Finding Gratitude As We Reimagine Thanksgiving


By Dr. Christine Pagano
American Academy of Pediatrics

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Dr. Christine Pagano is a primary care pediatrician in northern New Jersey.  She shares her personal experiences this holiday season as both a physician and as a mother.

New Jersey

My younger sister, Amy, lives in California and we tend to see each other once a year, twice if we’re lucky. We both had babies around the same time, and our kids have become close, despite growing up 2,000 miles apart. Amy and I see how much the kids change in the time between our visits, and we always marvel at how well they’re able to reconnect when we get together — it always feels as if no time has passed at all.

Last Thanksgiving, our family of four flew to San Francisco from New Jersey to spend the holiday with Amy and her two girls. My mother made the trip from Maryland. The crowd was the largest my sister had ever hosted for a holiday and she had to rent an extra table and place settings to accommodate everyone.

During our four-day visit, the kids were constantly on the move — playing flashlight tag and hide and seek, building forts with inflatable mattresses, doing cartwheels. It was a busy and joyful time. And looking back now from 2020, it feels especially wonderful.

Due to the pandemic, we haven’t been able to get together with the California crew since then. This Thanksgiving, our family will be in New Jersey. My mother will stay in Maryland. Amy and her girls will be home in California. Amy got the balling rolling this year by planning a virtual Turkey Day.

We’re going to connect online and cook together, eat together, and play games. She even suggested we do our own version of the Netflix show “Nailed It!” in which the kids will compete to make the best-looking Thanksgiving cupcake and the adults will judge the final results.

I am inspired by Amy’s enthusiasm and creativity in approaching our socially distant holiday, and we’re all looking forward to this bi-coastal virtual celebration. It’s not the same as being there, of course, but we can still enjoy our special connection and look forward to an in-person feast next year.

As a pediatrician, I feel called to lead by example this holiday season, as I’m sure many other medical professionals do. Our patients’ parents and our neighbors will take notice. Our colleagues on the front lines will appreciate the acknowledgment that sacrifice is required by all of us. As former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said, “Pandemics are best fought together.”

On the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, I will drive to my pediatric office, don my personal protective equipment, and see perhaps dozens of sick children and adolescents with fevers, coughs and other ailments.

Right now, it’s impossible to know how many families will heed the advice to keep their holidays small, local, and as safe as possible. The medical community has made dire projections about a dramatic rise in COVID cases during and after the holidays, and I feel frustrated and worried about what is to come.

I know that many people don’t want to relive the stress and struggle we all went through last spring during the first COVID-19 wave. I worry that people don’t fully comprehend how the risks they take affect everyone else. I fear for my community and particularly for the people who mean the most to me in this world. Will my kids be isolated and learning remotely for the rest of the school year? Will it be safe for us to visit my mother anytime soon? When will I see my sister and nieces again?

But while facing the fear of difficult times to come, I can find opportunities to practice gratitude. I can be grateful for the chance to make a difference with the patients who are in front of me. By caring for a COVID-positive sixth-grader, I might prevent a teacher from getting ill. By counseling a COVID-positive college student, I may help to prevent a campus outbreak.

I can be thankful that there are countless doctors, nurses, hospital workers, and contact tracers all doing what they can with the patients in front of them.

Most of all, I can be grateful that there are many people like my sister out there who are creating new traditions and joyful ways to keep their families connected safely over these most unusual holidays.
Dr. Christine Pagano is a primary care pediatrician in northern New Jersey and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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