mom hadn’t picked up a gift or a card for her amazing or thoughtful mom yet.

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“From the time you were a little girl you’ve given me so many reasons to admire and love you. And watching you as a mom has given me even more. You’re understanding and loving, dedicated and hardworking. Not only that, you’re a fun mom, too. In fact, hearing the kids laugh with you is one of my favorite things in the world. No matter what you’re doing with them, I can see that your kids come first and you’re always giving your best, even on days when it isn’t always easy. I can’t tell you how proud of you I am. I love you for being the amazing daughter you’ve always been and the wonderful mom you are today.”

“It’s the perfect card,” she wrote.

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And it was. It was what I needed to hear. The tears were streaming hot down my face. My mom is still proud of me. I’m doing a good job. I’m doing OK. I’m not screwing this whole mom thing up.

Because, let’s be real, even at 35, I still need to hear that.

Don’t you? Don’t we all need to be reminded that we are doing a good job? That someone is proud of us.

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In life we can get bogged down with the responsibilities, the stress, the scary — the bills of life. It gets so easy to forget about those brightly-colored envelopes filled with encouraging messages. One way we can help balance that out is by sending more of these “cards” out into the world. We can do this by literally sending cards out or by just letting people know that they are doing a good job.

When I’m at the grocery store and my kids are being … kids … and the person in line behind me gives me a knowing “been there, it’ll get better” encouraging smile, it makes that 5-minute wait a lot easier than when the person behind me glowers with their disapproving look or critiques my parenting skills with the person behind them in line.

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Parenting is hard stuff. Find a mom — your mom, your mom friend, a random mom at the park — and tell her she’s doing a great job.

Momma, you’re doing a great job. Thanks!

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Listen To Your Mother

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Do it, listen to her, she probably knows best.

But really…

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I didn’t know much about this national show when I first heard about it last year in a professional sense. Someone I’d come to know through work had sent me a press release asking for people to audition with stories of motherhood — stories about their own mom, about being a mom themselves, watching their wife or partner be a mom… I instantly thought, “Michael should do this!”

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Right then he was elbow deep in intense momming. Miles was going to preschool for just three hours a day four days a week and Owen was just a few months old. I had only been in this new position for a few months and was working way more hours than any one person should along with being gone a lot of Project Reveal and other various commitments. He was doing a lot of the momming. I say “momming” because that’s how the outside world saw what he was doing.

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Really what Michael was doing was being a parent. He wasn’t being Mr. Mom; he wasn’t “babysitting;” he certainly wasn’t doing me or us as a couple any favors. If the roles were reversed and he was working 60 hours a week and helping run a nonprofit not a single eye would bat.

Am I right?

But there was some batting. There was even some finger wagging. And I’m sure some gossiping as well if we are to be completely honest here.

Anyway, back to Listen To Your Mother… I sent him the press release and blurbs about the auditions no less than 28 times. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration; it may have only been 18 times. But I thought he would be great. Michael is a genius writer; so much better than me (or is it I, see, he’d know.) And he’s hilarious. I am only ever funny unintentionally. I mean, I can be funny but it is typically at my own expense like I’ve fallen or am clueless of some well-known pop culture reference.

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But alas, he refused to apply.

“There’s no way I’m getting on a stage. NEVER!”

The second year rolled around. I tried again. And again. And again.

On try 33 he said, “OK, if you’ll do it with me and you’ll finally leave me alone I’ll do it.”

But this was about 10 p.m. the night before the last audition. We hadn’t prepared anything. He was working until midnight. We hadn’t arranged for childcare the next day for the auditions.

All keys to success. Right?

So, we essentially wrote the piece back and forth over Facebook messenger while he worked (don’t mind us Courier & Press bosses) and read through it one time around 1 a.m. when he got home.

The next day we packed up our crazy, heathen children hoping for the best thinking the bribe of “really awesome, fun, exciting stuff” after the audition would keep the quiet for five minutes.

Fall 2014

“Five minutes, please,” I begged of Miles in a sincere whisper.

“Of course,” he said, with an evil, little glint in his eye.

We started and not 30 seconds in they started bouncing off the walls. I see chocolate scattered about the table for those auditioning. I grab for it blindly, still reading our piece, maddeningly unwrapping the crinkly foil and the boys scream and prance about turning into howler monkeys in mere seconds literally pounding on the windows.

I start tossing the chocolate on the floor hoping for just a few seconds of silence. I don’t think twice about the sugar, the artificial whatevers, the germs… none of it matters. There’s a few moments of peace.

Who knows if our piece is any good. The true reason we made it in the show was the chocolate tossing.

Thanks boys!

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Come hear for yourself as we are joined by 12 other incredible women telling stories about motherhood. Part of the proceeds go to benefit 4C Play and Learn. It is 7 p.m. Saturday at AIS Diamond (Old North High School on Stringtown.) Tickets are available at the door for $20 but online for $15 by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2505159.

 

Lifetime of memories just starting to be made

These days, it seems like every little moment with the kids is one of those things that makes me understand just how fast they’re growing up.

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And just how little time we have to soak everything in.

It can be hectic having two little kids — especially when both of them happen to be boys. The noise, the messes, the half-eaten dinners, the refusals to go to bed — it can absolutely be overwhelming at times. There are moments where I’m so exhausted I could cry.

But then there’s the first tee-ball practice, a kindergarten orientation, even an after-school dentist appointment (no cavities, thank you very much) that make you understand just how important it is to take stock in the moment and count your blessings.

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And that was just with one kid, just last week.

At tee-ball practice last week, Miles stepped up to the plate with his brand-new green bat — he’s very proud of his green bat — and smacked a ground ball between first and second base. He stood there as everyone cheered and shouted for him to run for first.

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After a few seconds he remembered to run, taking off for first base — then, halfway there, took an abrupt left turn, diving on his own ground ball, reminding us all what it’s like to be a kid — grass-stained pants and all.

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Michael was so proud.

“He totally sold out for that ball,” Michael said. “He’s like the Pete Rose of tee-ball.”

That’s the kind of story parents tell about their children for a lifetime.

Other people often tell me when I’m out and about with the boys, “Make this time count, it goes by too fast,” and it seems like that has become extra true lately for some reason.

It seems like just yesterday we were bringing Miles home from the hospital for the first time, going 20 miles an hour the whole way, excited, nervous and in no way prepared for what being parents was all about.

miles peace

Suddenly, that little boy is nearly 5 years old and is preparing to start kindergarten. We toured his new kindergarten. I feel like if I keep saying it, somehow it will seem more real and less scary. I just can’t believe how the time has gone by just like that.

funny

Owen turned 18 months just about a week ago. He’s already making couch cushion forts in the living room, dancing and singing along with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, getting into anything and everything he can. We know that it won’t be long before we can’t (or at least shouldn’t) call him “the baby” anymore.

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And as bittersweet as it can be to see them growing up so fast, I am incredibly lucky.

There have been — and still will be — moments of frustration, tantrums and tears, from them and me. And in those moments I may be counting down the minutes to bedtime. What I’m choosing to focus on is the lifetime of memories — mostly amazing — yet to be made. There’s a world of firsts ahead.

And knowing that is the best blessing of all.

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KINDGERGARTEN round up day!

It’s here; it’s here! I can’t believe the day is here.

I’m trying so very hard to focus on the excitement of today — Miles gets to meet his new teacher, see his new classroom, visit is new school!

Yep, I keep repeating those things in my head — fun, exciting, new!

Fun!

Exciting!

New!

Fun! (Did we make the right decision?)

Exciting! (Is he ready?)

New! (Will he fit in?)

I’m going to throw up!

first day of pre-k 2015

Seriously, I’m not just saying that. My stomach has been doing flip-flops all day. I’ve done so much anxious toe-tapping and ankle jiggling that my feet are for sure going to be beach ready. All that’s missing is the pacing, and the closer it gets to 4:30 (start time for round-up) the more likely I am to be worked up to a full-on panicked, pacing parent.

Michael won’t be able to join me; he has to work. Thankfully my aunt is going to watch Owen so I don’t have to juggle into everything 1 1/2 year old extraordinaire and I can 100 percent focus on Miles, who is 100 percent unfazed by this daunting undertaking.

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“Kindergarten, cool,” he said this morning.

I’m sure we made the right decision. OK, maybe we didn’t. Who knows? We’ll never know. We’ll always second guess. EVERY DECISION, right. I think that comes with the territory.

We will ALWAYS wonder if he is ready. Again, I think that’s parenting 101 and totally a moving target. I still wonder if I’m ready. I often turn around and say, “What, I own a house? I’m someone’s boss? I have to adult today? Am I ready for all that?”

And I’m terrified about him fitting in. Heck, I don’t know if I fit in or if I want him to fit in… How I want him to fit in? This parenting stuff is SO HARD!

Never alone; thanks mom

This time of year is tough.

In just 15 days it’ll be five years since we lost dad.

This day a couple decades ago (I won’t say how many) my amazing, strong, resilient and rock star mom was born.

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It’s so hard to look at any of the days this month without having the countdown to Jan. 28. And, selfishly, I hate that amazing days — mom’s birthday, my sister and I’s birthday, my nephew’s birthday — are almost marred with this terrible, unimaginable thing.

But that’s life, right?

I fear sometimes that in my desire to honor and keep my dad’s memory alive — because let’s get real, he was an out of this world, over the top, loving, caring, awesome dad, husband, friend and advocate — that the stellar, shinning status of my mom is overshadowed.

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So, today, on the anniversary of the day of her birth, I’d like to shout from the rooftops — MY MOM ROCKS! I, without a doubt, would not be here today without her. And when I say that, I’m not talking about the fact that she birthed me (which she did, along with my twin sister in natural birth super star style.) What I mean is, I wouldn’t be the functioning successfulish adult that I am today. I wouldn’t be the loving, caring, trying to be patient, fun and rock star in training mom that I am today. I wouldn’t be a committed and passionate community advocate/volunteer.

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Yep, without her I would never be where I am today with my amazing family, a great job and an over-committed (but great) life. She’s been an incredible example for me showing me what it takes to be a powerhouse in the workplace and supportive, loving mom at home. She’s shown me the importance of having hobbies and passions and following through on them. She’s shown me how rewarding a life of service is and always modeled an accepting and tolerant sensibility.

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Without her unending support — emotional, financial and physical — I would have never graduated from college, become a peace corps volunteer, have a rewarding marriage and amazing children and countless other things.

Phone calls, tear-soaked shoulders, boxes and boxes of “just because I believe in you and love you” cards, silent but clear signs of support and encouragement… I truly have no idea what life would be like without her.

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I’m lucky. I celebrate. I love.

So as these next few weeks drag on, and I’m flooded with the memories of those last days with dad that I simultaneously want to never let go of and also bury far away, I’m going to try to remember that this month isn’t all bad. It gave me a lot, and most importantly, it gave me my momma.

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This note in a card — the woman has single-handedly kept Hallmark and the U.S. Postal service in business — sums up her never-ending support and dogged belief in me, even in my jerkiest of childhood/teen years:

“Nothing would be the same without you being in my life. Be the special person that you are. Let everyone see what I see! Love Mom”

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Wordless Wednesday

Merry Christmas from the Doyles. I made three Christmas cards (people only received one of each, I’m not that silly) because I couldn’t pick my favorite. And if you are on my Christmas card list… queen of procrastination didn’t get them out in time for pre-Christmas delivery. But they are, as the saying goes, “in the mail.”

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Miles’ angel boy

Raising a grateful child is so important to me. Raising a generous child is a priority. And raising an empathetic child is a must.

And those three things are extra important this time of the year but it seems as if during the holiday season it is even more difficult to instill or renew those values.

The “I wants” can be overwhelming when what I wish I could hear was, “I’m grateful for…” or “I want to help…”

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I’m sure that as a kid I was the same. I vividly remember sitting on the floor with a giant Sears catalog atop my knees and an ink pen between my teeth poised to circle ALL OF THE STUFF I wanted. But I also, with ease, can recall shopping for less fortunate children with my parents and combing through our toys and clothes to find things that we no longer played with or wore to donate to area charities.
Those lessons — the ones about how there were many who went without — stuck with me. I remember getting a warm, gushy feeling doing that shopping with my mom and dad or packing up some items to take to the Salvation Army.
I am hopeful to pass that message, that greater meaning to this season, on to my own children. So this year Miles — the only one of my two kiddos who’s capable of saying, “I want, I want, I want” — and I chose a little paper angel off of the tree at our church filled with children in need of some help for a brighter Christmas. I looked for a child as close to Miles’ age as possible — we found an 8-year-old boy.
Yesterday afternoon we decided to go shopping, but before I left I picked Miles’ up and pulled him on to my lap.
“Let’s talk,” I said, in my serious tone.
“What mom?” he said in his goofy tone but doing his best to look me in the eye with a serious face (it looked more like a rabid dog, his eyes all wild and crazy and his jaw set.)
“We are going to go to the store but we aren’t going to be buying anything for Miles or Owen or anyone else in our family, OK?”
“Aww, man!”
“Now wait, listen,” I say, pleading he’ll hear this message. “There’s this little boy, and he might not have any presents under his tree for Christmas this year.”
“That’s so sad,” Miles said, truly looking forlorn, his eyes even wetting. “What can we do?”
“We are going to buy him some presents and clothes and food. Do you want to do that?”
“Yes!”
So we took off with our paper angel cut-out in tow. Miles gripped on to it tightly, repeatedly telling nearby shoppers we were shopping for his “angel boy.” Toys, clothes and a food essentials as well as a stocking and some candy and other snacks, that Miles proceeded to stuff inside the stocking. He kept holding the angel cut out up to the bright, blue, oversized sock saying, “He wants to see his stocking!”
When we checked out, Miles plainly explained to the cashier what we were doing.
“My angel boy, he didn’t have presents under his tree. So we got him some.”
I’m not going to lie… We didn’t make it out of the toy section without a few protests over why Miles couldn’t get something too. But, after a few deep breaths (on both of our parts) and a reminder of why we were there, he was OK with it.
It’s just one tiny part of a lifetime of lessons about privilege, the joy of giving, civic responsibility and empathy. But I definitely walked out of the store feeling like we’d made some progress. And Miles, even hours later, talked about his angel boy.

Thankful thoughts

I try to do a pretty good job recognizing how good I have it in the moment. And I’m pretty blessed that I have it pretty good most of the time.

Even with that, though, I could use a reminder about gratefulness, appreciation and acknowledgment.

And what better way (and day, since it is THANKSgiving today) to do that than offering my fellow Features staffers a chance to talk about what they are thankful for and for me to do the same.

IMG_4904Kids — I really hit the lottery with this one. And I’m not talking about the cursed lotto either where you squander your riches and find yourself sad and broken in the corner. I am so lucky. As crazy as my boys can make me feel sometimes (it is very difficult raising a mini-version of my hardheaded, strong-willed self), I am the luckiest woman alive that they lovingly (usually) call me Mama. There are days when mere thoughts of them make me cry from overwhelming joy.

IMG_2842Family — I am so lucky that I have a husband who not only loves, but also (mostly) tolerates the me who completely overbooks and overcommits herself and hurriedly comes home greeted, many nights, to dinner. You love me, and you love our boys. It doesn’t get much better than that. The rest of my family is also pretty amazing, with my super heroesque mom who can pretty much do anything and has spent 34 years putting up with me (we’ve started the sainthood process already.)

Meet our toddler chicks -- Mocalotive, Choo Choo, Stella, Olive, Foghorn Leghorn and Chicken Little

Chickens — Yes, they can be stinky (you were right, Michael) and being a chicken mom in the pouring rain and freezing winter hasn’t been awesome, but I’m so grateful that I finally have them. And I’m kind of a farmer now, which is awesome.

Co-workers — It’s been nearly a year since I took this position. I’m thankful to have amazing co-workers that not only make the job easier but who also make my day better just by being a part of my life. I am grateful to my former boss who helped prepare me for this position and championed me to others, and most importantly, to myself.

New opportunities — There are several of these on the horizon. And I’m stoked. It will mean good things for me and my family, and I’m thankful. And while I’m aware of a few opportunities in the works, I know there are many, many more to come — that’s one of the best things about life!

Comfort — When I roll down my window handing a dollar to the homeless man, see a family waiting at the bus stop in the freezing rain or hear about families who are juggling whether to pay their electric bill or buy groceries, I’m smacked in the face with my own privilege and comfort. It shouldn’t take those reminders, or even worse the never-ending stories from across the world of need, to be thankful for things as simple as clean water or shoes.

I’m thankful.

Features writer Kelly Gifford is thankful, too.

“I am thankful for the new beginnings that my family has been through in these recent months. My parents said goodbye to our childhood home in Bloomington and now live just down the street from my sister and her family in Newburgh. This move has taken a toll on our whole family but has given us a new chapter that will be full of memories and experiences with one another.

“I’m thankful for having met a pretty neat boy, who’s introduced me to a large and wonderful family who resembles my own in many ways. I’ll be forever changed by them all, especially him.

“Lastly, I’m thankful for having spent the first year of my journalism career at this paper, in a newsroom full of journalists who are dedicated to informing our community with the best reporting and writing around.

“It’s been a great first year.”

Features intern James Vaughn is grateful, also.

“I am thankful, first and foremost, for my opportunity to receive an education. I am thankful for friends and family who never fail to support me or lift me up when I’m down. I am thankful, especially this year, for the sense of freedom and hopefulness that I enjoy the comfort of, but too often take for granted. I am thankful to live day to day without immense fear. I am thankful for the roof over my head and the food in my mouth.

“I am thankful for my dog, Gigi, whose pure love gets me through most days. And last but not least, I am thankful for the opportunity to be telling you, our readers, what I’m thankful for, including this platform to share your stories.”

Please share what you are thankful for @abbeyrd99, @kelgiffo or @jamesrlvaughn on Twitter.

New found love of traditions

By Michael Doyle

Growing up, my family didn’t really go gung-ho for Thanksgiving.

Sure, we enjoyed it well enough. But when it came to getting everyone together — the big extended family event — we saved the major hoopla for Christmas. Thanksgiving was nice and all, but it was really a preamble to the “real” holiday.

So when I got married and became part of a new family, it was pretty interesting to get involved in a different set of traditions. First and foremost, that’s Thanksgiving.

For her family, Thanksgiving is, as the kids say, a Big. Freaking. Deal. I never realized it was possible to get that psyched up over a plate of turkey and no presents.

And honestly, that thing where you all stand up around the table and tell everybody what you’re thankful for — I thought that was just something they did on those corny holiday special TV episodes.

But these people do Thanksgiving — all of it. The turkey, the football, board games around the table, the whole shebang.

And somehow Thanksgiving has come to be my favorite holiday too. The cool thing about Thanksgiving, I’ve come to realize, is that it is actually NOT Christmas. You don’t have all the stress of gift shopping or trying to write the perfect Christmas letter or card — and you still get to eat whatever you want without remorse.

There’s a saying with my in-laws: “If you do it once, it’s tradition,” which is commonly just shortened to “It’s tradition!!!” — emphasis on the exclamation point and usually accompanied by some manner of jazz hands.

And it’s kind of true — we do the same things every year. It evolves and changes a tiny bit, but for the most part, this extended Thanksgiving weekend is pretty well planned out to the hour.

A big traditional dinner on Thursday, with everyone gathered and the kind of shenanigans you would expect when you have 40-plus people who (mostly) get along in the same house.

For those brave enough, Black Friday shopping at some unspeakable hour in the A.M. (not my cup of tea, but I’m not too proud to send a wish list).

Something called “guy’s day” on Friday, which I can’t disclose too much about, but includes the kind of things you might imagine would happen when you get 15 or 20 adult males together with nothing much to do. It’s not quite Norsemen plundering Europe, but it’s not far off.

On Saturday, something called either “girl’s day” or “arts and crafts” day, which I suspect has a somewhat more nefarious purpose than what the name might imply, but at the very least almost certainly consists of all the women sitting around complaining about how much money their stupid husbands spent on beer and electronics the day before.

I am sure a big factor in my newfound love of this holiday is that I’m unable to participate in my own family gatherings in Louisiana anymore since we are so far away. But it’s also because, as I get older, I find that traditions are becoming more important to me.

It is also knowing that our kids are building a lifetime of fuzzy holiday memories for themselves, and understanding just how lucky I am to be a part of two very special families.

I do have an awful lot to be thankful for.

Michael Doyle is a stay at home dad to Miles, 4, and Owen, 1, a freelance writer and married to Features Editor Abbey Doyle.