Holiday time isn’t for everyone.  Such a mixed bag of tricks…I swear it feels like a continuation of Halloween.  We’re surrounded by manufactured cheer.  For some, the festive and formulaic films on the Hallmark Channel are a tonic. For others? They have an ironic, unintended effect, prompting prayers for amnesia so we can avoid comparisons to our own family members.  You know them. Every family has one or two…those provocateurs wrapped in reindeer sweaters. 

I have a dear friend…let’s call her Dottie.  She’s the cutie in the pic with me. Dottie and I have been friends for 20+ years, which means she deserves a special commendation for her veteran status in “Vicki-land”.  I adore her because she is smart and big-hearted. I could go on…and on…but in truth, the qualifications for best friend status could stop at those two characteristics.  Smart and big hearted.  That’s Dottie.

In her work-world, Dottie’s respected, sought-after and the spotlight only adds to her natural glimmer and glow.  Her family, however?  They believe she’s just an over-educated caterer.  (No offense intended to caterers but I don’t think Dottie’s advanced degrees and credentials are required.)

For reasons I’d like to attribute to laziness, Dottie’s family enjoys holiday feasts because she creates them. Yep.  She plans the menu, does the shopping, and lovingly transports her tasty cuisine to her sister’s home.  Her sister who lives an hour away. 

Maybe in our youth we accept certain roles when dumped (I mean…placed) upon us within the family.  As we get older?  Traditions suck – especially if you’re the sole supporter of some of them. I don’t care how often a distant uncle belches his gratitude after polishing off a two-plater-feast-o-rama. It’s not enough.  I don’t care how often second cousins and hangers-on (where did these extra people come from?) comment on the ‘tender bake’ of your homemade yeast rolls, or how juicy the turkey is.  No.  No.  No.  You guessed it.  Not enough. We yearn for consideration, respect, kindness.  Even if only a tad.

What about the mashed potatoes I mentioned in the title of this rant?  Yeah, I’m getting to that.  The spuds were responsible for obliterating Dottie’s dwindling holiday cheer.  See…when you are the designated purveyor of everything for your family feast, you need to plan ahead – just a smidge.  I love the idea of a sous chef or Keebler elves, but I haven’t met any yet and neither has Dottie.

Unwilling to bet her oven gloves on magical helpers, smart girls like Dottie make a LENGTHY shopping list…check it twice….and map out the cooking, baking and prep in the same way I imagine a four-star General goes into battle.  Except she’s got no troops.  It’s just her…so the timeline…the second big task after all the fetching and gathering is done…becomes mission critical. When do I prepare what…as she scans the menu and strategizes. 

Thanksgiving’s always on a Thursday, right?  You know this. Surely Dottie’s sister did, too, but that didn’t stop her from calling the afternoon before Thanksgiving – you know, the day we call WEDNESDAY to proudly proclaim she’d be the princess of potatoes.  Hey there, darling Dottie, loving sis.  So…let’s see…I really want to help and considering you’re bringing everything…I’ll give til it hurts and maybe do the potatoes.  See me?  I’m SO helpful. 

When we’re not stretched so thin that we’re like rubber bands ready to snap, even a late-in-the-game helping hand is nice.  When you’re up to your armpits in a messy kitchen, juggling too much, the intrusion of a half-hearted “offer” is insulting.  And that’s how Dottie felt.  Not helpful.  Was she wrong?  No. There’s no ‘wrong’ when it comes skyscraper levels of emotionality at holiday time.  What you feel is what you feel…but what you say and do…oh, those are the moneymakers or the deal breakers. 

When Dottie called me, not long after her sister’s offer, she was ready to cancel Thanksgiving and bail on the whole shebang.  As I listened, I couldn’t blame her.  She’s been used for years…and yet…pointing out that it MIGHT BE that she’s changed…and her family’s the same as ever…seemed helpful.  Maybe it’s okay for Dottie to be angry but funnel the heat toward adjusting her response.  And she did.

Dottie did her duty. She delivered the feast (without the potatoes) and rather than assume her typical position in her sister’s kitchen, she explained that she’d let others tend to the remaining prep, as she took a comfy seat on the sofa.  “Do you want to help with anything?” one of her nieces asked, no doubt flummoxed to see Aunt Dottie relaxing while everyone else spun into action.  “No – I see you’ve got plenty of help. I’m good right here”, was Dottie’s succinct and satisfying response.

One of the best things about friends is the post-mortem chats.  Post-mortems about anything – family feasts, annoying neighbors, dry cuticles – you name it.  When Dottie and I compared notes about Thanksgiving I was thrilled to hear about her new persona.  Less ‘Dutiful Dottie” and more “Do-it-Your-Own-Damn-Self-Dottie”.  Yep – it was never about the mashed potatoes. 

Vicki 😉

28 thoughts on “It Was Never About the Mashed Potatoes

    1. You are the best, Art! I will be sure to share that with Dottie…what a feel-good thought to start the day. Manufactured roles, indeed. Take care…hope your day is lovely in every way. 😘

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      1. Thank you very much, Victoria. Our roles, they do get wearying at times, don’t they. This is one of the reasons that I’m so passionate about offering pointers related to awakening—to know, directly, that we are so much more than the lady who makes such great meals, the supportive talented writer friend, or this “guy” now, offering a comment. To see “That,” in one another…divine. 🙏

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        1. Jim Carrey spoke to this issue, of being locked into a role, in his wonderful commencement speech (on YouTube). You and Dottie might find it interesting, if you haven’t seen it. Wishing you and your dear friend an absolutely amazing day!

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  1. The holidays do look better on TV. I blame that one on Hallmark. Lol. Good for Dottie in “trying” to step back. It’s a hard thing to do. I know in my family, it’s easy to step back into roles that we took up years ago, that may not be true today. Dottie proves that you can step back. It’s hard, but you can do it!!!!

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  2. Dottie is learning to stand up for herself. Personal boundaries, baby. You gotta have ’em or all those [antiquated?] family “traditions” will fall on you. I see this happen with my friends, too. And I cheer them on from the sidelines.

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  3. I’m awed by… YOU, and by the support you provide to Dottie. Yes, it’s beyond Herculean to rid ourselves of roles of old. And at the same time it’s hair-pullingly frustrating to stick with them. And it’s rarer than a blue moon to have a friend who’s a pillar of strength and support.

    Maybe this is why more and more people decide that the holidays are a time for travel to a different, far away local with favorite friends and leave the manufactured holiday spirit to Hallmark channel?

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    1. You are so sweet, EW…she’s a wonderful friend in kind to me…so lovely. And I think you’re right-on! Hair pulling indeed – which means new traditions or travel, as you mentioned— great ideas. Much love to you! ❤️

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  4. This is so beautifully written, Vicki! And I love your response to Dottie, “Maybe it’s okay for Dottie to be angry but funnel the heat toward adjusting her response. ”

    What wise counsel and I love how Dottie implemented it. Good for her and her new role. But best of all – good for you and your old role as life-long friend!! XOXO

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  5. Hi Victoria. I could identify with so much of this story. I know well a person who is taken advantage of and yet she seems to lean into the punch every holiday. I have to bite my lip as she spends two days shopping, planning, and eight hours preparing for up to 16 people. I really like how your post looks in the way you break up the story into delectable chunks. It’s tough to gain respect and appreciation but it’s essential. Next year gift Dottie with a sling and tell her to fake it and wear it for the family occasion and let someone else take over 100%.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing this lovely comment. I’m sorry to hear you know someone who’s been in a similar pickle. No fun, indeed! I love your suggestion for Dottie for next year! Very creative! 😉😉😉

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  6. I agree, of course, with all that’s been said. I think it can also be hard to let go because even when we’re unhappy within a role, it’s still OUR role. Meaning, identity can be wrapped up in there to some degree.

    At other times, we feel a sense of responsibility. For eg: I was roped into a situation by someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer. And every month, when this “thing” comes around, I become incredibly frustrated. Angry even. But I feel stuck – because I was the idiot who finally said yes. I committed. Although I’ve been saying for a long time that I was going to cut ties, your post helped me see how important it is to do so.

    Regarding Dottie, such sage advice you offered, and it sounds like she pulled it off beautifully. And… I love the term “post-mortem.” I’m gonna borrow that. In fact, maybe we can conduct one after I’ve ridden myself of the albatross, er, I mean responsibility, mentioned. 😁

    Thank you, Vickie. Through you helping your friend, and sharing the story, it also helped me know what I must do. 🤍

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    1. I’ll be right here — ready to swap stories about mutual albatross issues (I love that — and boy, can I relate!). Sometimes saying ‘yes’ is too easy and sometimes we do it begrudgingly and then beat ourselves up…forever after. I also love what you shared about roles — even when we’re unhappy with them, they’re “ours” somehow and we can cling and get wrapped up, as you said. Unwrapping can be hard. Pretty wise stuff there, Kendra! xo! 😊

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      1. So, your post generated a great family conversation this morning. About all the reasons I become so upset with this particular situation. Which… is really about my internals, and not the other person all. So thank you, Dr. Vicki. 🤗 I feel like I should be paying you for facilitating a therapy session. 🤍🤍

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        1. You’re making me smile again….I wonder if you know you’re 99.9% heart? ❤️
          I believe you are! I’m so happy to know my post was a good conversation starter – that’s wonderful and YOU have made my day! Now…do the good stuff of taking care of you…sounds like some kitchen table family wisdom joined you for breakfast. Yeah for that! Xo! ❤️

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