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By Shelley Murphy

It’s that time of year, the time when families come together to celebrate their Thanksgiving traditions.

One week from today, friends and families gather to carve turkeys, tell tales and tally touchdowns. In a season defined by tradition, this year my family is doing something decidedly different.

Most of my family and I will join the hundreds of thousands of travelers crisscrossing through the country’s airports during the holiday week. We’ve embarked on many November excursions, but this trip is unlike any before. For the first time, my older son is hosting our family Thanksgiving, and we’re flying to his supper table in the Midwest.

This Thanksgiving, I’m not the one setting the table and cooking the feast. And in the weeks prior to the big day I won’t be purchasing non-perishables or another poultry thermometer.

After spending years faithfully following my trusty Thanksgiving checklist, I’m trading my perfected timeline for a plane ticket. My husband, younger son and I will arrive at my older son’s apartment on Thanksgiving afternoon. I’ve volunteered to help cook, clean and control things, but my son continues to say, “I’ve got it.”

I don’t know what we’ll get, but I know it won’t be served on my grandmother’s treasured traditional turkey plates.

This year marks our family’s most significant departure from previous Thanksgiving celebrations; but throughout the years, I’ve toyed with our holiday customs based on my sons’ school schedules.

As a younger mom, Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday because it included a week-long school vacation and the price to pay didn’t involve attending pageants, wrapping presents and organizing parties.

When my boys were preschoolers, our family bounced from table to table to accommodate meal plans dictated by relatives. As my boys entered elementary and middle school, I began scheduling relaxing vacations away from exhausting school schedules and fatiguing festive feasts.

But when my teenage kids started high school, they put a stop to holidays lounging on sandy shores and gobbling seafood staples. My sons informed me they preferred to spend their school break socializing with friends and controlling their calendars.

Throughout my boys’ teen years, I embraced the Thanksgiving tasks of shopping, cleaning, decorating and cooking. I’m not the most talented chef, but I did my best to channel my inner Martha Stewart, minus the bulky cable-knit sweater, and prepare a delicious dinner including cringe-worthy requests for canned green bean casserole and pre-packaged box stuffing (sorry, Martha).

Too soon the time came for my older son to graduate from our hometown high school. As he prepared to leave for his freshman year of college, I hoped that over the years we’d established a solid framework for celebrating our family traditions.

At the time, I believed our time-honored Thanksgiving Day customs would continue throughout his college years. But I quickly discovered that life with a college-aged kid changes pretty much everything, especially traditions.

Early in my older son’s college career, I realized continuing to cling to my cookbooks and rigid Thanksgiving traditions was as foolish as the official presidential pardoning of White House turkeys.

I still crave my kids’ holiday homecomings, but as a parent of young adults I’ve learned to redefine some of our family traditions in favor of seasonal flexibility. I’ve adjusted to varying academic calendars, and I’ve served holiday dinners to accommodate class schedules, friends’ visits and collegiate football.

Adapting to life with college-age kids is a rollercoaster ride complete with unexpected twists and turns. Learning to relax and enjoy the ride takes time, as does discovering that trading old traditions for new customs can sometimes be more meaningful.

In the days leading up to our turkey day dinner, I won’t be tackling the tasks on my trustworthy timeline, instead I’ll be packing my suitcase for airport security checkpoints.

One week from today my family gathers together to celebrate the harvest holiday. The Thanksgiving traditions and tables we share may change, but the heartfelt memories of the day continue—with or without treasured china turkey plates.

Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.

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