The following is a true story. Or possibly an urban myth. I heard it from a friend of a friend who knows Charlotte.
It was Thanksgiving Day. And Charlotte, like moms all over the country, was stressed. She had spent the better part of a week cooking, cleaning, and constantly calling her mother-in-law – who still thought her son could do better – to clarify something about the complicated creamed corn recipe that just had to be on her husband’s holiday table. She was hosting her sister’s family of six from Minnesota. All of this holiday “merriment” was in addition to working her full-time job and mothering her teenage twins, home from college. She had taken a half-day PTO on Wednesday to get a jump start on the holiday meal for eleven. But she set the table for twelve, for her mother-in-law still hadn’t confirmed if she was bringing her new boyfriend.
As Charlotte stared at her haggard face in the bathroom mirror, she wondered what it was all for. There hadn’t been enough hot water for an everything shower, so she swept her dirty hair into a messy bun and resented how her husband could get ready in 7 minutes. No legs to shave, eyebrows to pluck, make-up to carefully apply. Why was everything so much harder on mothers? The whole Day of Gratitude felt like a burden to shake off rather than a joy to bestow. She wanted to unsubscribe from the relentless email called Holiday Magic.
The kitchen looked like a crime scene, crumbs from the breakfast casserole she had pre-made strewn underfoot, dirty plates in the sink when the dishwasher was a foot away. She took a deep, fortifying breath and walked into the living room. Her husband and brother-in-law were watching football. The kids were all staring into individual phones. One cousin had his dirty sneakers on her beige couch. Her sister, the high-powered attorney, was typing furiously on her laptop, putting out some work fire. The last thing Charlotte needed was more bodies in her tiny kitchen, but she also needed help. She asked her husband – for the third time – to please light the fire in the fireplace. She asked her brother-in-law to grab more drinks from the basement, taking his grunt as acquiescence. She asked the twins to please go pick up their grandmother and stop on the way back for more butter. She returned to the kitchen and poured herself a large glass of wine.
That was when she saw the turkey. The turkey that should have gone into the oven two hours ago. The turkey was the one thing her husband was responsible for. Her sticky note was still attached: 425° at 9:30 am! She glanced at the clock. 11:23. In no world would they be serving this 14-pound bird today.
She stormed back into the living room. Exact scene. Football. Devices. Dirty sneakers. No drinks, no fire, no move to get grandma or butter.
Charlotte had read an article about imagined future nostalgia, an ingrained drive in people – specifically mothers – to curate a perfect holiday so that their children will reminisce fondly about holidays past. Why does it always fall to the moms to build beautiful core memories? Why do moms have to bend over backwards to meet the unreasonable expectations of everyone else?
Charlotte didn’t scream at her oblivious, ungrateful family. She quietly walked back into the kitchen and grabbed her phone, car keys, and the unopened champagne. She walked out the back, got into her car, and drove downtown to the 21c. She tossed her keys to the valet, checked into a suite, and ordered room service – french fries and chocolate cake. She slid on a fluffy white robe, poured herself a glass of champagne, and turned on the tv. She texted her husband that she was fine and would return the following evening. She turned off her phone.
Legend goes, when she returned home, the house was quiet and sparkling clean, the cousins sent out to a movie. A fire crackled, delicious aromas wafted from the kitchen. Her husband hugged her at the door. “Good for you,” he whispered. “We’re all a bunch of assholes.”
Charlotte is a legend. Did this even happen or is it a revenge fantasy all mothers have when they’re in the cooking and cleaning weeds of the holidays? Her choice to burn-it-down should act as a cautionary tale to all fathers and children, but it probably won’t. I wonder how Charlotte’s Christmas went. I hope her family helped her more, or at least acknowledged how hard she works to create their magical holidays. But the thing about legends is they are unauthenticated, so we’ll never really know.