With just days left before Thanksgiving, all Allison Maselli could think about was her to-do list.

As the mom and blogger wrote on Perfection Pending, Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. But with 10 guests joining their family for Thanksgiving dinner this year, it was hard to focus on anything other than getting the house ready and the menu set for the big day:

Like many of you, I have been gradually prepping for days — seeing how many errands I can jam into a couple hours before baby needs a nap, divvying up grocery lists into what I need from several different stores, planning centerpieces and place settings. Should I try out that yummy-looking dish with quince this year? And where the heck do I buy quince? Who has the best deal on turkey? Do I have enough nice plates for our guests?

Between thinking about what to serve, what to wear, and how to get everything scrubbed, cleaned, and mopped in time, Maselli had become overwhelmed and stressed out. She wrote:

Last night, after getting kids down and cleaning up, I talked through my mental stressors with my husband. Doing Thanksgiving on a budget was weighing on me. The workload to come was weighing on me. And of course — “getting things just right.”

Talking to her husband helped, as he reminded her that the day was really about being together. Still, Maselli went off to bed still thinking about her hostessing duties. As she began her evening prayers, she heard a strange sound from her son’s room.

Though her son has a history of respiratory issues — and even went to the ER a few times as a toddler — he usually can be treated at home. But this was different:

I heard some noises from my son’s room. Not good noises. Choking, coughing, barking, and wheezing noises. I woke my husband who was already sleeping. […] [W]e had never heard him like this. As we rushed to his room, he stumbled into the hall. His face was contorted.

Maselli and her husband watched in horror as their son struggled to breathe:

He looked anguished and afraid. He was struggling, barking in an effort to gasp in some air. But he was not getting air. We set up his nebulizer as quick as we could and turned it on but he continued to struggle. He was getting some air, surely, but not enough. He couldn’t breathe, let alone talk. We were watching our son suffocate. In those tense minutes I was struck [by] this humbling thought. Every minute we have together is a gift. Every healthy minute we have together is a miracle.

The worried parents called 911, and within minutes, the paramedics were on their doorstep. The emergency team stabilized Maselli’s son, and his breathing soon improved enough that he could rasp out an “I love you” to his mother and express a wish to make cookies for the paramedics.

With her husband headed to the hospital with their son, Maselli was left at home with the other children, contemplating what had happened. Unable to sleep, she could only think about how everything had changed in just a few minutes. She wrote:

Just hours earlier, my attitude had been completely focused on me — on things I wanted and needed to do to make this Thanksgiving picture perfect. How quickly that focused had changed. Jello mold? Who cares about jello. Centerpiece? Not important. House pristine? Not realistic anyways. What was important? Us. The time we have together. The memories we make and the bonds that we build not just on holidays, but on every day.

Father and son spent the night at the ER, arriving the next morning tired and weighed down with instructions and medicine. As Maselli watched her son nap, she thought about her new to-do list, which no longer included any of the stressful things that had bothered her days ago.

Now, her “chores” included items like, “Praise the Lord” (over and over) and hugging her children. Scrubbing and mopping were gone. In their place were reading books to her kids, playing a game together, and, “Tell them I love them.”

Maselli’s husband was still on the list, but not with host duties. Instead, she had, “Express gratitude and love to my husband.” As well as a note to “[s]nuggle him … Snuggle him more.”

Which is not to say that Thanksgiving didn’t figure into the list at all. It was there but in a different way. Now, she had a note to “[s]erve someone who is in need” and “[b]e generous to someone who wasn’t expecting it.” And she finished off with items directly related to the Thanksgiving dinner that had been the cause of so much stress:

Express sincere gratitude to friends and family.

Help my guests feel appreciated and welcome.

Share our home and meal in an act of communion, not to impress.

Be present.

No longer overwhelmed, Maselli says that this list is a source of joy, not stress. By “letting the superficial and material layers fall away,” she has been able to put her attention on the things she’s truly thankful for. She concluded:

“[F]or that I am grateful. I hope next time it does not take an emergency to remind me of what matters most.”

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